On Nov 4, 2019 I was diagnosed with a muscle invasive bladder tumour. After a small growth was recently removed from my bladder the biopsy results were about as bad as they could be. My Urologist was sympathetic but direct in telling me that in order to beat this thing, there was no alternative to an immediate course of chemotherapy followed by surgery to remove my bladder. My future was about to include enduring the effects of chemotherapy drugs, major surgery, followed by learning how to eliminate urine from my body using a urostomy bag.
I left that appointment with my head spinning trying to absorb what I had just been told. And yet, as I walked to my car, the first thought that came to my mind was a prayer, saying to God, “I wonder how you are going to make this work for good in my life.”
The words of Romans 8:28 have long been a foundation for my thinking and my life. From early childhood when my mother read me the Bible, I learned by heart this verse written by the Apostle Paul: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who have been called according to his purpose.” This is bedrock truth for me. It acts like a guard around my mind when everything turns bad and my emotions want to overwhelm me with anxious thoughts.
I’ve noticed over the months since November, when some people found out I was having chemo, often I am the one comforting and helping them to cope with my situation because they assume chemo means cancer and the ‘C’ word is scary. I deliberately do not say, “I have cancer” but instead, “I have a bit of a health challenge right now, but we have caught it early, and I am confident of beating it.”
5 keys to stay mentally strong when everything turns bad:
- Build solid foundations for your thought life. The foundations of your thought life are vital to stay mentally strong. You need to work at this. Personal growth is vital and needs to be on going. You cannot rely on stuff that used to work when you were a teenager, but you have ignored for the past 20 years. What do you believe? What are your values? Do you have a worldview that makes sense of the good, bad and ugly in this world? For me I have a strong Christian worldview based in scripture, tested and proven in life. For me, this is not vague hope, or superstition, but a world view that I have thought through and works for me day to day.
- Learn to take control of your thought life. I have noticed that many people tend to ruminate and find it difficult to control their thoughts. This causes them to struggle with sleep and often leads to a constant level of anxiety. When I was a young adult, I trained my mind to focus on what I wanted to think about. I learned to take captive any stray or unhelpful thoughts. I learned to park unresolved issues, give them to God if you like, and go back to thinking about them at a time when I had energy or when I could talk them through with a friend.In this season, I have chosen to focus on one step at a time as I overcome my health challenge. I had the chemo for 6 weeks and dealt with the side effects of those drugs and did not think about the surgery until I was ready. Over several weeks I became unsettled about the upcoming surgery and decided to seek a second opinion. I sought out a Urologist who regularly does bladder surgery using the latest technology. I met with this doctor and took all my scans and the biopsy report and asked him for his considered view. He listened to me, looked over my data, and immediately felt that I had been partly misdiagnosed. He suggested that the tumour in my bladder was a specific type and could be treated in a much less invasive way. He went to bat for me in the weekly doctor’s conference. All the doctors present, including my original doctor, agreed that his new diagnosis was correct. I immediately was taken off chemo and have transferred to a different Urologist and now have surgery booked for Feb 21, 2020. A recent MRI has further confirmed the new diagnosis. I will have 2-hour surgery, instead of 6 – 8-hour surgery, get to keep my bladder, and will have a 2-week recovery time, rather than a 2 – 3-month recovery with other lifestyle issues.If I had been anxious and struggled to cope in my mind, I may not have sought out a second opinion and could have blindly gone down the path of the original diagnosis and be looking at a very different outcome.
- Be willing to endure some pain. One of the benefits of training my mind to be mentally strong is that I handle short term pain well. The side effects of chemo are challenging, especially the nausea and the brain fog for a few days. However, I was determined to go on my walk each morning, and to play cricket each Saturday. Over my life I have learned to face challenges and push through the pain. A strong mindset fuelled by hope has enabled me to deal with some very tough situations. I am not a masochist and do not seek or enjoy pain, but I know that to build a great life often involves going through tough times.
- Build a strong support network. One of the most gratifying things that has come out of this episode of my life has been the strong levels of support I have had from family, friends, business colleagues, and even my clients. Over the past 10 years since I have been in business, it has been my joy to meet and build great relationships with hundreds of people. My wife has done the same. We did not realise the impact we have had on many of them. We like to encourage and lift people. When these people have found out about my situation, we have been inundated with offers of support, with practical care like meals, with business consultant friends offering to look after my clients while I am recovering, etc. It has been amazing. We mostly focus on giving, and serving others, and the truth is, you reap what you sow in life. If you build relationships wisely in the good times, then you will have support and care available to you if everything turns bad.
- Learn to be grateful even when things feel bad. Some people struggle to be positive even when everything is good in their world. They have the mindset that you expect the worst and then it’s a bonus when things go well. Their expectation is for bad things rather than good things.
The promise I mentioned earlier, that is a foundation for me, helps me to stay mentally strong when everything turns bad. Over the past 3 months these are some of the good things have emerged:
- My relationship with my adult daughters has further deepened.
- My sense of connectedness and support in life has increased dramatically.
- The way I found out there was a growth in my bladder was almost accidental, which means we have caught it early, so my prognosis for beating this is good.
- The second opinion and revised diagnosis has been a huge blessing to me
- My own faith in God has grown through this challenge
- I have been able to encourage some other people who have a cancer journey who have felt free to open up to me when they heard of my challenge.
One of the keys to emotional health is to learn to be grateful every day. There is always something for which to be grateful. The challenge is to train our minds to actively search out and see the good things in our lives. Gratefulness changes our mood, our mindset and reframes our world.
You do not know how strong you are until you face a challenge that is bigger than you. When you have no idea what to do, and you are no longer in control of outcomes, it can be very stressful. It can also be a wonderful time of growth as we face down our fears and overcome our challenges. These five keys are lessons I am learning and putting into practice in my life as I walk through this health challenge right now. If your challenge is in business or some other area of your life, they apply just as well and will help you stay mentally strong when everything turns bad.
I’d love to hear your stories of challenges overcome and lessons learned in your life. Hit reply or write in the comments section below and let’s connect and encourage each other.