As a cancer specialist, I work daily with people in life-threatening situations, and I commonly share experiences with patients who are dying of their disease. Many of my colleagues think that my work must be depressing and discouraging, but the truth is, my work is very gratifying and rewarding. These patients have taught me a great deal about life and living. Despite the fact that some of them are facing certain death, many of them are the most vibrant, most vital people I have known.
Most people who develop cancer come face-to-face with their own mortaliy for the first time in their lives. Because of this recognition, and ultimately, acceptance that their lives will end, these people commonly experience major changes in their philosophies of life. My daily contact with such people has enabled me to face my own mortality and share in their celebration of life before I'm face with a fatal illness.
Many patients develop a new sensitivity in their interpersonal relationships. They become very accepting of other people's attitudes, beliefs, and opinions. This acceptance results in a softness and an openness that is endearing and attractive. Similarly, they become much more accepting of themselves. They no longer want to be the best, the prettiest, the richest; they are happy "being me". They aren't bothered by "what other people think".
This new sensitivity about life includes an acute awareness of the miracle of nature; and these people are often enthralled with the beauty of flower and trees, the smell of freshly cut grass, the feel of raindrops in a spring shower. In short, they revel in the experience of the moment and live ach day to the fullest.
For centuries, philosophers have urged us all to live the moment, for it is all that we have. We cannot change the past and we cannot predict the future. Too many of us spoil the present by bemoaning the past or fretting about the future. It is unfortunate that most of us have to be faced with the prospect of dying to appreciate the joy of living, but that seems to be a human characteristic.
Working with people who have cancer is not discouraging and depressing. I am surrounded by people who are open and honest and grateful to be alive. They are not unhappy about the weather or depressed because the stock market has dropped. They are busy celebrating life.