Being There

The other night I have a talk to a group of people who are volunteer workers for the American Cancer Society. As I looked around the room, it occurred to me that there were two different types of people attending the meeting- those who came because they chose to, and those who came because they had to.

The one group was there because they wanted to hear the talk and enjoy an evening with friends. They were excited, animated, and obviously eager to participated in the event.

The other group was there because they "had" to be. Their spouses made them come or they felt obligated to support a worthwhile organization. Those people were restless, glancing at their watches, eager to end the evening.

It occurred to me then that I see the same groups in all areas of life- at football games, in shopping malls, at PTA meetings- those who choose to be there and expect to benefit from the experience, and those who are "forced" to be there and feel helpless, expecting to be disappointed. Commonly, each gets what he or she expects.

The same types of people can be seen in cancer treatment centers. Some are there because they want treatment. They have recognized that they have a problem, have listened to their options for treatment, and have made a conscious choice to procure treatment. They are eager to be there and they expect to benefit. They commonly do well.

Others come because they "don't have any choice." They feel trapped and helpless. The are listless, withdrawn and depressed. They expect to do poorly. They commonly do.

I cannot overemphasized the importance of making your own choices. Just as it's true for the little decisions in life, it's true for the major decisions too. If you choose to be there, you'll be ok. If you are there because you "have to be there", you'll likely receive little benefit or pleasure.

When I was in the Army in Viet Nam, I was told that I "had to" run a clinic for the Vietnamese in one of their villages everyday. I felt frightened and helpless, trapped and depressed. I didn't want to be there and expected to be miserable. I was. Then one day I sat down with myself and had a talk about life and goals and how I was in control of my own destiny. I could choose to refuse to participate in the program and demand transfer to another unit, or I could choose to develop the best civilian care program in the country. I chose the latter. The difference in my attitude was dramatic. I no longer felt helpless and depressed. i was back in control of my own life. I approached the job with enthusiasm and renewed energy. To this day, my experiences with that village in Viet Nam are some of the most-rewarding I have had. The only thing that changed was me- my attitude. I was still doing what the Army said I had to, but I was now doing it because I chose to.

Cancer is a frightening experience. Many patients are told that they "have to have" surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, etc. They often feel helpless, depressed, out of control. I submit to you that if you perceive these treatments as options that are available to you, and if you consciously choose a form of treatment, you will be less depressed and tolerate the treatment better. You may still take the treatment that your doctor says you have to take, but you'll take it because you chose it.

Whether it's an evening with a visiting speaker or a visit to a cancer treatment center, be there because you choose to be there, not because you have to be there. You'll get more out of it.

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