One could easily replace the word "cancer" in the title of my blog, "Coping with the Uncertainty of Cancer," with "Life," or "the World". The events in Paris are beyond tragic, with over a hundred dead and hundreds more wounded. In an instant, 129 souls torn from this world and their life adventures, with their loved ones left dealing with their sudden losses that will ripple on forever.
It's not just cancer that I've feared and that has caused me anxiety in these past few years, but all of the terrible uncertainty and unpredictability in the world as well. As I was going into meltdown mode back in December of 2012, mourning the loss of a friend and dealing with my own cancer recurrence scare, we all saw the news of the tragic Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in which 20 completely innocent young children and 6 teachers were senselessly killed just weeks before Christmas. In the days after this tragic shooting, a live pistol cartridge was found on the grounds of my own children's elementary school, causing my wife and I to panic even more and worry that our children's school had been targeted, and that they could be next. Nothing happened, but this was part of the perfect storm that broke me.
Two years later, I dropped my kids off at school on Monday, December 8th, 2014, and had this terrible feeling of dread out of nowhere, as if something awful were about to happen. My anxiety about life in general was so bad that morning that I almost felt like I ought to go home and hide rather than going over to work, but what was I hiding from? I didn't know. 2014 was a fantastic year for me. I had finally figured out life for myself after cancer, and hadn't had a single depressive or post-traumatic stress episode all year. Yet here I was, with literally hair-standing on end anxiety about something. I could feel it. Something was off in the world, and I had this terrible feeling that something awful was about to happen to either me, or someone I knew. As it turned out, this was the morning that a private aircraft crashed into the Gaithersburg, MD home of a former colleague of mine, Ken Gemmell, killing his wife and two of his three children. I was absolutely devastated, and so spooked and upset that I had to skip my company's annual holiday party that was just days later. I had met Ken's wife, Marie, at some of the events at my former company, and they seemed like such a nice couple. Just days before this, dear friends of mine had discovered that the cancer they had fought had returned, and my post-traumatic stress that had been dormant for a year suddenly went into overdrive. I had to step away from life to take care of myself.
My wife was terrified about the events in Paris, wondering how such things could happen, but I've come to accept this level of complete unpredictability in the world. It's an ugly truth that in a single a moment, anyone you love and care about can be taken from you, by a terrorist suicide bomber, a plane crash or other accident, a disease, a cancer, an armed and deranged psychopath that's about to commit mass-murder, or that person blowing a red light at 50 mph because they were more interested in what was going on on their phone and never noticed. How do you protect yourself from these people or any accident? Should everybody really be carrying a gun? Most people that know me personally know that I'm a very strong believer in our second amendment and self-defense rights, but how does that stop a suicide bomber when you're dead before you even know what hit you? How can any government or police organization give complete guarantees for our security?
There are no guarantees in life. There never had been, and there never will be. We have no real control in life. So much of the control we think we have is but an illusion, and I had to forcibly cut away every last thread of these beliefs about supposed control, because they were killing me inside. You never know when one of life's terrible moments will come your way and change things forever, or abruptly cut short one's life adventure.
Hug your friends, hug your families, and love them and enjoy them every single day. This is how I live, not just because of my cancer history and all of the uncertainty that it brought into my life, but because of all of the crazy unpredictability that I face every time I step foot outside of my front door. I worried myself to death, only to learn that it doesn't do any good, and just takes away from your ability to enjoy the very day you have before you. Go all-in on whatever beliefs you have about life, and death, and have faith in those beliefs to help guide you, comfort you, and protect you.
Pray for the people of Paris. Pray for good to find a way to triumph over this evil, and for love to find a way into the hearts of the people that would commit such atrocities. Normal people don't do such things. People that have love in their hearts don't do such things. Dropping bombs is an answer, but it's not "the answer." Pray for the true answer to be found someday, and someday soon, because the world needs this answer yesterday. I'd love to say that I know what the answer is, but honestly I haven't a clue.
Life is a gift meant to be enjoyed, and the sudden and tragic departures of 129 beautiful souls from this world is a painful reminder to me of the truth that no one can ever know when our gifts of life might suddenly end. This is a lesson that I've already learned painfully early in life. It's not the time to hide. Fear not. It's the time to keep living, loving, and laughing, in the face of so much uncertainty. Carpe diem. Keep seizing each day, one day at a time.