Knowing others is intelligence;
knowing yourself is true wisdom.
Mastering others is strength;
mastering yourself is true power.
– tao te ching
Openness – Having no protecting or concealing cover
Two weeks ago when I received the news. My doctor, and friend, Eric came in to the exam room and did not mince words, “it is a malignant tumor”. I was stunned. I certainly was not expecting that news, in fact we were feeling more and more confident each day that this was a nothing more than a scare. We were wrong.
I was shocked. I believe my response was “seriously?” followed in short order by “f*#k”, a few moments of silence and I repeated the above comments. It was several minutes before I could even think to ask any follow up questions. Brooke arrived a minute or two later. When she walked into the exam room she knew right away without a word being exchanged. We feel into each others arms and wept. We wept for the loss of normal, we wept out of fear of the unknown, and we wept as all of the tension and unknowing of the previous few days came cascading out of us. As we pulled ourselves together in the exam room, asking a few final questions of Eric, the first thought that came into our minds was of our three amazing children. What should we do? We decided on the spot that we would go home, call a family meeting, and tell the kids right away that Dad had cancer.
We were not three steps out of the building when we ran into someone we knew, and she immediately asked if we were alright. It must have been written all over our faces! We hesitated for a moment, exchanged a quick glance, and then shared the news. We knew without discussing it that we were in agreement, we were going to be open and transparent every step of the way.
I did not always feel this way. In fact quite the opposite. I grew up in a family where information, especially personal information like health issues, were managed and kept private. And sharing and displaying emotions, especially in public settings, was frowned upon.
All that changed for me about 7 years ago. Brooke and I were struggling in our marriage. We, like many married couples with little children, had gotten stuck and were unable to free ourselves. As our situation deteriorated I worked hard to keep it behind closed doors. Brooke on the other hand took a different approach. Her attitude was indifferent to the opinions of others, and she had no interest in investing energy in trying to manage their perceptions. As we worked through our process, including separating for a few months, managing the truth became futile anyway.
What I learned through that process, among many lessons :-), was that it was much easier to be open and transparent. That by doing so it allowed me to be authentic in my experience, to sit with the realities and lessons of each moment, and perhaps most significantly to be open to and welcome to the support and love of so many others who cared for all of us and our family. I found that once I was open and authentic it allowed others to do the same, and from that sharing I felt supported and often learned from others experiences. It was gift that had a profound impact on how I engage with the world around me.
While I was in Houston at MDA several doctors and nurses told me that one of the gifts I could share with others is to be open with my cancer diagnosis. That there still exists a stigma associated with cancer. This is especially true with lung cancer. That somehow the person afflicted brought this on themselves. I have already seen this. Often the first question I receive is “did you smoke?”. What the doctors want me to share is that lung cancer is indiscriminate and even if you are young, fit, and don’t smoke you can get cancer. Even after the spot in my lung was found the bias of my family doctor was that because of my lifestyle and relative health it was probably nothing and we should take a wait and see approach.
As we have negotiated the surreal experience of the last two weeks, it often feels as if I am living some other persons life, we have been humbled and grateful for the incredible support of family and friends. By opening to the community around us we are being held and supported by so many and have learned so much from others who have traveled this path themselves or with family. By opening to others and sharing we are able to be present in the gifts that surround this awful disease. We are able to draw on the support of a larger community, to be strong in our faith, and to proceed without embracing fear.
Not quite sure how this journey will unfold, yet you can be sure we will be open and sharing as we experience every step of the process.