10 things I learnt from cancer

Categories: Opinion.

For me, it is now very crystal clear. And I feel ever so glad that I have finally reached this conclusion.

What you are about to read may be what you have read before.

It is not a new idea nor an enlightenment concerning the meaning of life, but if you are living by fighting constantly with death, you will understand them as I do.

I have Nasopharyngeal carcinoma stage 4b.

And I learnt these lessons in my one year and a half journey with cancer and I do hope that you can apply them to your life as well:

1. Be content with the small things around you

No matter what kind of life you had lived, there always is another aspect of life that you could find. And you will never see it if you don’t open up your heart.

For example, I still remember the taste of that pork floss porridge that I had vividly.

It was just an ordinary porridge that I ate for a thousand times but it was unique, special even. Because it was the first porridge that I had after my taste buds started working again after the treatment.

I could taste again and that, itself, was a privilege that I never had before.

2. Your family is irreplaceable and invaluable.

When you have cancer, your family have it too. The closer you are, the more prominent this fact becomes.

For me, one of the hardest things in my life after my doctor told me that I have cancer was figuring out how to tell my family.

My uncle also passed away from cancer.

And how am I going to tell my aunt who raised me that I am going to die with the same disease that took him away?

Multitudes of emotions came over me. Sadness, concerns, agony, etc.

And then I did tell them.

Everybody tried to smile but it was so forced and rigid that we could feel the heavy tension in the air.

My suggestion for this kind of situation is to find someone who can cope better with the news and tell them first. It will be easier than telling them altogether.

3. Face your past and accept your present

You cannot change the past. Whatever has been done is done but don’t let them cloud your mind or affect your present.

4. Do not compare yourself with others

Everybody has different issues, life experiences, troubles; we also have different kind of happiness. Whether you are a pauper, a millionaire, good-looking or not so, don’t compare yourself to others. It will be the beginning of your own misery.

Instead, find what would make you feel truly happy.

5. Be aware of your self-worth

Don’t just be egocentric, but rather find your own value. You are always valuable to others in some ways. And also to yourself.

6. Find your calling

Find your own dreams, not others’ nor what the society expects from you.

When you are about to die, your dreams would be the first thing you think about, not your social status or your savings account.

Try to make a list of your dreams and goals so that you could have a clearer picture of them and you can more clearly separate your calling from what others expect of you.

7. Overthinking and too much information are always bad

It will make things worse. You have to know when it is ‘enough’.

For example, I’m pretty sure that most cancer patients have – as I did – had a timely consultation with Dr Google.

What is my prognosis?

How many people have it?

Where can I get the best care?  

What kind of diet should I take?

And the questions would go on forever.

We are like a bottomless glass, never getting enough fill to relieve our fear and anxiety.

And then negativity will overcome your mind.

With the information I was seeking came false advice, fake medications, and baseless alternative treatments.

We become distorted and look at things differently.

Religions which are supposed to ease your mind turn into a mainstream treatment instead.

Then how do we cope with this?

8. Be mindful

Try to practice mindfulness and live with it.

I have found that music, meditation, walking, and praying also help.

It will help you overcome your ordeal easier.

Your humour and your smile will come back to you as well.

9. Hope is good, but be prepared for those hopes that will go unmet

For every human being, hope will keep us away from misery and sadness. However, if you could allow yourself to cope with unmet hopes, you will never be trapped by false hopes again.

In my case, there were several times that my doctor was not so eager to tell me that my cancer was still there or the treatment had failed.

I used to be stuck by the bad news. Feeling depressed. Hopeless, even.

But nowadays, I can smile and laugh it off because my happiness in life is not affected by them anymore.

“Don’t get tired of me yet!” I said to my doctor with a chuckle.

10. Cross the word ‘time’ out of your dictionary

I find this one the most valuable lessons I have learnt. If you can do this, the rest is so much easier.

You may have heard the quote: “Live as if today is your last.”

For me and other cancer patients, we are forced to look at this truth literally. It is not just a brainy quote on our Facebook newsfeed anymore, but rather our everyday constant, literal feeling.

It is so clear that other excuses such as: “I don’t have time for this” or “I will do it later” are just mere reflections of procrastination and how much we are dependent on time.

We cling to it so much that we forget that happiness is not tied to time.

Rather, it is constant.



No matter what may come.

I do hope that my life lessons could be of some use to you as they were to me.

Read the original story in the Thai language on the Gotoknow website.

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