If you try hard at something but fail, you experience disappointment. And the harder you try, the greater the disappointment.

This is a lesson we learn when we’re young, but we spend the rest of our lives wrestling with its implications. How can we motivate ourselves to work really hard, when we know that we might fail? And the harder we work, the more bitter the failure?

Here are some ways that I have found to be promsing:

  • Try to maximize the amount of work that you enjoy doing for its own sake, and minimize the work you do only because of its results.
  • Try to find a way to love the process over the outcome.
  • Try to accept the fact that success depends on factors outside our control, and try to allow only what is within our control — for instance, the efforts we make — to affect our state of mind.
  • Try to see that we’re playing with odds here, and that even though we know that the harder we work, the greater the disappointment, greater too is the likelihood of success.

But despite all this, for me to do the hard work, I have to know that there is, at the very least, the possibility of success. It is hard to endure a struggle without at least the possibility of something good resulting from my efforts. To quote from Galatians: “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”

Here’s the thing about having terminal cancer. You will struggle but then you will die; there is no reward. There is nothing that I will reap in the end for all the efforts I make in dealing with this illness. It was always going to kill me. There is no great payoff in the end for fighting cancer bravely or with apparent wisdom. I will be dead. I will no longer exist to enjoy whatever gains there were to be had.

There is no rest either. We are fond of saying “rest in peace,” of imagining that people who die are finally allowed to rest their weary souls. We are fond of saying this even if we are atheists and believe that death is the end, that there is no person who persists after it. But how can something that does not exist rest? Do the flames rest when the fire is out?

So this is a struggle without a reward. Is this why I find it so fucking hard?

I know, though, that the struggle itself is not all dark. It’s still up to me to make an extra effort to enjoy what I can — to take an extra second to enjoy my coffee, to taste the sweet freshness in the fruits I can still eat, to cherish the warmth of friends and family, to write a word here and there.

Cancer, you will take everything from me eventually. But not yet, you fucking asshole.


4 thoughts on “Struggle”

  1. Sitting here at the airport waiting to fly home and reading this post.
    I haven’t had to face death in the face for myself although I’ve physically sat with a close friend through her last years of struggle and sat long distance with another. Watching and listening, I think some ‘lessons’ come to mind. The experiences have given me a lot to consider and let me think about how I hope to approach my own death if it doesn’t happen suddenly.

    Khubla Ross gave us the textbook stages dying. I only recall a few: denial,anger, acceptance and that one moves back and forth between these emotions. I saw my friend move through all these and more many times in her last 3 years. It was hard for her and truthfully, for all supporting her; quite the emotional rollercoaster. Hope appearing and disappearing really fucks you up.

    For a good part of the time the ‘experience’ was all about these two friends; all attention focused on them. About a month or so for Jennifer, something changed. Maybe she saw/felt something. It was a subtle change. At least it seems so in retrospect. Hard to say because we were all tired whether we knew it or not. The change was Jennifer asking more often how we were doing, trying to boost our spirit, asking us to talk about good memories. All in all, she was preparing us, wanting to leave us with something positive in the face of the big negative. So, I think she reached a level of acceptance that turned her thoughts from anger and allowed her a space to look outside of herself.

    This was all in contrast with my other friend who cursed the disease and took her anger out on anyone close by. As friends, the boundaries of our friendship widen enough to stay connected. Some bailed.

    All in all, as you can imagine, for us who were left behind for now, I imagine we remember each person a little bit differently.

    Neither way is right or wrong. Each is what it is.

    Kenneth, how do you want to be remembered?

  2. Hey Kenneth.

    I’m really sorry that I wasn’t able to see you or talk to you.

    I wanted so much to be able to spend more time with you before you left. But I guess my own issues got in the way.

    You’re an amazing person. And I think it’s amazing how patient and calming you seem – regardless of what’s going on in your head.

    I took one philosophy class in my time in university – Critical Thinking and it nearly drove me nuts because I just wasn’t able to fathom a world where nothing I knew – every preconceived notion that i had might not be true.

    And you wrestled with that every day of your life and remained a calm, collected, articulate, polite and kind person.

    I know we only hung out the once since I came back to Canada, but I miss you tremendously. And I know you never believed in something after death, but I’m going to believe in it on your behalf.

    And maybe you’ll wake up on soft grass somewhere with Carl Sagan standing over you and say to yourself, “Shit. I was wrong. Imagine that.”

    Enjoy the time off, my friend. I guess I’ll see you there – wherever – or nowhere someday soon.

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