There are times in life that just stink no matter how you look at them. For instance, two years ago my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer that she was statistically ten years too young to have – that was very stinky. The crucial thing to her story is my sister is great at following through with things (a nice way of saying she’s pushy) or she would’ve died. When she first went in to have a lump looked at, her doctor originally brushed it off, but my sister pushed her for tests. When it came to the tests themselves, my sister had to call the people in charge of them three times before they actually completed the tests and sent the paperwork back to the doctor. When the doctor finally saw the results, my sister was rushed into surgery because if they waited as little as two months she would’ve died. My family is incredibly grateful that my sister was so good at advocating for herself. We’re also very grateful we live in Canada where her bills were covered and she has a job that let her take a year and a half off to go through all the treatments. There are many things we are grateful for, but my sister’s experience with cancer was terrible and she’s still dealing with the damage her chemo treatments caused. She’s even on a hormone treatment to reduce her chances of the breast cancer returning but at the same time it increases her chances of ovarian cancer. Yeah, it’s as strange as it sounds. The problem remains, however, as grateful as we are, my sister’s situation is still pretty terrible, so what do you do in times like this? Is there anything else that can help reduce some of the pain?
The tip I’m about to share isn’t a cure all tip. My sister isn’t magically happy about her situation. This tip has limited benefit, but any benefit at the right time is often welcome. This tip essentially follows the line you’re not supposed to say in movies: “It could always be worse.” Fortunately, in real life this isn’t a curse because the tip I like to give to people is to ask: What would be worse? For instance, I remember talking to my sister after she had some time to adjust to her situation (timing is crucial) and it came up about two guys we knew from high school who had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) and I asked, “Would you rather cancer or MS?” She said cancer, which was in a way empowering for her. It let her take ownership of it. I should point out that my sister and I have a great relationship and I knew the timing was appropriate. If I didn’t know someone well enough or if it was too soon, I wouldn’t have asked such a bold question.
Another way of looking at this is to picture being in a land before you’re born and having to choose what terrible events you will have to face in your life. To one person, death by cancer won’t be that bad compared to the other options. To someone else, going to jail will be better. I like to picture this because it means we had some power in the terrible things we face and we’re not helpless. We got to choose what we thought was the lesser of the evils to face. For instance, I’m happy I have heart disease in my family because there’s a good chance I’ll die younger. To me, I’d rather live less and not have to bury everyone I love. To others, they’d rather live to 100 and see everyone they love die. There is good in both situations; I just find peace in my likely scenario.
When things in life really suck, it can be helpful to consider what is worse because even in the toughest situations, there is always something we can be grateful we’re not experiencing. Consider the following list. If you had to choose, what would be the order of least painful to most painful? (You’ll notice they’re all painful, but even in this there are things that are worse)
- To be in a lifeless marriage with a partner who doesn’t care about making it better.
- To have your partner start to resent you and treat you with contempt slowly eroding your soul.
- To have your partner cheat on you, leave, and take almost all of your money
- To be in constant pain without a cure or ever having full relief (e.g. fibromyalgia)
- To be falsely accused of a crime you didn’t commit and have to go to jail
- To have an accident and become paralyzed
- For you to be diagnosed with terminal cancer
- For you to suddenly die without warning or chance to say good-bye
- To be the first in your group of friends to die, so you don’t have to go through the loss
- To be the last in your group of friends to die, so you have to bury all of them
Bonus Question: Is it worse happening to you or our partner? For instance, would it be worse for you or your partner to become paralyzed? To have you or your partner be diagnosed with terminal cancer, so you get to say good-bye, but you see them deteriorate? To have you or your partner suddenly die without warning?
Group 2 (Children oriented)
- To not be able to give birth to a child
- To have a child die when they’re ten
- To have a child die when they’re twenty
- To have a child die when they’re forty and have three kids of their own
- To have a child who hates you when they’re older for something you didn’t do
- To have your child live, but your ex partner takes them away from you
- To have a child, but in the first year you discover your partner’s cheating on you and wants to leave.
- Shortly after your child is born your partner is killed in an accident
- You have to choose between the doctors saving your partner or the baby?
- After the child is born you find out there was a mix up and the baby isn’t actually yours
We all need to be able to grieve terrible things, but at some point it can be beneficial to realize how we are lucky it isn’t worse. Not to pick on millenials (even though I enjoy it), a lot of the struggles they face fall under the “first world problems” category. Sure they can feel sorry for themselves (as we can all be guilty of), but we won’t feel as weak and helpless when we realize how lucky we are. We live in Canada where we don’t really have to worry about hurricanes, civil war, famine, paying our medical bills, or other issues people in the other parts of the world have to worry about. This doesn’t mean we won’t have other ways to suffer, but we need to see how we are lucky and that we are not just a victim.
This week may you consider why you’re lucky.
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people