The best thing that has ever happened in my life is getting sober over 14 years ago. The second best thing is being diagnosed with cancer.
Two weeks ago, I was diagnosed with adenoid cystic carcinoma, a cancer that remains in my neck after having surgery to remove a malignant tumor. I declined to go through the recommended four weeks of radiation and began researching alternative therapies. As I continued the search, I accidentally came across the survival rate for this kind of cancer. The stats aren’t good. After 15 years, 60% of people diagnosed with this kind of cancer ended up dying from it. So, why am I grateful to have this? Because it’s the ultimate motivator. After achieving sobriety, I had a deep desire to embrace each moment fully and to live in a way that illustrated a life of unwavering passion and desire. I wanted to treat my body like a temple, and I wanted to stretch my mind, body, and spirit to a level unimaginable.
Do I want to wait until tomorrow to live the life I want to live or do the things that feed my soul?
Although I’ve done a pretty good job at fully embracing life, something was missing. I knew I could give more to life. Much more. Having cancer is motivating me to truly embrace each moment, and I’m inspired to become as healthy as I’ve ever been. Shortly after getting sober, I became a bit of a sugar addict and was negligent about nutrition. Yes, I kept myself in good shape and was healthy, but it was clear to me that getting cancer was due, in part, to my poor eating habits. However, I don’t think nutrition was the main cause. I also believe I needed the cancer in order to live life the way I deeply desired, which was to maximize my potential. I was getting close, but I was still far from living life how I wanted. Being diagnosed with cancer is already serving as the motivator to help me to live life with a sense of urgency. Tomorrow truly does not exist.
Ten years ago, I had acute kidney failure and was lucky to live. My kidney failure was triggered while performing for hours at LoveEvolution in San Francisco. I was dehydrated from drinking too many Red Bulls, and popping too many Advil because my hands hurt. After two dialysis treatments in the hospital, my kidneys kicked back into gear. My body was trying to tell me to change my habits, but aside from giving up protein shakes and Advil, I didn’t change enough. Having kidney failure at 27 was the evidence I needed to change to a healthier diet. But as you and I both know, some of us need to bang our heads against the proverbial brick wall of insanity more than others until we finally get it. Now that I have cancer, I get it.
Even though I believe nutrition is a major factor in whether or not we get things like cancer and heart disease, I also believe certain things come into our lives because we want to work on something, whether it’s spiritual, physical, mental, or a combination of the three. Another insight I’ve gained from this experience is the parallel between being an addict and being diagnosed with cancer. Both have the power to end life, and both provide an opportunity to give new life. If addicts do not change their behavior, they go back to using and will die. If people are diagnosed with cancer and don’t get as healthy as possible, they’ll likely die.
However, if we do change, then both of these diseases can give us new life, and an opportunity to take an extraordinary journey that otherwise would not be available to us. This is why I see having cancer as a gift, because it’s helping me embrace life in a way that until now, I’ve only imagined was possible. And what I’ve experienced during my sobriety is that as long as I continue being 100% committed to staying sober, it’s likely I’ll remain sober. I believe the same is true for those who have cancer. As long as we take care of nutrition and work on what we need to spiritually, etc., we’ll give our bodies the best chance to be free of the disease.
Treating my cancer in a similar way to how I approach my sobriety is why I believe with all of my heart I’ll be among the 40% that survives well past 15 years, and into old age. But you know what? Statistics show that there’s a big chance this thing will take my life. So, if cancer takes my life, I am at peace with that, too. Whether I live 15 more years maximum, or die of old age, I’m going to live life with the sense of urgency I’ve always known I could. The reality of life is that nobody knows exactly what the future holds. Being diagnosed with cancer is teaching me just how precious life is.
Another gift from my diagnosis is that it shows me how much being sober has helped me put things into perspective. There’s no way I’d have this point of view, if I weren’t clean and hadn’t gone through the steps, practiced the principles in all of my affairs, and developed a relationship with a power greater than me. The tools I’ve integrated on this journey help me to live life on life’s terms. Yes, I believe my body will erase the cancer, but if it doesn’t, I am okay with whatever outcome is meant to happen. I’m taking unwavering action towards having a healthy body; the rest is out of my control.
The week I was diagnosed with cancer, I decided to take a hike up Mt. Si in Washington State. It’s a hike I used to take quite often as a teenager, but it had been 10 years since my last trek up the beautiful mountain. For someone who loves mountains as much as I do, it’s pure insanity that I rarely go on hikes. This was lesson number one of my diagnosis: Tomorrow does not exist; do what you love now.
While hiking up the mountain on that gorgeous Seattle day, it hit me that it was time to write about the perspective I gained from each journey up the mountain. Every time I go on a hike, I get clarity and insight about life, and now it was time to share these experiences with others. Suddenly, I had a new mission in life that I would be sharing with others to help them gain perspective and insight. We all have things we put off, and too often many of these things are experiences that feed our souls and bring us fulfillment. I believe many of these things are activities that enrich our lives, and the more we make time for these activities, the more we become grounded in who we were meant to be.
When I first got sober, I thought I was learning how to live life without drugs and alcohol. Although that’s true, I see now that I also got sober so I could become the open-hearted, fun, and energetic man that I was meant to be. Part of enriching this experience meant that I needed to overcome a few challenges along the way, because I needed them in order to fully appreciate the gift of life. When I first got sober I felt like I was walking around in a rubber suit, unable to express how I truly felt. I wanted to be more loving, freer with my affection to others, but I was scared to open up and become vulnerable. Sobriety helped me unzip and step out of that rubber suit so I could be free. The longer I walk the path of sobriety, and work on improving as a human, the more I’m in touch with my authentic self.
Being a recovering addict means we have the opportunity to become who we were truly meant to be; it helps us look inside and gain an awareness that allows us to embrace every aspect of ourselves. The more layers we peel back, the closer we get to who we are at the core. We also discover that life is a never-ending journey that’s gone in a flash.
Cancer is a gift because it shows me that I could be gone in an instant. Do I want to wait until tomorrow to live the life I want to live or do the things that feed my soul? Or am I going to get up right now and live the life that I’m meant to live? It’s not easy to break free of the resistance that keeps us stuck. But the good news is that as long as we have a desire to change, our desire to take action will follow when the time is right. It usually doesn’t happen on our time schedule, but it will always happen as long as we stick with it.