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My Freedom Philosophy Explained (and How I Came to Terms With Colorectal Cancer)

If you or someone you care about has recently been described using words like “terminally ill,” or talk from the doctors has moved from curing you to “palliative care,” then you probably feel like the world is crashing down around your ears. I know. I certainly did at the start.

But please don’t despair. I am two years down that road and still going strong. My freedom philosophy is one of the weapons that has aided that.

Three simple rules to start:

1. Don’t waste your limited time dwelling on the lack of tomorrow when you’re still alive to enjoy today.

2. Stop thinking about the future. Embrace that you’re now free from all of the worries and concerns that bother “normal people” (since, like me, you no longer fall into that category).

3. Forget about delayed gratification. Make sure you take all chances to enjoy instant gratification without any guilt or remorse.

Origins of the freedom philosophy.

Having done everything the doctors asked of me for nearly three years after my bowel cancer diagnosis, I made the decision to cease treatment when I was told I will never be free of the disease. I left the UK shortly after, and with the exception of a brief return to add a colostomy bag to my personal cancer kit, I have never looked back.

Being terminally ill is a situation I have come to terms with, though I still flinch when I hear those words directed at me. But having had the time and space to reflect, I have grown to understand the reality of my situation, and I am able to embrace the positive sides.

Positive sides?

Oh yes, there are positives to my current situation, and while I am still able to communicate freely, move myself around and embrace what’s on offer, then there is still life to enjoy!

Although technically my “fate is sealed,” I don’t dwell on that. Instead I’m free to concentrate on enjoying myself for as long as I am able to do so.

One way of doing this is to use the freedom philosophy as a kind of “Road Map to Make the Most of Your Time Left.” The period between being told you’re “not going to make it out of this one” (my words) and the point where you breathe your last is the most free that you’ll ever be in your life.

Once you understand the freedom that you’re granted simply by having that period, however long it lasts, then that’s all the silver lining you need.

Don’t get me wrong, being told I was terminally ill was far from welcome news at the time. But it has meant I have been given a lifestyle I would never have imagined — full-blown retirement in Cambodia before the age of 40.

I didn’t plan things that way — in fact, the decision to leave the country was very sudden. I simply ran away as fast as I could and eventually wound up here, at my Cambodian seaside bolthole where everyday is Saturday and it’s always summer!

As you can probably tell from the the tone of this epistle, I have learned to embrace my situation. But believe me, it was something of a journey to get to that point.

Things certainly started to improve once I came up with my “freedom philosophy” — a concept that originally struck me while I was still in London and I now live to like a doctrine.

To break it down:

1. Don’t dwell on the negative aspects of your situation.

Although it may not feel this way just yet, you are actually luckier than it may seem at face value. You can do nothing to change your situation (if you’ve been in any kind of treatment then you’ve tried already). And you’re only wasting your time wallowing in self-pity. Instead, concentrate on points two and three.

2. The knowledge that your death is imminent frees you from all other worries.

It sounds obvious of course (since everything else pales in significance), but don’t forget a large proportion of the things you used to feel compelled to worry about no longer have any relevance to your current existence.

For instance, most people my age will have some (if not all) of the following concerns weighing on their minds and causing anxiety: finding a partner, getting married, having kids, getting promoted at work, getting old, planning for their retirement, their credit card debt, their parents health, their parents dying, their own health, their stress levels, etc.

And then there are those themes that are so much bigger than we are but still we worry about anyways: politics, economics, climate change, nuclear proliferation, war, famine, rampant consumerism, etc.

As soon as I realized I no longer had to worry about any of these issues, I became truly free in all the ways that the majority of people my age are not.

Despite the lack of longevity, the life I have is perfect for my needs, and by no longer making plans for the future, I’m free to concentrate on enjoying whatever it is I wish to do right now.

So I choose to live in a simple place that’s perpetually warm and sunny, where I can afford to opt out of the world of work and consequently endure no stress or strain. And instead, I use my energy on creative projects and the expansion of my knowledge.

This is the essence of the freedom philosophy, but it does involve you doing something of a U-turn in your thinking with regards to where you now fit in the world.

After all, from the earliest point of consciousness, we have been taught to consider the future when we’re making plans. We are taught being able to “delay gratification” is a trait to be admired, that many practice (and others aspire to).

When circumstances change, getting out of that habit is surprisingly difficult. But once achieved, your worries are suddenly lifted from you and everything is then much easier to handle.

This will not be an easy process. There is “soul searching” that has to be done — I very much doubt you would welcome any kind of grim prognosis with an immediate positive outlook. But persevere and you will feel the rewards.

Which brings me to the most enjoyable part of my freedom philosophy:

3. Since there is no tomorrow, you are free to enjoy everything on offer to you today.

And I mean everything — “guilt-free” because there will be no long-term effects to my health from their use.

I am also free to embrace my new metabolism and the fact that there seems to be no such thing as “too much” when it comes to ice cream, cakes and sugary soft drinks. My waistline is no longer impacted (or should I say expanded) by such treats, so I take every opportunity to embrace it.

Still struggling to see the positives?

Ultimately you have been unburdened from all of the concerns that the majority of the human race deals with day to day, leaving your only concerns to be the comfort and well-being of yourself and those you love.

If you are anything like me, you were probably a teenager the last time you grappled with the concept of your own mortality, safe in the knowledge that it would only become relevant far in the future.

Now that this is no longer an abstract concept, and is instead an issue that is both real and current, you can no longer consider yourself to be a “normal person.” You owe it to yourself to find some meaning for your remaining time on this planet.

Now is not the time to keep on doing what you’ve always done, because you now have the scope to make plans to minimize the impact of your loss on your loved ones, as well as deciding how you wish to use the period immediately before.

This is another area where people in our situation are actually fortunate: the victims of a violent crime, sudden heart attack or those poor souls who actually get run over by a bus tomorrow won’t get the chance to make those plans or enjoy the freedom period.

Base your decisions on your current circumstances.

Ditching cancer treatment and city-living to find meaning to my existence in far flung places was how I chose to enact the freedom philosophy. But you may have good reasons to stay close to home and in treatment for as long as possible, so please don’t feel that you are therefore excluded from the benefits.

It doesn’t matter what you choose to do with the time that you have left — what matters is you do it fully armed with knowledge and awareness, making decisions based on your current situation and not blindly doing what you’ve always done or what others want you do.

When you are informed that you are never going to recover from your illness, you take your place as an inmate in the world’s biggest game of virtual death row.

Just like the real version, you’re now someone whose path is so set in stone it becomes part of your identity — yet you have no idea when the end is due to come, just the understanding that it inevitably will.

Of course how you spend this last section of your existence is a very personal choice. You may decide to empty your savings account to fly all of your far-flung relatives across the globe to one last shindig.

Likewise going back to work and earning as much money as you can for your family while you are still around is much easier once you don’t have the hospital demanding half your time like some jealous mistress.

But make no mistake, you deserve to be at the center of whatever you decide to do now, even if those decisions ultimately favor others. It will still be your choice — so make those decisions deliberately, grounded in the knowledge of your situation and why that separates you from the rest of the “normal” (un-free) section of the populace.

Good luck!

This post was originally posted on The Cambo Cancer Chronicle.

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Getty Images photo via anyaberkut

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