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Stopping Autopilot and Starting to Live Life With Prostate Cancer

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A dedicated road cyclist and hiker, Dan Brown began his prostate cancer journey with a back injury over Thanksgiving 2016. In April 2017 his doctor shared a diagnosis Dan didn’t expect: he had prostate cancer that had metastasized to his bones.

In some ways, my life is better than before my cancer diagnosis.

Wait, what was that? It is such a strange statement I will say it again: in some ways, my life is better now than it was before my cancer diagnosis.

I was cruising through life before this thing happened. Maybe autopilot is a better analogy. I had the rest of my life planned out in my head. Slam dunk.

In retrospect, each day had become somewhat automatic. My mantra before my illness was this: “Life is about the experience. If you aren’t experiencing anything new, then you aren’t truly living.” Yet the funny thing is, I wasn’t living up to that credo at all.

And then I was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

So, how is my life better now? I’ll start by saying my physical life is most certainly not better. There are many things I want to do physically I am unable to do at this point, with metastatic prostate cancer. It’s difficult to watch other people do things for me that I want to do for myself. Those are adjustments I’ve had no choice but to make.

However, the area of my life that is better is my inner life.

Since I was diagnosed and the reality behind it had sunk in, time has slowed down for me. That autopilot has been disengaged. I have slowed down, and that’s proven to be a very good thing.

I appreciate everything more. Conversations and interactions with people have become richer and deeper.

People who I considered acquaintances before are becoming true friends.

I ate a fish sandwich yesterday, and it was the best fish sandwich I’ve ever had in my life.

I woke up in the middle of the night and was listening to some Italian accordion music from the 1950s on my iPod and it sounded so beautiful it brought tears to my eyes.

When I’m outside I hear bird songs more now than I did before.

And it occurred to me what is happening: I am living in the moment!

These days “mindfulness” is a big buzzword. I’ve been blessed with mindfulness as a result of my illness and it has changed everything for me. Please don’t get me wrong — living with a serious illness is by no means all ice cream and bliss. I don’t dwell on the hard stuff, but those difficult aspects are there. I sure wish I could have mindfulness and not also have cancer, however that newfound mindfulness has proven to be the silver lining in this thing so far.

If I could go back before my diagnosis, the advice I would give my non-sick self is this: turn off the autopilot.

Slow things the heck down.

Vacations and excursions are great but those things make up a small fraction of your time here and are not what life is all about.

Life is really about the thousands of individual little moments that make up our existence every day.

Focus more on your interactions with everyone, whether it is a colleague, a family member or someone at the checkout counter.

Make every interaction a quality interaction.

Somehow, find a way to be more mindful.

Dan Brown biking photo

If you can do that, your life will be immensely better, regardless of what your physical health has in store for you.

This post was originally published on the ZERO — The End of Prostate Cancer Blog.

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Thinkstock photo by MatusDuda

Originally published: September 2, 2017
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