Lymphoma patients can develop visible signs of their issue – such as enlarging lymph nodes on various areas of the body. That happened to me. Not too long after being diagnosed with mantle-cell lymphoma, I had a lymph node on the right side of my face start to enlarge. Using the term enlarge is an understatement. I had a lymph node on the side of my face the size of an egg! It was noticeable, and it made people look and stare. It was odd, it was strange, and I stuck out like a sore thumb.

IV Drip with Infusion PumpI remember one day walking around the shop floor at the company where I was working and one employee abruptly asked me, “Man, what’s wrong with your face!?” I was caught off guard and couldn’t come up with a pithy answer, so I simply spoke the truth. I said, “I have cancer.” “Oh, I’m sorry” was the only embarrassed response the guy could muster as he patted me on the shoulder and then walked away in silence. I felt sorry for him because he obviously did not know what to say to a cancer patient who had obvious signs of trouble.

That will be one of the first “things” you’ll notice as a new cancer patient. Once people know you “have cancer” it is like you have leprosy – they won’t want to hang around you anymore. Moreover, they just don’t know what to say to a cancer patient and how to offer words of encouragement. You might just as well change your name to Sgt. Pepper because you will be a prominent member of a Lonely-Hearts Club Band.

Based on my own personal experiences (egg face and brain surgery scars), I learned to take all those comments in stride. Plain and simple, people don’t know what to say when it is clear they should say something positive, encouraging or nothing. As they stumble on their words or their feelings, they will sound inept and/or so out of touch with their comments. In fact, they are just trying to verbalize the shock and horror they see you are going through, and it hurts them. In reality, your cancer is just as hard on them as it is on you. Don’t judge – give ’em a break.

In my nine-year battle with cancer, I’ve heard so many different ways people have tried to encourage me as I went through my cancer treatments. I appreciated their attempts, but more times than not, they just didn’t understand me, the disease or my true circumstance. There will be times when people will say the most thoughtless things to you about your appearance or your disease. Give ’em a break and recognize they are swimming in uncharted waters; they just don’t understand. They don’t understand how to comfort a cancer patient or any member of the patient’s family. They don’t understand about fatigue, confusion, worry, fear or troubled doubt. Moreover, they don’t know what to say to help you through your present moment.

What does that mean, then? YOU need to, on a daily basis, find the strength in your heart to stand up, meet the challenge and overcome the challenge of battling cancer. Cancer is NOT a death sentence!!! Cancer is a disease that needs to be fought and beaten with every ounce of courage and “oomph” you can muster each day. I remember the challenge I had to do walking rounds on the Bone Marrow Transplant floor each day after a stem-cell transplant. People didn’t always understand the challenge in my mind, but they kept pushing me to do better than the day before. Their pushing helped me get to a point where I could go home, and I could start a “normal” life.

In your battle against cancer, you will have those days when you wonder if you have anything left to give. Those are the days, my friend, when you must dig deeper, muster every ounce of strength you can find and push through the challenge you face. Know that you can be MORE than the challenges, and you can RISE ABOVE your circumstance! I know – I did it many times even as I struggled through chemotherapy, side effects and wondering if God had forgotten me.

Hang tough and keep looking forward – forward to that time when cancer is no longer an issue! I know, right now it seems almost impossible to think that way because it is a huge weight on your shoulders – but it can happen. When I was diagnosed with cancer in 2005, my cancer was classified as incurable. I won’t even give you the rest of the prognosis because it wasn’t good. Today, I write this note of encouragement totally and completely cancer-free – and that has been the case since 2014. To quote Barry Manilow, as so many people tend to do – you CAN make it through the rain!


Share Your Thoughts

What do you do when you have those days when you wonder if you have anything left to give? What do you think about to dig deeper and muster more strength to push through the challenge you face?

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About the Author

Paul J. Lawonn has more than 37 years of industrial safety and leadership experience and has provided consulting to more than 100 companies. Prior to his cancer diagnosis in 2005, Paul led the safety function at Harley Davidson’s Milwaukee power train operations manufacturing plant. His last position with Harley was corporate safety manager for compliance and employee training. He was diagnosed in 2005 with mantle-cell lymphoma but waged a successful nine- year battle and is now cancer-?free. Paul’s priority now is on inspirational and motivational speaking, writing, and coaching. He is particularly fervent about donating his time to charities that finance and fuel cancer research and organizations that provide assistance to cancer patients and their families. He’s written a guide to fighting cancer that he calls “Seven Steps to Persistent Perseverance.” 

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