Thursday, January 6, 2011

No Matter How Bad Things Get, Remember the Man with No Nose

I saw this quote on Twitter - "I had the blues because I had no shoes, until upon the street I met a man who had no feet." It was attributed to Denis Waitley, although some claim it’s an ancient Persian saying. Probably Waitley used it in a book or a program and people gave him credit.

Anyway, my interpretation of the aphorism goes like this: “No matter how bad things get, remember that it could always suck worse.” I didn’t make that up. It was told to me by a drill sergeant at the Army Ranger School in the fall of 1967.

I was too inexperienced to appreciate what it meant. What could suck worse than Ranger School? When I was courting my wife 15 years ago, I passed this little bit of Army wisdom on to her, and she didn’t get it either.

Now, we both get it. What did it for me was combat. The drill sergeants knew that would happen.

What did it for her was cancer. During her radiation treatment, she came home one day and told me this story:

In radiation therapy, an ionizing X-ray beam is directed at a small area of the body to kill cancer cells or shrink tumors. The beam is carefully aimed and adjusted to do its work at just the right depth. The radiation destroys or damages the genetic material of the cancer, making it impossible for it to continue growing. Even with all this precision, there is collateral damage. Healthy cells are destroyed along with the cancerous ones. Most of the healthy cells eventually recover and function normally again.

For Kathleen, the after-effects of radiation were cumulative. The same area was burned on the inside five days a week for seven weeks. Her body’s attempts to deal with this repeated injury cause a profound sense of fatigue. Eventually, her skin became painfully sensitive, like severe sunburn. Having to face this trauma each day with diminished energy could make anyone feel sorry for herself.

This didn't happen to Kathleen.

On her first day of radiation, she had no idea what was going to happen. How long would the procedure take? Would it hurt? When she thought about exposing her breast to the technicians, she felt anxiety and embarrassment.

Empty chairs lined the walls as she stood in a line to be processed for treatment. A tall man stood in front of her. Eventually, the nurses attended to him. When he turned around, Kathleen smiled at him. Then she realized he had no nose. Instead, a white plastic cone covered a cavity where his nose had been.

At that moment, she felt a powerful rush of gratitude. She thought, “I am so fortunate. I only have breast cancer!” Not only was her malignancy the type that was easily removed, she would not be disfigured.

Every time she returned for radiation treatment, she remembered the man with no nose.

Kathleen mentioned this incident on her own blog, Hill Country Mysteries, if you'd like to hear her version.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2010. Building Personal Strength .

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