Living so much of my life now in the ‘cancer world’ I am always amazed at the things people are able to achieve despite the health cards they are dealt. But this week I saw two examples away from cancer, where these people have overcome incredible hurdles and are achieving things much beyond what they might have dared hope for. In both cases life was very cruel, but they found resilience and determination and never lost hope that they could do something special with their lives. My first example is Gill Hicks who is a double amputee victim from the London 7/7 bombing. Gill describes how her determination and a strong empathy for the plight of others helped her to create a ‘second life.’ “I’ve managed to create a constructive anger,” she says. “I’m so fortunate to have this second chance. I don’t want to spend a second of that time in bitterness.”
The second example is Nicolas Hamilton who has cerebral palsy but has used his disability as a motivation tool, to become the first ever disabled competitor in the British Touring Car Championship this weekend. “I’ve had to work and train hard to get to the stage where I can race in the BTCC and I know it will be tough, but it’s all about learning. I want to develop and push myself, and we’ll see what happens. Regardless of their condition, it’s also important for me to show people how they can exceed expectations and push themselves to their limit. I can’t wait to go racing.”
This week has also been an incredibly positive one for my own work too. Firstly, I was invited to feature in the Cancer Knowledge Network which is one of the largest sites for cancer related work in North America. Secondly, the work I have been doing around psychological support for people affected by cancer with the N.H.S has now been published, with my own story being featured as the patient case study, and this site signposted as an official resource for people affected by cancer. These are giant steps, but as with the two examples above, are not things that have happened overnight, and many hurdles have had to be overcome. In my own case I reflected on meetings that seemed endless, people being very kind to my face about my ideas, but doing nothing practical to help. Numerous charities unwilling to share resources for the common good because of brand ego, and even when talking to clinicians who loved my work, they felt unable to share it because it was independent and not ‘kite marked’ by the health service.
All I wanted to do was help people, but struggled to find many people within the sector who shared that vision. But like Nicolas and Gill, I became motivated by the setbacks. The biggest frustration for most of us is time, and cancer has awoken me to it’s real value, yet I realise now all of the things I have done, which seemed of little value at the time, have helped get me to the stage I am at today with my work. There certainly is no shortcut to experience! My personal path has been extremely rocky, and there have been many times when I felt like giving up, both physically and mentally. But my body continues to pull through it’s never ending trials and I do my best to keep my mind on the same track. Weeks like this feel like an injection of enthusiasm pushing me on to the next challenge, but that ‘hard yards’ experience tells me to enjoy it while I can.
Of course not everyone can be motivated in adversity, like cancer it is something that affects us all differently. I have seen some of the most outwardly confident people crumble when faced with difficult circumstances, but conversely some of the meekest people survive incredible trauma. Also there is a relativity about it. To some, what can seem a major issue, may be seen by others as just an inconvenience. I find myself sometimes looking at other peoples problems thinking that I would do things differently, but of course I don’t know all the facts and am making many assumptions. Unless you are walking in those shoes it is difficult to feel the journey.
Positive mental attitude is something I hear mentioned a lot, but it is an expression which I rarely use. I would like to think that generally I have a positive view of life, but during many more private moments have felt a lot of personal negativity. But I now see that as being human, and nothing to be too concerned about. Several years ago whilst in hospital for a prolonged spell it was viewed that I may benefit from talking to a counsellor. He asked me how I was feeling and I replied “fed up!” He responded by saying, “I’m not surprised, judging by the size of your case notes, I would be shocked if you weren’t!” Which made me laugh so much, and I then understood that there were going to be challenges to face that would make me feel negative, and that was ok.
I am grateful to hear such incredible stories like I have featured above, and use them for personal motivation. There is no hierarchy in problems, our big problem is still ours to deal with, whether it is bigger or smaller than someone else’s!
How do you cope with adversity? Have you found hidden strengths or skills you were unaware of? It is always great to hear your experiences so please feel free to share them below.
You can also watch a brief inspiring video about Nicolas here