As many journalists and bloggers have already noted, a Johns Hopkin's Medicine research study recently concluded that many causes of cancer are unknown, unpredictable genetic mutations, a circumstance they are also calling 'bad luck'. Unfortunately for the patients, not knowing the cancer's cause can make the emotional recovery process of a diagnosis all the more difficult.
This is true of not just cancer, however. Anguish caused by a lack of explanations can make painful situations yet more confusing to navigate. The feeling is similar to being abandoned by your partner without warning, or being fired from your job with no notice.
To put it bluntly, it feels just plain unfair.
So how can we cope when life hands us a struggle without telling us all the facts and answers? How can we recover emotionally when we can't ask "why?"
In order to change our internal conversation from "Why did this happen to me?" to "How am I going to handle this?" We'll need to reframe our thinking:
First and foremost, if you have no one and nothing from which to ask "Why did this happen to me?" then you must to accept the fact that this question will do you no good. There is no answer. Asking it is a waste of energy.
Often, our gut reaction is anger. We can't know "why," so we become immediately angry about the unfairness we perceive as occurring. We want to believe that the answer to why or how this happened would allow us to somehow solve the problem now. In the future, when science has a chance to catch up, that might be the case. Unfortunately, it is not the case today. Continuing to meet an unanswerable question with anger, or continuing to angrily ask the question to thin air fully knowing you will never get the answer, is only wasting time in which you could be moving on and forward.
Thus, give up asking "Why?" in the first place. It is a rear-view mirror approach to tackling the obstacle. It proves you are still looking backward looking for the nail that popped the tire, instead of forward for where you need to steer to. Either way, you've got to pull over for repairs.
Next, offer these alternatives as a path toward healing, recovering, and thriving:
Before any other action, accept that the situation has, in fact, happened. Don't deny it, don't avoid it. The problem has occurred and is now in your hands. The spouse is already gone or the cancer is already there or the house has already burned down. Any amount of grieving for loss can be done while you continue to accept the present moment and all of it's tasks, which is now cleaning up this mess. Even though you didn't make the mess, it is now your responsibility to clean it up. Acknowledge at least this much, and take your grievances and sadness with you on the journey forward. You can grieve and grow and evolve all at once.
Next, you will have to forgive someone. You'll have to forgive the person who hurt you so badly. You'll have to forgive your body for letting you down. You'll have to forgive you, because we both know that you're kicking yourself for not seeing signs. There might not have been very many signs to begin with! And if there were signs, you missed them because you were blissfully ignorant. If you had seen the signs, things might have turned out differently, but you also would have spent the last few days, weeks, months or years in a state of worry, which is a totally different kind of suffering.
Forgive yourself, forgive the people in your life, forgive life for being hard. Forgiveness is truly a divine art, and a constant struggle, but the most liberating and freeing of actions we can express. Rid yourself of the extra weight of any guilt, and know that you deserve to forgive and be free of it all.
You deserve the peace forgiveness will give you, and furthermore you need it in order to move forward.
Once you've gotten to a place where you are no longer in denial about what is going on (notice that if you're still saying "I think the doctor lied" or "I'm sure he'll come back" you're probably still in denial), consider yourself accepting. And after you have forgiven what you need to forgive in order to unshackle yourself from all that will attempt to keep you in this state of unhappiness, it's time to make your plan to move forward.
Take charge! This burden of yours is yours alone. You will have friends and loved ones along the way to encourage you, but it is ultimately up to you how you want to handle it, treat it, move on from it, and what kind of disposition you want to be in while you do. If you truly want to move on and improve from the mess you are fixing in your life, you do not have the option of continuing to be mad or playing the victim. Choose another path to your own liberation: Do you want to be peaceful and calm through the process? Do you want to be fierce and ruthless? Decide, commit, and make grand ambitions. You can rebuild your life in any way you choose. While you cannot predict or anticipate what new obstacles might come up while you move forward, you can decide your own reaction to them. This is the moment in which you predetermine the kind of person you want to be from here on out.
With a plan for the future, having dropped off whatever emotional baggage wasn't serving you, and facing forward toward where and what you want to be when this is all resolved, there is only one element that will allow you to truly blossom even through life's greatest pains: Love. Love yourself for being strong enough, willing enough, and determined enough to get through this struggle and come out on the other side a better person. Love all the people surrounding you and supporting you. Love the moment, for it is your only opportunity to feel peace, to feel alive, to manifest everything you dream. Love life for allowing you the chance to be reborn and breakthrough. Love life for offering you both good and bad, and everything in between. In the face of your hate, offer your love. In the face of your fear, offer your love.
Because though it is hardship upon you, you will become a deeper, wiser, more aware, more accomplished, more compassionate and more fulfilled person for having endured it. Because though you've lost someone, you will have the chance to love another person, while other people know only one love in life. Because you will see the full plethora of human life, the full spectrum of emotion. Love will offer gratitude for the beautiful and happy moments in your past. Love will offer motivation for reaching the other side of your battle. Love will give you peace, joy, laughter. But most of all, love for your self will help you see that you deserve to come out out this even better, brighter, and bigger than before.
The only certainty in life is change; inevitable uncertainty always awaits us. We will never have all the answers, nor should we expect them or demand them. The mysteries of life are what keep it intriguing, in good and bad ways, and keep us on a march forward to know more, explore more, feel more, understand more. In the story of your life, know that to prevail as the hero of the journey, a battle must be endured every now and again. Do so with dignity, with compassion, and with the knowledge that your life and happiness are worth fighting for.
Rachael Yahne (@RachaelYahne) is a writer, blogger, and 10 year cancer survivor. You can read more of her articles about healing from life's big struggles on her website, HerAfter.com. Articles cover topics like beauty, well-being, purpose, and pretending to be 'normal' after treatment and recovery.
Her cancer's cause is still unknown.