Defying the odds
What would you do if, at age 65, a physician diagnosed you with reticulum cell sarcoma and declared that you had six to nine months to live? After getting a second opinion that confirmed the diagnosis, what would you do?
I heard Hans Selye describe what he did: “I was sure I was going to die, so I said to myself, ‘All right now, this is about the very worst thing that could happen to you, but there are two ways you can handle this; either you can go around feeling like a miserable candidate on death row and whimper away a year, or else you can try to squeeze as much from life now as you can.’ I chose the latter because I’m a fighter, and cancer provided me with the biggest fight of my life. A year went by, then two, then three. And look what happened. It turned out that I was the fortunate exception.”
Dr. Hans Selye pioneered research into what he named, and we call, stress. His cancer went into remission and never recurred. He lived a productive life until his death 10 years after the diagnosis. I was fortunate to hear him deliver an inspirational lecture in Louisville in the late 1970s.
What if a physician delivered you a terminal diagnosis? Or, what if, living in a time of worldwide plague, a test revealed that you are a carrier of COVID-19? It’s easy to imagine Selye scribbling three prescriptions on his pad:
1. Don’t deny the diagnosis; defy the verdict.
2. Fear, but don’t make fear your master. Don’t fritter away precious time in “poor me” groveling.
3. Seize the balance of time you have left by the throat. Life is an unearned, ephemeral gift. That’s why it’s called the present.