A year before my cousin Debbie died, my father would call her with some words of encouragement. He told me that he wanted to help her so she wouldn’t give up. “It’s important that we don’t give up the fight,” he’d say.
Then he got his cancer diagnosis. He felt awful. For awhile, his symptoms and chemo were relatively easy. He’d come back from the cancer center and say, “I feel like a wimp. Most people have it much harder than I do. If they aren’t giving up, I can’t give up.” He trudged on. As long as there was someone who was sicker than he was, he felt motivated to keep trying. Then he was the sickest one, the one everyone compared their experience to. Then he ran out of options.
I don’t know what it meant to my father to, ‘keep up the fight’ or to ‘not give up.’ It seems to me that some things we are powerless over, and to fight these things is a colossal waste of energy (although that doesn’t mean I don’t try). And what are we fighting? Was my dad fighting cancer? Or death? I think he was fighting for the will to keep fighting. He grew up when Winston Churchill’s words were more than a mere slogan, “Never, never, never give up.”
But cancer isn’t an enemy; it is a disease. And although one can argue that disease is an enemy, it really isn’t. Disease can be a teacher. The deadly nature of cancer and other serious illnesses can wake us up. When life is short, it seems much more precious.
But here is the truth. Cancer or no cancer, illness or no illness, life IS short. We will succumb to death. Beauty is always around us and we don’t need a death sentence in order to appreciate our precious existence.
As for giving up, here is what we don’t have to surrender to: fear. Yes, we can feel cowardly and wimpy, and want to curl into a fetal position and watch Seinfeld episodes for the rest of our lives. It’s OK to be afraid, and to yield to that fear for awhile. Eventually, perhaps you will find what I’ve found. A person can only handle so much fear and Seinfeld, and in time, you find yourself letting go of it. You step outside and see the most glorious sunset of your life, and life feels endurable. What we don’t have to give up is life’s exquisite beauty.