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Practicing the Virtues: The Power of Patience

I realize now, more than ever, that we are the sum of all our experiences. As a result, we create meaning in every highly-stressful event and those that bring great joy. Therefore, deciding how to use these experiences becomes a significant factor. Do we succumb to every challenge or look for the lessons awaiting us?

For example, my father was diagnosed with lung cancer when I turned 14. Ultimately his cancer metastasized to a frontal lobe brain lesion which caused his death. However, I was still a child and hardly ready to lose the beauty of his humor and wisdom.

Luckily, this experience served as an early wake-up call as I realized I had to learn to care for myself. All my efforts turned to finishing school, finding work, and earning money. Fortunately, my life started to seem worthwhile when I began to help others.

First and foremost was a burning desire to make the experience of loss easier for others in my path.

Cancer strikes again

Advanced ovarian cancer changed how I view life. I had been an independent, self-reliant human being. Then suddenly, I was told that metastases with stage III C and the nature of its advance would likely give me only four years to live.

In weeks, I went from the life of an active, driven professional to struggling to make it through each hour. The fatigue and immobility are still hard to describe. It is far different than a busy work week or a night out. Yet, the worst for me is this all-encompassing sense of darkness and loneliness.

Friends offered to visit, and I turned them away. I was immunocompromised, and we were in a pandemic. But truthfully, their calls and occasional visits seemed awkward. I had little to share except the extent of my symptoms which were never pretty. Silently, I wondered if my ability to be tolerant had become skewed by this disease.

Searching for answers

Chemotherapy (my 4th round) ended, and I started monthly immunotherapy. Suddenly I could experience a semblance of life. I realized I needed to search for my former self, where  I was content and enjoyed being present to my husband, family, and friends.

Finally, I remembered the 9 virtues coming from Judeo-Christian beliefs. They include "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control." I became particularly interested in the concept of patience as it has constantly challenged me through life and is ever present in my journey with advanced ovarian cancer.

Can I learn to be patient with myself?

Patience is the quality of endurance or stability in facing adversity, from a simple delay in pleasures or the experience of misfortune and terrible pain. Neel Burton's 2019 article in Psychology Today states that patience is a complex set of virtues, including self-control, humility, tolerance, generosity, and mercy. Moreover, it is essential to other virtues such as hope, faith, and love.

Patience is, therefore, an example of the ancient notion of unity among the virtues.

The great awareness

What do you know about yourself, and what works as you try to cope?

I realized I have always lived my life as a virtuous woman. It could be helpful to return to this practice. Virtues serve as a framework for many situations, especially learning to live with cancer.

But, first, it was essential to acknowledge that placing a self-imposed 4-year end date created a significant conflict. Instead of living with great expectations and looking forward to a passage through growth and maturity, imposing extreme conditions and time limits stifled me. Taking back control was freeing.

Both/And philosophies

I am ascribing to Barry Johnson's Polarity Management and using his both/and philosophies. I acknowledge that my life may be shorted by cancer and that I need to be prepared. My intention has always been to make my death easier for my family.

However, there is still life in me. Accepting life allows me to go on to the degree I can. This includes sharing as much of myself on the advanced ovarian cancer network as possible.

Putting the power of patience into action

How I took control included a few things:

  • Everything in your life is based on better energy days. So if you are on chemo or immunotherapy, take note of predictable better days. Keep a calendar and observe patterns.
  • Altered my level of activity and increase participation with friends. 
  • Exercised honesty and openness.
  • I looked for events in which I hoped to participate. Know what will be a show stopper.
  • Resumed projects around our house that joyfully filled my heart. Whether I survive for many years, my house is painted, and an old rickety carpet is about to be replaced.
  • Be patient with yourself. 

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