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Reflections on a year battling cancer

Today 14th June 2023 is an important day for me. In fact, it’s in an important day in an important week for me. I'd say that 25 years ago, this week changed the direction of my life (however that's another tale for another day).

Instead, I’m going to reflect upon my experience of battling cancer this last 12 months.

As background for those who don’t know me, I was rushed to hospital on Saturday 11th June 2022 following some stomach cramps - which they initially thought may have been appendicitis or a hernia. So, Saturday 11th I go into hospital; Sunday 12th June I’m told in no uncertain times that I have bowel cancer; Monday 13th June I meet the surgeon (a fabulous Dublin fella); and Tuesday 14th I’m first in the operating theatre for what turned out to be 8 hours of emergency surgery. Life can change amazingly fast. This was followed by 3 weeks in hospital recovering and then 4 months of chemotherapy.

It was a miserable, tough, and challenging 5-6 months which I wouldn’t wish on anyone. However, I was told in December 22 that a) cancer had not spread to the liver, kidneys and lungs, b) I had finished chemotherapy and c) my oncology team declared me free of cancer. (Probably one of the best Christmas presents you can ever receive.)

It should come as no surprise that I have had plenty of time to reflect upon my situation. Therefore, please indulge my stream of consciousness, and dubious grammar, as I share what you can learn from my experience of the last 12 months. Turns out that all my life experiences from the military, corporate life, trading, and coaching high performers converged in those 6 months to see me through. Perhaps it will help one other person come to terms with their own journey.

  1. Embrace the reality of the situation. Darwin said something along the lines of those most adaptable to change are the ones who survive. In trading when the situation changes if you do not adapt then you’ll end up as roadkill. The same with a cancer diagnosis. Your life has just changed - it would be easy to be in denial. This will not help you. Embrace the reality of the situation. It might well be a terrible situation but sticking your head in the sand and ignoring it will not make it any better. Give yourself 24 hours to mope, scream, bounce off the walls, whatever you need to do. Then get back in the fight. You’re going to need that time and energy.

  2. Focus. Those who know me well know I’ve always been good at focusing on what I can control, and good at not wasting energy on stuff outside of my control. The quicker you work that out about a situation the quicker you can focus on putting your energy into the more important elements. What can I control? (Never as much as you think.) What can I influence? (Always more than you think.) What do I have to accept about the situation? (The sooner you get past this the sooner you’ll be able to operate more effectively.)

  3. Taking the positives. Your situation may well be terrible and seem hopeless - making it seem like the only option is despair. This will not help you. I’m all for being grounded in reality, however there will be some kernel of positivity to take in every situation. Find it, and use it. This is not a recommendation to be a Pollyanna (see points 1 & 5) but a way of managing yourself, and focusing on the good stuff.

  4. The wealth in your network. I had not initially told too many people of my circumstances. I was just focused on getting through the ordeal. However, word spread and I have been inundated by hundreds upon hundreds of messages, phone-calls, gifts, and offers of support. It has been truly humbling to see the embarrassment of riches I have experienced from people’s good-will and best wishes. Thank-you to everyone for their support. It really means the world during challenging times. When you’re up against it - let people help you. Also, be a person who others can truly rely on in their darkest hours. You will never regret it.

  5. Hope is not a strategy. For years I’d been telling traders this line - turns out that it’s equally applicable to all areas of life. See point 1.

  6. You get to choose your response. Victor Frankl in ‘Man’s search for meaning’ said that regardless of your circumstances you get to choose how you respond. This was made abundantly clear to me when given my cancer diagnosis. Do you step-up, or do you wither away? You choose. You will also notice this in your friends and family. Some will step-up and some will wither away. Focus on the former. You will have some great people in your network. (See point 3.)

  7. Humans have an amazing ability to endure. Those who know me would always say that I was mentally strong and emotionally resilient. This experience proved it. I’m here to remind you that you are stronger than you think you are. Embrace it - put it to good use to make your life better today. Practice building resilience in every area of your life today, before you need to truly rely on it. Resilience is not something you pick up and put down – it has to become part of who you are.

  8. Reflection is good. I see so many people caught up in a hectic never-ending life of constant activity. I’m not saying that’s bad - but reflection is immensely useful. People ask me now what my bucket list looks like post-cancer. I tell them that I don’t have one (yet.) Why? Because the night before my operation, which had a possibility of being my last night on earth, forced me to sit down, phone some friends, write some letters, and reflect upon my life. The reason I had no bucket list is because I always knew that I had enjoyed so many adventures during my life; rather than waiting for some day in the future when I’d get round to them. Life is there to be lived - and as many of my friends would tell you, I have truly lived it. 😎 So should you. Make it happen now, whilst you still can.

  9. Perspective is key. I had a very challenging 6 months, probably the toughest of my life, and yet I still consider myself fortunate and grateful. Walking around the colorectal ward, and the cancer centre, it brought it home to me how relatively lucky I was compared to many other peoples journeys. My heart goes out to seeing people fighting their hard personal battles. Perspective really is key - your situation could always be worse. See point 3. With that in mind if you’re reading this and are struggling with your own journey, or that of a loved-one, and need some help or support then please ping me and I will gladly do whatever small thing I can to help you ease your burden. You don’t need to be a mate or a contact - just ping me.

I could write more, and I could always write better. Undoubtedly there are people reading this who can write and express themselves far more eloquently than I. Nevertheless, I hope you can take something from my ramblings that will help you in your life, or your own cancer journey. I truly do wish people a happy, healthy, and prosperous remainder of 2023.

Best wishes,

Paul "Wallachie" Wallace

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