Some thoughts on living with cancer (part 4)

October 19, 2020
  • November 30, 2020
  • Cancer blog

By Gary Maavara

Let’s start with a little adrenaline rush. I took this photo of a Cadillac prototype lighting up its brakes in hour seven of the 2019 Rolex 24 race at Daytona International Speedway.


Now that I have your attention, I’ll continue with my thoughts on living with cancer.

#6. Cancer is a mind and body energy game.

Try to stay happy and calm. We are all going to die. Cancer may take you quicker but the best revenge is to enjoy each day before that. Part of this joy will come from being nice to and helping others. You have joined a great club. People with cancer are special in so many ways.

Be nice to everyone, especially the medical people. They know you are sick and they do care a lot but their workload is endless. And they see and hear more sad stories than good ones. Respect their coping mechanisms.

Cancer can also take your thinking down some really dark alleys. Worry and fear can cripple you. I dealt with that by keeping my mind occupied as much as possible. I had work. But that was another form of stress so I needed something else. I got away from the electronic screens in my life and read all the books about D-Day 1944 that I could find and compared the perspectives. A sad subject but I like history and it kept me away from my own dark thoughts. Send a note if you are interested in seeing what I’ve read.

Oh but I do watch Jeopardy every day to stay sharp and optimistic.

There is also lots of expert advice on coping with this type of stress and I am happy to recommend three books that I use every week.

When I was first diagnosed I struggled with a huge range of topics including telling people, “arranging my affairs” (as the doctor suggested) and coping with the other stresses of living.

Living with cancer takes energy when you feel like you have less of it. It is scarce so you need to manage it carefully.

Peter Jensen is a wonderful person who has helped the Canadian Olympic team for decades to manage their energy and their thoughts. I first met him in the early 90s when we hired him to help our broadcast team prepare for the coverage of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. We had never done a summer games before and the people at the CBC were delighting in telling everyone, especially our team, that we would fail. And so we were nervous. We needed to shed the anxiety and perform at our best.

Peter helped our team succeed.

Just after I was diagnosed in August 2016 I met Peter at a company retreat. I was stressed beyond belief about my family, my job, etc. I went up to him after his presentation and we said our hellos. I shared my sad news and he gave me some great advice.

One thing he said that day was that when I feel tired, I needed to behave like a dog. Dogs find a corner and take a nap whenever they feel tired. Those naps have really helped me.

The good news is that he has written a great book called “Thriving in a 24-7 World: An Energizing Tale about Growing through Pressure” by Peter Jenson, Ph.D., iUniverse, 2015.

The great thing about cancer is that it challenges you to perform at your highest level. The biggest obstacle is anxiety. Of course anxiety is the thing that stands in everyone’s way to successful performance. In sports we call it choking.

But you can manage your anxiety and there is a great book to help you with that too.

Years ago I was lucky to meet Jacques Dallaire Ph.D. at Mosport where he was advising racing drivers on how to manage their anxiety to stay focussed. His work intrigued me and I came to realize that it could help me as well.

Some more good news is that he wrote a great book, “Performance Thinking – Mental Skills for the Competitive World and for Life!” by Jacques Dallaire Ph.D. 2012. You can find it at

This book has real world practical advice to help you. I have seen how major racing drivers like Helio Castroneves talk about the benefits of what Jacques says.  2019 The Indy 500 winner Simon Pagenaud is also one of his clients.

This book has become a tool I consult often to help myself and others to cope with challenges.

The third area is attitude. Stay optimistic. I look at my cancer as a gift as well as a challenge. It has caused me to learn things about friends, my family, society, and myself that I would have never known without being a member of what I call ‘the Club’.

There is a great book written by a leader in the medical field of optimism.

“Learned Optimism – How to Change Your Mind and Your Life” by Martin Seligman Ph.D. Vintage Books (Random House) 2006.

Seligman talks about the research in the field and even about cancer. It also has tips about helping your kids and your organization to become optimistic.

What books do you read for hope or inspiration? I welcome your comments and I hope that you will also share your thoughts on living with cancer.

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