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Don't just be a victim or survivor

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I believe in the power of words to shape our attitudes and feelings about ourselves and others. For example, consider the word "victim." When we call someone a victim, we feel sorry for them, and if they accept the label, they begin to feel sorry for themselves. Next to fear and hatred, self-pity is the most destructive emotion. Doctors are beginning to see the connection between emotions and health. I suppose that’s why they now call cancer patients survivors instead of victims. But even that word has negative connotations. When I hear it, I picture a scarred and traumatized casualty of a disaster or a lean, mean bug-eating cast member of a reality show. I propose two better words: victor and thriver.

When you call yourself a victor and really believe it, you’ve already won half the battle, because attitude is the key to your victory over misfortune or disease. It’s not easy to think of yourself as a victor when you feel miserable from the aftereffects of an accident, disease, or other misfortune. The goal of recovery may seem like a long march up a mountain, fighting all the way. But if you break it down into segments and skirmishes, that is, the day to day routines and tests that are part of your recovery, you can see that every time you do your physical therapy, every time you save a few dollars, or every time you eat a healthy meal and avoid the junk food, you’re a victor. And if you stick with your regimen, you develop a momentum of victory that will carry you over the top to the big victory. Harold H. Benjamin in "From Victim to Victor," urged cancer patients to "go for it with all your might, with the full realization that just making the effort makes you a winner. Take credit for any successes, but don’t assume any blame for the failures."

Cancer victors share six key traits. I would certainly follow their example.

1. They are very positive about their future.
2. They have taken charge of their own health care (i. e. they do not just "trust their doctors.")
3. They have the mental and physical discipline to follow a regimen for an extended period of time.
4. They have used a variety of substances and treatments to get their cancer under control. Rarely do they rely on one substance and succeed in long term survival.
5. They have found a medical professional to monitor their recovery who they trust to co-doctor with them.
6. They have an "advocate" (spouse, friend, relative) who shares their effort at recovery.

Webster’s New World Dictionary defines "thrive" as follows: "to prosper; be successful, especially by practicing thrift." When we don’t waste our energy in negative thinking and emotions or eating and drinking toxic food and drink, we are practicing personal thrift. To be thrivers, we need to be diligent and watch where our energy is going and carefully budget our energy. Do we really need that jolt of caffeine three times a day? Will we get to work any sooner if we swear at the slow drivers in front of us? Dave Frahm, in "A Cancer Battle Plan Sourcebook," tells the story of Rhonda, who came to him for help in recovering from breast cancer. She told him, "I’m here to change my whole life." He writes, "… she did just that. Everything from her diet to the kind of toothpaste she used to the way she handled her anger was evaluated. Wholesale changes were implemented. Today Rhonda is not just surviving, she’s thriving."

When I hear "thrive," I picture a lush garden with abundant plants nourished and protected by compost, earthworms, ladybugs and preying manti. A thriving body is likewise nourished and protected by the organic fruits and vegetables from the thriving garden and beneficial bacteria and other essential nutrients from fermented foods. This is where we get the energy for our budget. A thriving personal economy is nourished by good saving and investing habits and free of spending and wasting bugs.

Dan Baker, in his book "What Happy People Know: How the New Science of Happiness Can Change Your Life for the Better," states that "... thriving is a much higher calling than mere surviving.... In the ultimate analysis, human beings have only two essential, primal feelings: fear and love. Fear impels us to survive, and love enables us to thrive." It’s fine to have the goal of financial or health recovery, but to change your diet, lifestyle and attitudes to such an extent that you become not just diseaseless but healthful, not just having enough to pay the bills but rich beyond your wildest dreams, is the more excellent way. Dr. Baker goes on to say that in the past, "In medicine, doctors focused almost solely upon eradicating illness - instead of helping patients achieve robust, elevated health - and in psychology, doctors focused almost exclusively on overcoming neurosis and psychosis, instead of helping patients achieve happiness and fulfillment... Health was considered to be the mere absence of disease. But health is more than that. Physical health is feeling great. Financial health is feeling grateful. And mental health is feeling happy."

Dr. Baker outlines twelve tools to achieve happiness and five happiness traps. It’s a must read for aspiring victors and thrivers.

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