mythmakers, and storytellers all advise us to be more
childlike. Who inherits the kingdom of heaven? Who
sees the truth about the emperor's new clothes? Who lives a
timeless life? As a parent and physician, I have learned
that when you lose the ability to be childlike you put your life
and your health in danger. Children, sick or well, can teach
us about honesty and feelings. They can show us how to be
loving in the face of adversity and even death. I have seen
many children beat cancer--some by getting well and others by
living fully despite the cancer that ended their young lives
early. Many children with cancer have written letters and
some have written books telling what they learned from being sick,
and those letters and books are some of the wisest writings I've
I saw the wisdom
of children in my own family many years ago when it appeared that
our son, Keith at the age of seven, had cancer. He had
complained about his leg hurting and finally, at his urging, we
took an X-ray that showed a defect in the bone. I
immediately assumed cancer. As a physician, I knew that the
only treatment available was an amputation, and that even with
this treatment our beautiful child would probably be dead in a
year. He was scheduled for surgery to biopsy the tumor, but
in the week before his biopsy I viewed him as dead-within-a-year.
I was already
living in a tragic future, mourning a death that hadn't yet
occurred. I couldn't play with the children or have any fun
or make love because I thought I knew what was going to
happen. I wanted to tell all the children in the house,
"Be quiet. Go to your rooms. Your brother is
going to be dead in a year."
The children knew
something was wrong with their brother, and they knew it might be
serious. But they didn't know the statistics so they did not
live in a tragic future. They went about playing, having
fun, living each day as it came and not worrying about events that
might or might not happen. For that week, I was separated
from the family by my grief. Then the biopsy results came
back and the tumor was a rare but totally benign growth. So
our beautiful son was not dead-within-a-year and I was able to
rejoin the family. Keith told me I had handled things
poorly. I agreed because I needed him as my teacher.
The experience helped me understand what the parents of my
patients go through, and it also taught me the folly of living in
the future. . . .
Here is a list of
survival traits. This list was compiled from the works of
many different authors, all of whom had a common experience.
See if you can guess what they have in common.
Live life to the
fullest; no one knows what will happen tomorrow.
comes; use it to master the art of living.
Live one day at a
Share hope with
a light at the end of the tunnel.
No one knows the
power of the individual.
It's all right to
God is always
there to help.
Don't wait for
tragedy; say it today: "I love you and I'm glad you are
What do the
authors of those twelve pieces of wisdom have in common? For
one thing, the authors are all children. No doubt you are
familiar with some of these maxims. You can find similar
messages in popular songs or storybooks. I know I had heard
most of their suggestions twenty years ago when I thought our son
had cancer, but I certainly didn't act as if I knew the value of
living one day at a time.
contributed these items are not simply repeating platitudes from
songs or storybooks. They know what they are talking about,
because each author has or had a life-threatening cancer.
I've been fortunate enough to meet some of these children, and I
consider them my teachers because they live the message
is a well-loved brand name, and his collection of anecdotes,
stories, and supportive advice does have its amusing
moments. Among the topics Siegel covers are how to find
peace of mind; how to love, encourage, and forgive other
people as well as yourself; and how to thrive in bad times
and survive the good times. For those ready to be uplifted
by the soothing repetition of time-tested homilies, Siegel
delivers the goods.