Beating the Odds: What it takes to be Exceptional
by Barry Bittman, MD
Imagine throwing a party and practically no one shows up. That's just about what happened to Bernie Siegel more than 35 years ago when he sent more than 100 invitations to individuals with cancer to attend a free presentations about living longer, healthier lives. Despite his concerns for not having enough space, only 12 managed to walk through the door.
It must have been a shock for a man who maintained amazing stamina with one of the busiest speaking schedules in our nation who typically packed the house even when it held more than 10,000 seats. Actually, it was a surprise and a reality check for the soon-to-be-best-selling author and world-renowned motivational mind-body-spirit speaker.
Yet rather than chalking the experience up to failure, he and his wife Bobbie pondered the situation. Deep down inside, they must have realized that 70 percent of success is, in fact, showing up. With their typical Siegel flair, they turned what could have been lemons into lemonade. Hence, they focused on the positive side of things and recognized these participants as "exceptional" -- the first official "Exceptional Cancer Patients" after which Bernie named his non-profit organization, ECaP.
Through numerous interviews and countless personal conversations and work sessions with Bernie, I've come to learn what ECaP means. Becoming exceptional doesn't require a college education, a medical background, a six-figure income, a vision quest of a three-month spiritual retreat. Exceptional cancer patients are people who simply share a heart-felt desire to do the most they can to improve the quality of their lives. And there is one other thing that sets them apart from the others -- they show up.
Exceptional cancer patients make time in their lives to seek the help they needs to maximize their healing choices. Actually, it's easy to pick them out of a crowd. They're the ones who read the books, listen to the CD's, attend the educational seminars and search for cutting edge information on every front. They also seems to focus not so much on extending survival, but rather on enjoying life to the fullest whenever possible.
If you ask Bernie, he'll tell you that everyone is exceptional. The problem is we just don't recognize it. Unique, special, precious and lovable are other terms he often uses to describe practically everyone he meets. After all, Bernie's the ultimate optimist who challenges everyone to take a good hard look at their baby pictures and celebrate the exceptional being they are.
If Bernie's right, and I'm not doubting his years of wisdom, why does the "exceptional" seem to wear off most people? The answer may be simpler than we realize.
"Exceptional" typically disappears when people are stressed. And in our society, each day has more than its share of challenges. It's easy to forget who we are and our reason for living. When depression and despair set in, there's a tendency to stop taking care of ourselves and simply await the cure.
Yet amidst incredible challenges and adversity, a small group of people seem to always emerge as exceptional. They are our best teachers and guides. Their personal qualities are obvious and reflect strengths we'd like to see in ourselves.
You may be doubtful based upon the many wonderful people you've know who ultimately succumbed to cancer and other serious illnesses despite their positive attitudes. Yet what you may not realize is that cheating death is not in the cards for any of us. Living every moment possible with love in our hearts is the key to being exceptional. After all, that's what always makes these incredible souls stand out in our minds. We're blessed with the lessons they have shared with us and taught us by example.
So rather than feeling depressed and wondering "Why me?", take a moment to find something to be grateful for in your life. One step at a time, you can rebuild your health, reshape your life and re-energize your spirit. Find the friends and healthcare professionals you need to build your survival team. Your life counts!