Cancer: Life's Greatest Teacher

Cancer is the best thing that could have happened to me.
11/22/2016 03:54 pm ET Updated Jan 05, 2017
Jay Gunning

Yeah, I said it. Cancer is the best thing that could have happened to me. Prior to my prognosis, I was egotistical, high strung, and insanely money driven. I focused on two things: making money and meeting people who could introduce me to money. I was on a slippery slope being a 20-something new New Yorker, who left his strong value system back in the Midwest. It wasn’t until I heard the phrase “you have cancer” that would shake me to my core and in an instant, I was set to re-evaluate my life.

I moved to New York nearly five years ago for the opportunity to be part of a start-up. My life consisted of partying at the hottest nightspots until 5am and drinking until I was blackout drunk. I would rest for a few hours, and then do it all over again. Somehow, I managed to continue my daily workout regimen and eat a fairly balanced diet. I thought I was invincible and untouchable; convinced I had life figured out. I had money, a group of socialite friends, and was in great physical shape. What I didn’t have was true happiness―from the inside out.

My tune changed pretty quickly after receiving life changing news. On February 20th, 2015, I received my diagnosis from my oncologist: “It’s stage three. You’ve got about a 50 percent chance and a small window in that time frame to live.” I remember thinking, “holy shit, a coin flip?” I looked at him dead in the eyes and said, “Well, regardless of your stats, I’m going to beat it.” I committed to two things after that brief conversation with my doctor. 1.) my spirit will not falter, and 2.) I will treasure every moment I’m alive. Two days later, I embarked on the journey of a lifetime: chemo.

With my new found outlook on life, I battled chemo and the multiple surgeries that followed with a mental toughness that no sport could have prepared me for. I was lucky enough to feel “normal” despite losing my hair, my beard, my back hair (I’m going to say that was a positive), as well as losing feeling in my hands and thighs. Every day I tested the mind over matter theory to the fullest.

Today, nearly two years later, I look back on my battle with cancer and feel as if it was a different lifetime. However, the memories come back in a split second when I hear of someone being diagnosed or someone fighting the battle. I quickly remember my thin and wispy hair, my patchy beard, and the 12’’ vertical scar from my waistband to just below my sternum, which serves as a reminder of my fight with testicular cancer. To date, cancer has been my greatest teacher. It has taught me:

Fragility of Life. How quickly it could be yanked out from underneath me AND you.

Importance of Relationships: I had no idea how loved I am. So many times during my cancer battle, I received letters, emails, donations, and open arms from people I hadn’t talked to in years. It was in those moments that I realized that the most valuable thing we have in life is our relationships.

Inspiration Comes from Within. Create your own path and find your own damn happiness. For me, health and fitness are my passion, so I’ve launched a company called Rove. I realize how unpredictable each day is, so I will waste no time doing things that don’t make me jump out of bed in the morning.

I’m beyond grateful that I was able to survive cancer and live the rest of my life with purpose and intention; I was able to hit the reset button on life. I realize not everyone is this lucky, so there isn’t a day I don’t count my blessings. For me, hitting the bottom, left me knowing how delicate and important this “life thing” is. If I could leave you with one thing, it is this: we only get so many Saturday’s, so live ’em up.

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