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March 15, 2012 at 9:34 PMComments: 0 Faves: 0

A Doctor's Observation: The 4 Traits of Disease Survivors

By Jeffrey VanWingen M.D. More Blogs by This Author

I spend much of my time teaching patients. Often, however, the teacher gets taught.

I am continually amazed and inspired by my patients. The kind of people I am talking about here epitomize the phrase, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going!” Further, once these people go through the challenge at hand, they keep going in a potent type of existence.

This blog will examine such people, their resilience and their positive influence on those around them.

#1. Accept Support

Always around birthdays and Christmas, I try to emphasize that it is better to give than to receive with my children. While this is true however, we need to realize that it is okay toreceive  gifts as well! I see health challenges strike people and in these times, those who are able to lean on their loved ones do better. 

Family and friends are called your “circle” with good reason. In a healthy circle you give into it and it comes around and back to you. Ask yourself honestly if you are capable of receiving the hospitality and compassion of others in your circle. Do you know who has your back? Give love but also know where it comes from.

#2. Are Thankful

Beyond the support of loved ones, the ones that fair best have a resilient and thankful nature. 

Some people are blessed with being satisfied with what they have. They are thankful for every day of their lives, every breath that they take. They do not dwell on having a better job, a better car or more of anything in their lives. I have heard it said that, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him the expectations you have for your life.” This seems true with life in general in that it is full of many unexpected turns. 

Being content yields peace when challenges come. Some people find this peace through their faith. Faith gives a framework for adversity. It brings acceptance, offers guidance and preserves hope. Additionally, some people are just plain blessed with the ability to remain optimistic.  To them, the cup is always “half-full.” 

#3. Have a Sense of Humor

Though stricken with things that are no laughing matter, I admire my patients who can still laugh when also facing challenges. Though difficult to study objectively, a behaviorist named Norman Cousins from UCLA’s medical school gained notoriety with his personal experience during illness. Diagnosed with a severely painful disease and told he had little chance of recovery, Cousins prescribed himself Marx Brothers slapstick comedy movies and engaged in “genuine belly laughter” for at least 10 minutes each day! He documented and contended that laughter yielded a definite anesthetic effect, gave better sleep despite the pain and actually prolonged his life. 

In my personal experience caring for patients, I would agree that laughter is good medicine with potential positive effects on illness.

#4. See Meaning in Life Challenges

Resilient people seem to understand that things happen for a reason. To this end, beating a disease is not necessarily the end of the journey. Down the road, invariably, a person in a like crisis crosses their path. To engage a person, letting them know that, “I know how you feel, I was where you are now.  I beat it and so can you,” is encouragement beyond measure. For the survivor, it is validation- finally turning the last page on that challenging chapter in the book of their lives.

So, here’s to you, resilient survivors! You are an inspiration to those around you! May we learn from your positive traits toward hopefully thriving if adversity should strike. And, may we be reminded continually, no matter the circumstances, that we should love, laugh, and in return, LIVE.

Photo Credit: larryvincent

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