Pieter Vandeker...
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Powers of a mortal superhero

Pieter Vandeker...
Posted by
15 Oct 2016

Do you also feel different after cancer? You are a superhero, you have special powers. I discovered mine through leukaemia when I was 14, when did you?

Prologue

Sometimes it gets tough. We lose everything we have, hair, physical strength, the ability to go somewhere and have some fun with friends. We can no longer taste food and feel the nature as we did before. I felt very lonely on this planet. Everything slowly drifts away, all control slips out of my hands.

My world was changing drastically and I could see the dawn of a new world. After my illness I studied philosophy and I researched dynamic changes in the worldview of people with cancer and cystic fibrosis. Here I wanted to give you an insight to what these stages were for me (some run in parallel), see below. Becoming aware of these stages will help you discover your superpowers and enhance your survival strategies:

  • Survival instinct: hold on to all the old beliefs (immortality)
  • Understanding: uncertainties in my new life (death)
  • Awareness of conflict: old beliefs do not match new beliefs (immortality vs death)
  • Giving meaning: holding on the old beliefs ('why me?')
  • Letting go: accepting a new world with fundamental uncertainties (death is possible)
  • Building a new worldview: new priorities in life (enjoy life in a different way)

Basecamp

I was 14 (14 years ago) and doctors told me I had an illness called cancer. Leukaemia what? What could that possibly be? I felt like a white dot in black space (see picture above). Yet, somehow I felt confident in myself - it would take more than just a disease to bring me down.

Even though I started to realise I was standing at the foot of a steep mountain, I realised that I was not alone. This hospital they took me to (University Hospital Gent, Belgium) seemed like basecamp. There were expert guides to take you to the top of the mountain with very fancy trekking gear. Some were professional guides others were people I have known a long time and they decided to join me on my journey.

The fellowship of my life

I am so grateful for my family, friends and everybody who support me at that moment and are still supporting me now. My mom was one of those expert guides I felt immediately. She started to read passages to me of Dr. Joseph Murphy's book The Power of your Subconscious mind.

What in god's name is that all about? Survival mode is switched on. I take everything step by step, day by day. I want to take it easy. The irrelevant must wait.

The awakening

Murphy's ideas sounded powerful. They pushed me much further to connect to something much deeper. Murphy calls this the power within yourself, your subconscious mind. As a 14 year old I had no idea what cancer was let alone my subconscious power.

I realised there is more to it than just basecamp, the trekking gear and the guides. I started asking myself many questions. What does this mean for my health after cancer? Can I still go to school, live a normal life? Can I still have a girlfriend? Who knows I am ill? Can my family cope with this?

Excuse me, an invisible disease?

People are wishing me well. But what can you do with those wishes? I felt a lot of support from the guides and the supporters along the way, but it felt empty because I could not relate to it. Support for what?

I had swollen lymph nodes which were pressing against my windpipe (trachea) so I could not breath well anymore. For some reason I was exhausted after 5 seconds. Doctors explain to me that my blood cells are going bananas. Excuse me, I have an invisible disease that makes me breath weirdly?

What was much more intimidating was basecamp, the guides, the trekking gear and perhaps mostly the dangers of the journey which are explained in detail. This is what I understood: "So Pieter, we know that you will most likely make it to the top and you seem like a strong young man. However, there are critical health risks. We know from other mountaineers you will loose your hair, you will lose weight and Cortisone might inflate your face like a balloon. There are other risks, but those will be discussed when we get there."

They tell me I need an IV catheter to make it to the next post. It seems like they want to start using some new liquids to get rid of my blood cells, which are currently going bananas. "Please sign the agreement Pieter, we need to go to the top of mountain as soon as possible."

This is not an amusement park

Hold on a minute, nobody asked me to come here! My parents drove me straight to basecamp, but what if I am not ready to climb such a steep mountain and risk my life?

It takes a long time to read an agreement they ask me to sign. That moment suddenly, all the weight falls down on my shoulders. This is not an amusement park, this is basecamp and the challenges are real. Did you look around you?

My mom and the nurses leave the room and they chat in the hallway. It becomes quiet. The confidence has shrunk now, because I know more about this somewhat planned journey. I feel people are getting impatient. I take a moment to come to myself. Deep down I feel calmness, a strong feeling. I sign the documents.

How can I find my way?

When I start seeing the challenges ahead, I started to realise as well that I am locked in a hospital room. Looking back at my journey today, this feeling inside me was guiding me as a stable compass. It helped me not to drift of too far and follow this feeling inside me as a compass.

All of a sudden a doctor stands in the doorway. His name is Dr Yves Benoit and he has a strong warm voice. He is very charismatic. I get up from my bed and walk towards him.

I remember this moment vividly. He reaches for my hand and asks me: "Are we going for it?"

Through this moment of a handshake I felt a million things. This doctor knows there is a way? He must believe I can make it! As I look at him I get a boost of warm confidence going through my body. I am not alone. I say: “yes, we are.”

I realise, I will definitely not lose my way as I long as I focus on the fact that we are going for it and I focus on my calm strong feeling inside me.

An invisible approach for an invisible disease

Maybe Murphy was right about a power within ourselves? If he is right, why is he always going on about God? What does he have to do with this? Look, my mom said: “Just focus on the idea, ok?”

I started focusing more and more on this driving feeling inside me. I could not really grasp what it was. It was invisible. I was convinced that it was something strong inside me.  

Perhaps our subconscious mind relates to a strong force inside of us? To make this invisible feeling visible for myself I drew a colourful force with many colours which I imagined to be inside me (see image below). Focusing on this force for me is like focusing on a beacon of light. A warm, safe heaven.

Use your invisible power

Looking back at it today, I am a strong believer that using our invisible forces to tackle an invisible disease seems very effective. Now I understand that the subconscious mind Murphy is talking about is everything we do on automatic pilot. It is who we are.

We are not conscious half of the time during the day (see this study). Our subconscious being is active when the lights go down and we sleep. So how does it look like? Our subconscious mind is invisible to us because it is precisely not conscious. Imagine consciousness is like a flashlight than subconsciousness is like the darkness around the light of a flashlight. It is everywhere yet nowhere at one point precisely. If you shine our light towards a dark area it becomes light and the darkness disappears. We cannot shed light on the darkness because it immediately disappears. So if the subconscious mind is everywhere, yet invisible how can we use it? How can a warrior be focused on the goal of daily survival and simultaneously be focused on this invisible subconsciousness?

The answer to life, the universe and everything

Many questions about how to survive, how to deal with this disease inevitably lead me to look at myself. Why did I get ill? What is the meaning of this? What is the meaning of all these silly events. I quickly stopped asking myself these questions as I felt that all these questions are impossible to answer. Even if I would know why I had this disease, it would not change the present.

Years later, I studied how people go through these experiences for my degree in philosophy. Through my research I found that these questions come from a need to comfort our own uncertainties. We are beings who look for meaning in our life and therefore it is only natural that we try to make sense of this event in our life. 

"Why me" questions are centred around our self and our feelings. They may help us process our illness but it is important to be aware of this process in order to take a step back from it and let go of this question. Are we not all human beings born in an incredible way against all the odds? Would you rather solely focus on all the odds against your birth or would you also like to try to enjoy the time you have being alive?

If you are still looking for an answer to the meaning of life, I have found one! The biggest questions society tries to answer in Douglas Adams’s book of A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is: what is the meaning of life, the universe and everything. A supercomputer Deep Thought finds after 7.5million years that the answer is 42. So, that is sorted.

A mortal superhero

After I moved beyond "why me?" I started to focus on the question how can I survive this illness successfully? I am not sure how much of this process happens unconsciously or consciously but I wanted to come to terms with my own uncertaintties about life at the present moment. This is a different perspective here that I used compared to looking at my illness as "why me?". 

I saw it was a real possibility that things could go wrong as my body was slowly changing form. What was my life all about? If I would die tomorrow, would I have had a fulfilling life? I realised I thought I was immortal, death was impossible before I was diagnosed. Now I felt how fragile life is and how soon it can end.

I wanted to make sure I am at peace with the fact that I could die. I went through all the things in my life that I have done and forgive myself for any mistakes that I thought I had done.

If everything falls away all the certainties of life and everything I took for granted what is left? Slowly I started to realise more who I am. I felt this same good positive energy in myself that I felt the first instance when I was in the hospital and I was diagnosed. I will always have a positive mindset and it does not matter if I am a mortal human being.

A mortal superhero loving himself unconditionally

After focusing on the positive invisible power withing whyself I was re-examining everything again from a new perspective. I wanted to enjoy eating, walking, laughing and having fun with friends and family. It is now that I realise that each of these experiences in life we have because we are alive. I became aware of these moments in an entirely different way. Because I could only enjoy a small fragment of these great moments I enjoyed them much more. Deep down all of this was only possible because I was alive. I am grateful for being alive. For this I love myself, my parents and everything that makes this possible.

Comments

19.10.2016

Fantastically written Pieter, I really enjoyed reading your blog and it totally rang true for me, currently having treatment for ALL. I agree, I'm grateful every day to be here and be able to enjoy the moments that I probably took for granted before. All the very best xx

23.10.2016

Hi Ems,

Thank you, I have been reading your blogs as well and you are a great inspiration for all of us!  You can do it!

I host workshops for people with similar experiences to tackle the big climb together in a fun and creative way. My website is www.addperspective.com.

Keep shining that bright light Ems!

 

Pieter