Love your family and yourself as deeply as you can. Find laughter. Avoid stress. Serve others. Be grateful and demand to live longer!!
Cancer is a horrible and terrifying disease. Yet millions of people have beaten the odds and beat cancer. Authority Magazine started a new series called “I Survived Cancer and Here Is How I Did It”. In this interview series, we are talking to cancer survivors to share their stories, in order to offer hope and provide strength to people who are being impacted by cancer today. As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeffrey Deckman.
Jeffrey refers to himself as a cancer thriver. He was diagnosed with stage 3 neck cancer 5 years ago at the age of 59. Weeks later they changed it to stage 4. Jeffrey is a father, a grandfather and a deeply spiritual man who became even more so as a result of his cancer journey. Which he refers to as one of the greatest gifts he has received in life.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! We really appreciate the courage it takes to publicly share your story. Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your background and your childhood backstory?
I was born in a small town central Pennsylvania to an economically challenged set of parents who made up with love what we lacked in money. I moved quite a bit when I was young. But I had 4 siblings so we sort of formed a “traveling tribe” that brought us closer. I lived in 4 states and went to 6 schools before graduating and becoming a lineman and tower and eventually an engineer, entrepreneur and author.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I have two.
- “No one or nothing can ever make me give up on or quit anything.”
- “I am what I am because this one is like that. And I will be that with as much grace as I can muster.”
(I view this as a powerfully effective prayer of self-acceptance that becomes part of my story further into the interview.)
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about surviving cancer. Do you feel comfortable sharing with us the story surrounding how you found out that you had cancer? Yes
What was the scariest part of that event?
Realizing how vulnerable we all are at all times to a diagnosis that we have no control over.
What did you think was the worst thing that could happen to you?
That I would die before being able to walk my daughter down the ailse; be at my sons’ weddings and never meeting my future grandchildren.
How did you react in the short term?
After almost succumbing to a flash emotional melt-down and full collapse while in a Trader Joes around 8:30 on a Tuesday night I realized the only way out of this was to “look up” and totally surrender the outcome to a loving God.
After the dust settled, what coping mechanisms did you use? What did you do to cope physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually?
Early on in the process I realized that I had to spiritualize the entire experience or it would hunt and haunt me. To do that I decided to look at the entire experience through “spiritual eyes.” To do that I chose to see cancer as a teacher of great lessons in life. The moment I realized it was a teacher I knew I was going to benefit greatly from the experience. Knowing I was entering what would be the most powerful and important “class” of my life. That then gave the experience purpose. And I saw that part of my purpose was to go through the process with as much grace and courage and honesty and vulnerability as I could muster.
I wanted to learn about myself at my core. I wanted to be an example of living authentically to my children and I wanted to support others who I met who were on a similar journey.
Once looked at it through spiritual eyes the entire experience became spiritualized. And while I saw it as a teacher I also committed to passing the class by learning, living and giving to others.
Is there a particular person you are grateful towards who helped you learn to cope and heal? Can you share a story about that?
My adult daughter Allison was, and is, my rock. While others supported me it was she who really went into the trenches with me. Every time I even came close to needing anything at any level she would be there without my even needing to call her. She was my most important “Earth Angel”.
In my own cancer struggle, I sometimes used the idea of embodiment to help me cope. Let’s take a minute to look at cancer from an embodiment perspective. If your cancer had a message for you, what do you think it would want or say?
Live your life loving your life. Live your life with compassion and loving respect for yourself and others. We all struggle and many of us do so silently. So, be kind. Be compassionate. Be forgiving. And send others love and wish them well on their journey.
What did you learn about yourself from this very difficult experience? How has cancer shaped your worldview? What has it taught you that you might never have considered before? Can you please explain with a story or example?
I learned that I have a tremendous capacity to deal with adversity with grace. I learned how to surrender and trust my higher power and myself at an incredibly deep level. Cancer taught me so much, which I captured in an audio diary and turned into a podcast on Spreaker titled Stewards of the Light.
One of the most poignant lessons I learned was about how hard on myself I was and how foolishly damaging and tragic it would be if I died without truly respecting myself and always criticizing myself.
That realization came to me late one evening during the last week of my treatments. I was exhausted. I had lost 35 pounds, almost all of my energy and had been in severe pain for quite a long time.
I woke up at around 3:00AM. I hated waking up at night because not only was it difficult to go back to sleep but also because the only time I wasn’t experiencing pain was when I was asleep. But this time when I woke up I had a spiritual experience that was so poignant that it scared me so badly and deeply that it changed me forever.
The only way I can describe the experience is to not worry about making it make sense to anyone else but me. So this is what happened.
I woke up as I mentioned. And as I was lying there experiencing the pain and the bone deep mental and physical fatigue the cancer experience was giving me I found myself entering a dialogue with something that I can’t identify. But this is how it went.
“Hey, you know how you are feeling like you are in the process of dying? All your energy is gone and the pain is so present and you have never so ill. But you know your prognosis is good so you aren’t dying. You will regain your health. But someday, many years from now, you may be experiencing this feeling on your death bed. And you won’t be coming back. You will be preparing to depart this earth.”
To which I cautiously answered “Yes” not knowing where this was headed.
Then the “voice” asked a question that forever changed how I see myself, respect myself and love myself, when it asked: “So what if when you are on your future death bed you look back in the last hours of your life and you realized that you never truly loved or respected yourself to the degree you could have and SHOULD have? How would you feel in that moment?”
That question not only stunned me, but it shook me to my core. Because I realized that I would have immediately felt incredible remorse for being so wastefully foolish of so much time by being so hard on myself. And for allowing my inner critic, who I now call the “Liar Dude”, to be hold me hostage like a jailer who would never parole me. And I would have no time to live a life where I respected myself and enjoyed myself more. What a wasted opportunity and what a horrible mindset to have on the way out.
In that moment I decided that I was enough. Even though I have faults; so what? Who doesn’t? But am I a good guy? Yes! Are my intentions honorable even though my actions and emotions may fall short? Yes! Am I an imperfect being who is doing the best I can as best I can? Yes! Do I want to spend the last hours of this life I have been gifted with remorseful and filled with regret? NO!
So, in that moment I decided to put down the whip and pick up the love. It was then that I committed to living my life quote as best as I can as often as I can. “I am what I am because this one is like that. And I will be that with as much grace as I can muster.” And I will never disrespect myself again. I may get disappointed at times but I will hold myself accountable with love and respect, not abuse or internal insults.
How have you used your experience to bring goodness to the world?
First of all, I am a kinder, more compassionate, understanding and forgiving force in my world. I have deepened my spirituality and ended up writing a book on Conscious Leadership that has won several national and international awards.
What are a few of the biggest misconceptions and myths out there about fighting cancer that you would like to dispel?
The biggest for me is that I should fight cancer. I was challenged by a very wise woman, who had her own experiences with cancer, that I should not use words like fight or hate in relationship to the experience. Instead she challenged me to “Love the cancer because anything other than love that is in your heart or mind is just another form of cancer. And you have enough of that in your system now.”
While that seemed ludicrous to me I took on the challenge to see if I could turn it into a gift. That was how I came to view it as my teacher of phenomenal lessons that were so beautiful and profound that they simply couldn’t come without much effort and discomfort. But the price I would pay pales in comparison to the benefits I received.
And while I had the hard-core mentality of “I win! No matter what.” I learned that I could be for my winning without fighting against it.
And while certainly don’t want it to come back, I never hated the cancer I just focused upon creating and living loving and healing energies. Bu
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experiences and knowledge, what advice would you give to others who have recently been diagnosed with cancer? What are your “5 Things You Need To Beat Cancer? Please share a story or example for each.
- Love and respect yourself NOW. Don’t wait. You have nothing to prove or to earn. You are already loved by the Universe so you might as well join the party! Besides he Universe is always right!
- No one, or nothing can EVER make you give up. So Don’t. You win!
- Live a life of awareness. Be present. All of us have a runway that ends at some point not of our knowing. So, waste not, want not and leave it all on the field of life.
- Find the purpose if your journey. What is the cancer experience here to teach you that you secretly want to know.
- Love your family and yourself as deeply as you can. Find laughter. Avoid stress. Serve others. Be grateful and demand to live longer!!
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be?
It would be a movement that gets people to see how connected we all are, how vulnerable we all are and how much respect and love we all deserve to feel.
“We are what we are because these ones are like this. And we will be that with as much grace as we can muster.” And we are going to have a blast doing it! Because this life is a gift life. Open it.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. 🙂
Jordan Peterson or Joe Rogan
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Go to www.jeffreydeckman.com. Visit my YouTube channel or read my book; Developing the Conscious Leadership Mindset for the 21st Century.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health! Thank you!