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I Got Sober…Then I Got Cancer

Charles was two years sober when the doctor handed him the news. Cancer. A rare form of blood cancer that started in his bone marrow and had spread throughout his body. Chemo might send it into remission, but it would be a long and painful process.

After two decades of drinking, he had finally found a new path. He felt his life was on a good track. He was enjoying quality time with the grand kids. For the first time in a long time, he had hope. Now this.

Looking at the path ahead, Charles wondered if there was any reason to stay sober. What was the point? He was facing illness, pain, turmoil, heartache and his own mortality. After escaping death from his addiction, this new disease would probably kill him. Should he bother with sobriety?

Staring at Death Through the Lens of Addiction

Are you or a loved one facing a similar situation? The irony may feel like too much to handle. Maybe you’re tempted to turn back to your substance of choice to cope with the news. Maybe you’re wondering if there’s any reason not to.

The answer is, yes, there are plenty of reasons to stay sober. Every person’s story is different, but here a few common motives to maintain your sobriety, even in the face of terminal illness.

  • From bad to worse: If you turn to alcohol or drug use, you make your body more vulnerable to the progression of the illness and other complications. You’ll be less responsive to treatment and add more suffering to your trial. In addition to these physical consequences, you’ll suffer psychologically. Substance abuse hurts self-esteem, plunges you into depression, isolates you socially and disconnects you spiritually. On the contrary, staying sober, eating right and exercising increases the length and quality of survival time.
  • An unknown future: Yes, we all eventually die. But we never know for sure when that time will come. Doctors may give estimates, but they are often way off base. Plus, you can’t know how you will respond to treatment. Cancer remission is a possibility. HIV may not develop into AIDS. A major medical breakthrough could occur that offers a cure for your illness. Who knows? The point is to not give up hope…or your sobriety. Those who live in hope are happier and healthier people. If you stay sober, you’ll enjoy a higher quality of life for the remainder of your time – however long that turns out to be.
  • Leaving a legacy: Charles is enjoying time with his grandkids. What will that time look like if he starts drinking again? Does he want his 6-year-old grandson to remember a grandpa that faced his illness with strength and courage and continued to be the Grandpa he had grown to love and admire? Or does he want to shatter that image by returning to the bottle and losing the battle?Whether you are a grandparent, parent, son, daughter, friend or coworker, you have a legacy to protect. If this newly diagnosed illness does end up taking your life, how do you want to be remembered? As one who stayed sober until the end, enjoyed connecting with others as long as possible and contributing to their lives as much as you could? Or as the one who gave up his sobriety in the face of hardship, and brought additional pain on himself and his loved ones? The choice is yours. Choose to leave a legacy you can be proud of.
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