Playing a poor hand well

by | May 10, 2020

“Life is not always a matter of holding good cards, but sometimes, playing a poor hand well.” – Jack London

 Deck shuffled. Cards dealt.

The cards are not unfamiliar, but over the past few months the rules of the game have changed for all of us. So much so that no one seems to know them anymore. Each day, there are new rules, and in most cases, the game got harder.

We learn a lot when things get tough – a silver lining.

If nothing else, for many, an opportunity for reflection. Slow down, a longing mostly lost in the ‘busyness’ of our pre-pandemic lives.

Still, it is not easy. I’m convinced that discomfort is the prerequisite for growth, and we need more than space for meaningful reflection. It also requires an appetite for the struggle we are required to impose on ourselves.

To go deep, to go forward.

Important things can happen during periods of isolation, but it requires intentional introspection and the rigour of critical thought.

Then, every so often, you look down at your cards, and you see one, although familiar, has no place in this game.

It’s the Joker, and you wonder how it found it’s way into the pack.

On Valentines Day just a few months ago, I was dealt a Joker.

I learned I had cancer.

I use the past tense ‘had’, because that is my hope, and my growing belief having had surgery six weeks ago to remove my prostate gland and having received good news from my surgeon that the cancer was likely contained.

I had no idea I had cancer. There were no signs. I’m indebted to my GP who thought it would be a good idea to check late last year. He went ‘two knuckles deep’, felt a lump with blood tests showing an elevated PSA, with MRI and biopsy to follow over the next few months.

Then the phone call you don’t want to get.

“Cameron, I’m sorry to tell you that you have cancer.”

The surgery was a tad rugged, as are the first couple of weeks afterwards, but I am now able to focus on restoring the functionality previously the domain of my ex-prostate and doing my best not to align my self-esteem and blokey-ego to these.

I will not know for up to two years how well my body will recover, or whether I am cancer-free. I do know, however, that I am in good hands, in particular, my surgeon Prof. Mark Frydenberg, and I have the best care and love from my wife Cecily, kids, family and friends.

Has cancer changed me?

I think so.

Almost from the moment I received the cancer call, I realised I’d spent a lot of time in my life trying to guess an unknown and unknowable future, and how my actions will likely impact on it, and mostly getting it wrong when the future refused to cooperate with my wishes, desires and efforts.

I would sometimes try to justify my actions to others, but mostly I would be unkind to myself.

Then I do it all over again.

No good comes from this. It is so self-defeating and dangerous.

My hope from this point onwards is to try do the best I can knowing that every so often I will get it right enough for it to be meaningful to the small circle that matters.

When we understand what really matters, we get to enjoy what seems to matter.

Deck shuffled. Cards dealt.

If cancer has taught me this, it has been a gift.

The other thing that happens is I cry unexpectedly, like when I am writing this.

Take care.

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Cameron Schwab
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