From Discomfort to Resilience Using 4 Truths & 3 F's
Updated: Jun 6
Ironing Out the Wrinkles podcast guest Terry Tucker - motivational speaker, author,
Are you stuck in a cycle of fear and negativity about all the changes that come with getting older? Fear of losing your identity after retirement and becoming invisible and invalid? Fear of the body changes and health issues, fear of death, and a sense of timing running out, and so on and so on.
It's well reported that negative attitudes towards aging cause people to react more negatively toward daily stresses. In contrast, having positive views towards aging is associated with higher levels of life satisfaction, better self-related health, improved social networks, and better well-being. But how much control do we really have over our mindset when obstacles appear to be challenging us?
Terry Tucker, our podcast guest on Ironing Out the Wrinkles, says that the one thing he learned during all his pain and suffering was that you have two choices. You can succumb to discomfort and misery, or you can learn to embrace it and use it to make you a stronger, better human being. When his own life changed after a cancer diagnosis led to his foot being amputated and later his leg, he came to understand that the responsibility for altering your life is entirely up to you.
In 2012, he was a girls' high school basketball coach in Texas, United States when a callous broke open on the bottom of his foot. Initially, he didn't think much of it, because as a coach, you're on your feet a lot.
But after a few weeks of it not healing, a specialist thought it might be a little cyst and preceded to cut it out. It was just a little gelatin sack with some white fat in it, no dark spots, and no blood, nothing gave either of them cause for concern. Then two weeks later, he received a call with some troubling pathology results. Terry had a very rare form of melanoma. And most people think of melanoma as too much exposure to the sun and impacts the melan, the pigment in our skin. This is a rare form that has nothing to do with sun exposure that appears on the bottom of the feet or the palms of the hands.
Terry was admitted to a world-renowned cancer hospital where they cut out the bottom of his foot and all the lymph nodes in his groin were taken out. And at the time, melanoma was pretty much a death sentence. There was no treatment for it. There were no drugs they could give. When he healed, his doctor put him on a weekly injection of a drug called Interferon to kind of help keep the disease from coming back.
The side effects of the interferon were that it gave him severe flu-like symptoms for two to three days every week after each injection. And he took those weekly injections for almost five years. It wasn't a cure. As his doctor used to say, we're trying to kick the can down the road and buy you more time. So five years of interferon eventually became so toxic to his body that he ended up in the intensive care unit with a fever of 108 degrees, which is usually not compatible with being alive. Somehow he survived that, but had to stop the interferon and almost immediately the cancer came back in the exact same spot on his foot where it had presented five years earlier.
That necessitated the amputation of his left foot in 2018. By 2019, the cancer worked its way up his leg, two more surgeries. And then right in the middle of the COVID pandemic, an undiagnosed tumor in his ankle area grew large enough that it fractured his tibia, his shin bone. And his only recourse was to have his left leg amputated above the knee. He also found out he had tumors in his lungs, which he's still being treated for.
Three F’s - faith, family and friends
As part of the cancer journey, Terry initially devised a system of 3 F’s to hold him steady during his ordeal.
First, you must have a very deep faith in God. In the United States, he's seen many people start down a road toward a goal and then they butt up against an impediment. Something gets in their way, and if they can't get over it, around it, through it, whatever, they just quit. But they don't just quit, they also need to blame somebody. Blame our mom and dad. Blame our boss or our station in life. When friends found out he had cancer, they asked, “You must blame God?" Terry responded jokingly, “I don't think God got up on a Tuesday morning, checked his to-do list and said, and said Terry Tucker, cancer today.” But he does believe God has given him the strength to get through these past 10 years. That's the Faith part of it.
The Family part, involves his wife and daughter. When he had his leg amputated, his doctor wanted to put him on chemotherapy. Now eight years into this treatment journey with no signs of a cure, Terry really din't know if he wanted to take chemo. To be sick and go through all that and still die….
So he shared his thoughts with his wife and daughter. His daughter initiated a family meeting, sitting around the kitchen table and individually talking about how they felt about him having chemotherapy. They took a vote. He lost. He would be having chemo. Wasn’t it his decision to make?
But he remember back when he was in the police academy, and his defensive tactics instructor used to have them bring a photograph of the people they love the most to class. And as they were learning techniques to defend themselves, they were to look at that photograph, because it was reasoned you will fight harder for the people you love than you will fight for yourself. So he ended up taking chemotherapy, not because he wanted to, but because he love his wife and daughter more than he love myself.
In hindsight, it was a bridge to get him to where he's now.
When you’re in a tight spot, you really find out who's in your corner, especially when you have a chronic or a terminal illness. People you expected to be there all of a sudden aren't, and people who you never expected to be there all of a sudden never leave your side. And it's really a tremendous feeling.
It’s not just about you when you're going through this. It's the impact that it has on all the other people that you touch, whether it's your friends, your family, your spouse, your children, whatever. That's something Terry's really been cognizant of, the fact that the’s going through the physical pain, but they're going through the emotional pain. The emotional pain sometimes hurts a little bit more than the physical pain.
While he’s accepted that he’s dying, and is comfortable with the prospect, his family are the ones being left behind with the grief. It’s another reason not to blame God. He believes that part of this journey is about helping others through his own struggles.
The Four Truths
1. Controlling your mind, so it doesn’t control you.
2. Embracing pain and difficulty and using it to make you a stronger and more determined individual.
3. Understanding that what you leave behind is what you weave in the hearts of other people.
4. Remembering that as long as you don’t quit, you can never be defeated.
Everybody's going to die, but not everybody's really going to live. In the end, it’s not what you do that matters, it’s how you make people feel. So when Terry was diagnosed, he made a conscious decision that he would never, take out his misfortune out on somebody that was going to help him, no matter how bad of a day he was having, or how much he was hurting. That’s a hard call.
He's seen so many people do that. They lash out. They're scared, they're anxious, they're worried. He gets it. And he’s not perfect. He’s a human being, he make mistakes. But he’s mindful to apologize when he does lash out. Words are powerful, aren't they?
But cancer or no cancer, people are met with all manner of challenges in their daily lives, so how do we move beyond our fear of changes. How much control do we really have over our circumstances and how important is our mindset in combatting those struggles?
When Terry was in military college, a story was told of a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War back in the 60s and 70s. A prisoner for eight years, he was confined to the Hanoi Hilton. He was beaten, he was tortured. When asked “Who survived that horrible captivity?”, he said that it wasn't the big, tall, strong, tough guys that handled torture, because people can come up with horrible ways to torture each other. Those were not the people that survived. And it wasn't even the optimists, the people who said, hey, we're going to be released by Thanksgiving or Christmas or Easter, because Thanksgiving and Christmas and Easter came, and they weren't released. Those people, he said, died of a broken heart.
The people that survived understood what they could control and controlled it. And what we could control was basically our breathing and our thoughts. Those were the only two things that we had control over while in captivity, and the people that figured that out survived that horror, and the people who didn't, didn't survive it.
You only have control over your breath. It's just that simple. And yet, for many it’s not simple at all. People think there's some sort of big journey you need to go on or steps that you need to take, but it's that simple. Control your breath. We can all concentrate on the breath.
So maybe we have more control over our attitudes than we think. But for the most part, we need to become comfortable with being uncomfortable. Because being uncomfortable is another way of realizing that there's so much more that you can do if you’re not putting limitations in your own way.
Everything starts with your mind. If you can't control your mind, everything else goes out the window. But if you can control it, there’s nothing you won’t be able to handle, including chronic or terminal illness, and even death.
A basketball coach once divided his team into two… he had half the team practise shooting hoops, goals, and the other half had to close their eyes and imagine that they were doing that. The end result was that the players who had actually closed their eyes and imagined themselves successfully shooting hoops actually exceeded the others during the real game. Is that saying our mind is just so powerful we can probably do a lot more than we realize? They've also done research in terms of MRI scans showing there's a certain part of your brain that lights up as you're imaging achieving ‘success’.
Self-talk works the same way. Be very careful with that self-talk because we all become what we think. And self talk shows up in the language we use so we need to change the language around something, in order to see it in a more positive light. For instance, saying ‘I have to go’ versus ‘I get to go’. How many people do that? You get up in the morning, and straight away you’re thinking ‘have to go to work, have to take the kids to school’. Whatever it is, what if you change that to he I get to? Because there are certain people that would love to go to work, that would love to get up and go to work.
Terrys whole premise is about what mark we’re leaving on the world. People who are afraid to retire and are asking themselves “what am he going to do now?”. Just go out and be the best grandma, or grandad. Smile at the people at the checkout. It doesn't have to be something major, just be conscious of what mark you're living on the world, how often you bring joy to another with a simple kind word or a smile. Live like you’re dying, because that makes you conscious of how you’re living now, and what you’re putting into life now.
When I did Buddhist course on Death and Dying several years ago, we had to go out and talk to people about death. Doors were closing in my face. People slammed down the phone. People are afraid to talk about death. It makes them uncomfortable. It’s the elephant in the room.
Back to ‘purpose’..... History is full of people who didn't give up trying to find their purpose in life. But purpose can also change over time, so hanging on to tightly to an ideal, or to an attachment of what you did in the past, can cause you all sorts of grief. There’s the mindset again. The self-talk about your own sense of value.
You believe your purpose, or your passion, has to be the job or occupation. And if that works out, that's great. But your job could be something that simply pays the bills, and your purpose is to be a podcast host, or to paint, or to write, or to take care of your grandkids … whatever it is that you feel you're supposed to do.
Terry believes we’re born full and our job, our purpose, is to basically pour ourselves out for the betterment of ourselves, our family, our friends, our communities, our world. We're of the belief that we’ve got to have all this stuff, and that all this stuff makes you happy, but it’s just the opposite.
Author of the book Sustainable Excellence, 10 Principles to Leading Your Uncommon and Extraordinary Life. He was a marketing executive, a hospital administrator, a SWAT team hostage negotiator, and a high school basketball coach. As of March 2023, Terry is still doing motivational speaking and can be found on LinkedIn, Facebook, and several podcastcast channels as a guest speaker.
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