The Survivor’s Attitude

Emma here –

When John was first diagnosed with cancer both his medical and radiation oncologists told him his attitude would have a huge impact on his survival. During the months of his chemotherapy and radiation I saw many patients and noticed that some took on cancer as just another thing to get checked off their list while others clearly had a defeated attitude. Of course those who clearly expected to beat their cancer had bad days but, overall, it was clear they had the mindset that they were going to beat the disease and move on with their lives. Thank God, John was one of those people.

While John was undergoing treatment we had to make several trips to the emergency room and the E.R. doctors and nurses told me that people who survived horrible accidents, gunshots, and other life-threatening conditions all seem to have the same attitude. They’re simply convinced they’re going to live.

So how do you develop a survival attitude? Well, part of it is simple determination. When our boys were little more than toddlers I signed them up for ice skating lessons. The teacher had the kids sit on 5 gallon buckets and use their feet to scoot around on the ice. This was to protect the kids from falls. But our boys were determined not to use the buckets. They fell a lot in the beginning but they wouldn’t sit on those buckets! They were skating rings around the other little ones in short order all because they didn’t want to sit. They wanted to skate! Their determination to succeed is why they succeeded.

We hear stories all the time about people in incredibly dangerous situations who have survived in spite of what seem like impossible odds. Remember the movie about the man who cut off his own arm to escape the rocks he was pinned between? It took almost incomprehensible determination and the attitude that he was going to do whatever it took to survive. There are people who have had their cars crash into ravines, out of sight from passersby, who, in spite of being injured and having no food for days and even weeks, were found alive. These people were thrust into situations that could have ended their lives but they instantly became survivors. Giving up is an easy option. Even when people know death will be the outcome, choose to throw in the towel. But surviving in spite of overwhelming odds can be done.

A couple of weeks ago John and I rented the movie “Lone Survivor.” If you aren’t familiar with the story it’s about the real Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell who, along with a four man team, was sent to kill a Taliban leader in Afghanistan. The team was spotted and an incredibly intense, days long firefight broke out. Marcus was the lone survivor of the SEAL team. He had overcome incredible odds and survived. He wasn’t without serious injuries but he came home.

Navy SEAL training is the toughest training in the world. The men are subjected to conditions that are meant to break them both physically and mentally. But they have an “out.” They can simply ring a bell to quit. It’s right in the middle of the training compound. Then the candidate just takes off his helmet liner and puts it in line with those of others who have rung the bell. They are shipped off base very quickly. They don’t even have to worry about a job because they are given other positions within the Navy. But ringing that bell is something that, no matter how much physical and mental anguish they’re facing, no candidate wants to do. Those who make it through have an iron-clad “never quit” attitude.

These men have something in common with the ordinary person who makes it through extraordinary circumstances. They all have the never quit mindset and they all think about making it through, not the next hour, or day, or week. They think about making it through the next minute. That’s all. Just one minute.

A little over 15 years ago I had to have a spinal tap. The doctor messed up and, although I’d gone to the emergency room for a severe headache, I came out a cripple. I was in a wheelchair for years. Most of my doctors said I’d be able to walk “a little” but would be confined to the chair for most of my days. This was unacceptable to me. I had teenaged sons at that time. I love to garden. We had dogs to play with and walk. There was no way I was going to spend the rest of my life in a wheelchair.

I decided that, no matter how much pain I was in, I was going to walk again. I started out just going from my bed to the bathroom. From there I learned to get to the kitchen sans wheels. It wasn’t fast and it definitely wasn’t without pain but I got to the point I could garden by dragging myself along the flower beds. Now I have a prolific vegetable garden, I preserve food for the family, cook and clean like any other housewife except that I still have to take frequent breaks. I play with my grand kids and our dogs. I was even able to take care of John all through his cancer treatments and beyond. It hurts like hell and sometimes I want to just ignore the dogs, the garden, the house, and even John. But I don’t. The pain is sometimes to the point I think I can’t take it but every time that happens I get through it. I do it one minute at a time. I’m not fighting the Taliban and no one is shooting at me but I’m surviving my circumstances. And that’s the kind of survival attitude I know I’ll be able to draw on in the event of a tornado, a massive solar storm or a zombie apocalypse.

This isn’t to say I don’t plan for the long-term. My vegetable garden and canning are long-term planning. But I’m doing it right now. Everything is minute by minute. When you think of it that’s how we all accomplish things.

The biggest threat to accomplishing any task is looking at how big it is and how tough it will be to do it. Ignore that part. Set your goals then work on them in manageable chunks. What’s the first thing you need to do? If you’re planning a garden you first need a spot for it. Pick one. Then, when that task is done, get the area ready. Choose the vegetables you want to grow. Buy seeds. Do each task as if the end goal is just getting that particular task completed. Before long you’ve accomplished your ultimate goal.

If you can’t accomplish a specific task, figure out why you can’t. Is it finances? Figure out a way to increase your income or do it cheaper. Do you lack knowledge to complete it? Figure out the best source for increasing your knowledge be it the Internet, the library, or the old lady down the road. If you don’t have certain skills either learn them or find someone willing to work with you who has those abilities.

Successful people, no matter what line of work they’re in, have one thing in common. They don’t give up. They never let a task beat them. They just keep on even if they make mistakes and have to start over. They don’t think of things as mistakes. They think of them as having learned how NOT to do the task.

You can train yourself to do what you may now think of as impossible. In this process you’ll learn not just what you can do but who you are. Start learning things you’ve never done and didn’t think you could do. Each time you do this you’re increasing both your abilities and your confidence. And when you truly need to survive you will have access to your survivor’s attitude and a slew of skills you can use to save yourself and your family.