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Cancer, When Is Enough, Enough?

Ken Pierce is a board-certified clinical psychologist and CEO of The Pierce Institute of Psychology Inc. He has authored many psychological works including seven books and 400 case study web-posts. Ken is considered a human behaviour expert having worked in business, education and private practice for over 40 years.

Executive Contributor Ken Pierce

Cancer is often misunderstood. Many people fear it and death needlessly. Our pending future death is a lever to motivate us in our present lives. Our body, brain and mind are designed to optimize us in the future. What if you could use your understanding of cancer and death to live the life you desire? To find out more, read on.

Photo of man with dextrose

“Life and death are illusions. We are in a constant state of transformation.” – Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, director


“But, callum had found another oncologist…” 

Callum was sixty-two years old. He was one of those modern hairless men you often see who had decided being bald is beautiful. But, I soon found out Callum had something else going on.

Callum had been diagnosed with terminal cancer five years ago. He had been given eighteen months to live by his doctor. But, he was still here! Callum’s first oncologist told him that chemo was very expensive and wouldn’t have much effect anyway.

But, Callum had found another oncologist, several hours away in another clinic, who was willing to provide the treatments regardless. And, Callum was still, as he phrased it, ‘On this side of the grass!’”

Callum was in his second marriage to Cathy and they had one child, Casey who was in university studying engineering. Casey was out on his own now and so it was just the two of them at home dealing with his situation.

Cathy had her own health issues, including obesity and type II diabetes. She was kept busy watching her diet and pumping her metformin to keep her diabetic condition under control.

But, Cathy also provided as much support as she could to Callum by sharing the driving to his treatments and being his primary emotional cheerleader.

Callum also had one friend, Caesar, with whom he shared everything that was happening to him. Caesar was a former colleague and they had a long history of battling bureaucracies together at work. So Caesar was a useful ally as he fought the medical system for his treatments.

Callum had recently received an update on his condition from his doctor which indicated that the cancer had spread throughout his body. He was having ongoing problems with bowel control and balance. And, he was noticing the drain his condition was having on Cathy.


“…When do I know when I should stop fighting for my life and just let it happen...”

These events brought him to my office.

After I had collected his history and remarked on his determination to fight for himself, I asked him how I might serve him, to which he responded,

“Ken, when is enough…enough? When do I know when I should stop fighting for my life and just let it happen…in terms of my cancer? I am getting tired of it all!”

“You sure ask easy questions!” I said, smiling at him.

“Yes…it is probably not fair to even ask you…?” he replied, with his own smile.

“Callum, I’ve learned all questions are OK because they help us focus on what we need to learn…so, your question is fine! But, I can’t answer it for you. But, I can help you find your own answer. Does that interest you?”

“That’s what brought here, Ken! I need to find an answer,” he replied.


“…when do I stop? Or perhaps my question is…can I stop?” 

“OK! Let’s start with a little biology, OK?”

“Sure!” he said with a questioning look on his face.

I started off with,

“Callum, we are members of the human species and like all living things we were created with a ‘drive to survive.’

And then added,

“This ‘drive to survive’ is often called other things like our will to live, our drive to reproduce, our desire to learn, our need to evolve, our efforts to get smarter or stronger!”

“I guess that’s what I have been using so far…but, when do I stop? Or perhaps my question is…can I stop?”

“Callum, the human mind is very powerful. We can literally think ourselves to death if we decide. Just check out the number of aged seniors who give up their will to live after their spouse passes.”

Side view of worried sad male adult patient.

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” – Marie Curie, physicist


“…we are all willing ourselves to live each day since we were conceived.”

“So, I’ve been doing the opposite in a sense…willing myself to live despite my medical diagnosis…is that what I’ve been doing, Ken?” he asked, the realization of his power coming to the forefront.

“It sure looks like it to me, Callum! We often don’t notice, it is the primary reason we are all alive today at this very moment… we are all willing ourselves to live every day since we were conceived.”

“So, what if I want to stop? What does that mean?”

“That would suggest that you have fulfilled your life purpose and no longer wish to live in your current form,” I suggested.

“My life purpose…I have one of those…really?”

“Everyone is on their purpose unconsciously. Nothing in our universe is off purpose…everything and everyone serves!”


“…if I knew my life purpose, it might provide an answer to my question…”

“No exceptions, Ken?”

“None I have found! Humans, because we can think about thinking, we can become aware of our purpose, put words around it and use it as a reference to guide us.”

“Are you suggesting if I knew my life purpose, it might provide an answer to my question of whether I should keep fighting for my life?”

“What do you think, Callum?”

“Well, it wouldn’t hurt, would it? And, it might make things clearer to me, eh? Can you show me how to find it?”

“I sure can! Let’s do it right now! I’m going to ask you seven questions…”


“…that’s been the story of my life: from growing up…”

I explained the process of identifying one’s life purpose. I pointed out how it must contribute to humanity in some way and is a journey and not a destination.

Then, I explained how it is connected to our highest values in life. And, finally, how, when we are being purposeful, we are so “present” in that moment, that space and time seem to disappear, because we are experiencing so much fulfillment.

Callum responded to my questions quickly and there was a clear theme inside his responses which suggested his purpose was, ‘Reminding others of their power!

As he read these words, which I suggested might be close to his purpose, his eyes teared and he looked away.

When he regained his composure, he said,

“Ken, that’s been the story of my life from growing up with my younger siblings, my career in the military and battling the health care system for my treatments! It explains it clearly and perfectly!”


“…I sure don’t see how I’m serving Cathy…”

“So, Callum, knowing you are still being purposeful, can you see how you are serving others?”

“I haven’t been noticing that consciously, Ken!”

“If you decided to make that your focus, would it give you a direction for your future…however long that future maybe?” I asked.

“It could help, could it not?” he replied, thoughtfully.

“Then, let’s look at who you are serving, and how, by living the life you do!”

“I sure don’t see how I’m serving Cathy…and, she’s the one I’m most concerned about, Ken!”

“Let’s go to a memory you have of Cathy where you didn’t think you were serving her at all! When and where was that Callum?” I asked.

“Let’s take last Thursday, when she drove me for three hours to the clinic and then three hours back home. She hates to drive…she is one of those nervous drivers who worries about the weather and slippery roads. And, this is winter in Eastern Canada…some of the worst driving conditions anywhere!”

“OK! That sounds like a perfect example. What was the worst moment for you and her during that trip?” I asked him.


“…Nature always ensures this duality for us at every second.”

“Let’s see! That would be when we were about halfway there and listening to the radio. The weather report came on telling us we were heading into a storm with 5-10 cm of snow and winds gusting 40-50 km per hour!”

“How did Cathy cope with that information? How did she manage that situation at that very second, Callum?”

“Well, her expletives were memorable because she rarely uses profanity. But, you know, she just kept on driving. Then, she also mentioned we were smart to have an all-wheel drive vehicle with studded snow tires.”

Then he added,

“That was about it…but I thought it was unfair to put her in this situation!”

“Callum, that must have been scary for Cathy! But, it also had to be equally beneficial or pleasurable for her because of her highest values. Nature always ensures this duality for us at every second. But, we have to find it.” I suggested to him.


Woman inside the car looking at the snow
 “One way to get the most out of life is to look upon it as an adventure.” – William Feather, writer


“ is just an unnoticed part of how our mind works .”

“You’re saying, it was pleasurable for Cathy to drive me to the clinic in a snowstorm? Really? I’m skeptical, Ken! Please explain that to me!”

“Sure! It is just an unnoticed part of how our mind works that comes from our will to survive we discussed earlier.”

“Tell me more!”

“Because we are always behaving inside our highest values Callum. These values come from all our past learning and operate unconsciously. Cathy, driving you to the clinic, was tied to her values. But, which ones are the question.”

“Do you mean we are never outside our values, Ken?”

“That’s right because we have learned from our past that staying inside them is the best way to survive and respect the will to survive we each have operating in our mind!”

Then I added,

“So what value was Cathy respecting by continuing to drive to the clinic in spite of the storm? I don’t know for sure, but I can offer you a guess from my professional experience.

“OK!” he replied.

“But first, go back to that trip. What would you suspect were the values she was working from as she drove you to your treatment?” I asked, checking his level of awareness and learning.

“Ken, I have no idea. I just know she has been very good going because my treatments leave me nauseous at times.”

“Do you want to hear my speculation and then you can decide if there might be some truth to them or not?”


“…she is protecting you, her spouse, one of the most important people in her life... ”

“Go for it! I’m really curious now!”

“Let’s look at the seven areas of Cathy’s life: spiritual, mental, vocational, financial, social, familial and physical?”


“Probably the most obvious one is in the familial area. Can you see how she is protecting you, her spouse, one of the most important people in her life by helping you get to the clinic?”

“I never really thought of it like that, Ken.”

“And, she is also protecting her relationship with your son, Casey, as well because I bet she takes a certain pride in being a model mom for her son. It may also match the values of her parents and siblings who would also give her more respect for her actions.”

“I suppose so because she has certainly challenged me in the past to do that with others in our families!” he replied.

“And, mentally, protecting you would help her feel she is being a supportive spouse and so raise her self-esteem at that second.”

“Yes, it would, wouldn’t it?” Callum replied.

“Physically, can you see that she is managing the stress of driving in a fearful situation and so gaining self-esteem and self-confidence for her future challenges.”


“…one of the most important jobs in Cathy’s life right now is taking care of you.”

“What about the other areas you mentioned, Ken?”

“Well, when we overcome our fears it usually strengthens our spirit, does it not? And, financially, we gain more self-worth, considered by many as our most important form of wealth. Does that make sense so far, Callum?”

“Yes, it really does, Ken!”

“Socially, I would guess Cathy would get more respect from friends, neighbours and her community for her devotion to you in your health trials.”

“I can see that, especially with her friend, Connie, who also has a sick husband. But, you haven’t mentioned the last one…vocational…that’s job or career, right?”

“Yes, the vocational area is the job area of one’s life. I would bet that one of the most important jobs in Cathy’s life right now is taking care of you. So, helping you get to your treatments would be quite satisfying for her. Could that be true, Callum?”

Callum’s eyes glittering with emotion, replied,

“Ken, I have heard her say, on at least a few occasions, quote, ‘my job is to make sure he gets to every treatment.’ unquote. So, I sure see that one, too!”


Senior man lying on hospital bed

 “The purpose of life is a life of purpose.” – Robert Byrne, author


“…maybe my cancer is serving other people as well.”

“So, can you see while it’s demanding, scary and stressful for Cathy, it is also equally empowering and helping her feel valued at the same time?”

“Are you saying my cancer treatments are serving Cathy?” he asked, integrating the idea now.

“What do you think, Callum? Have you two gotten closer or farther apart since your diagnosis?”

“Oh, definitely closer, Ken! Probably never been closer. But, it is hard to watch her.”

“Is it easier when you realize it is also allowing her to honour some of her highest values and so empower herself and her daily life.”

“But, Ken she is paying such a high price…isn’t she?” he asked.

“That’s a question only she could answer, Callum, because it is her values and her life..can you see that?” I asked him.

“That’s true isn’t it?” he responded, thoughtful again.

“Have you ever considered asking her?”

“I think I need to, Ken. Her answer is important to me as I move forward.”

Then he added,

“And, as I think about it, maybe my cancer is serving other people as well. I know Casey calls more now and comes home more often. And, some of the people I meet, when I tell them my story, seem more OK about their treatments.”

“Callum, everyone is on their purpose and serves humanity in some way. Most do it unconsciously! Others are driven by their awareness of nature’s laws to uncover how, so they can do it, with their full attention. Maybe you are one of those?”

“It sounds like you’re saying this could enable me to decide more clearly when enough is enough…for me! Is that what you mean, Ken?”

“Callum, within the limits of our unique biology, we choose to live each day using our values as our reference. Some get the opportunity to decide how long. Perhaps, you are one of them.”

Then I added,

“If you are clear about your purpose and respect your values, I suspect that will enable you to decide how long you want to be this side of the grass, Callum.”

“I think I am already getting clearer and more certain about me and my future! Thanks, Ken!” he replied.


 “Entitlement is lethal.” – Liev Schreiber, actor


 Points to ponder and remember

  1. Each day we decide, usually unconsciously, to live another day.

  2. When we are challenged in serious ways, we are often called upon to decide more consciously, to live another day.

  3. Our only entitlement in life is the gift of a life to be lived.

  4. Since nothing is free, our life will always have a cost at every moment to ensure we notice and appreciate it

  5. Nature always balances pleasure and pain at every second to cement our appreciation for our gift of life.

  6. Challenges with those we love provide opportunities for us to learn to be smarter and stronger and so appreciate our life.

  7. It is only because we know we are going to die that we are motivated to value the people and life we already have.

  8. Every moment of pain in our life is counterbalanced perfectly by pleasure spread across the seven areas of our life: spiritual, mental, vocational, financial, social, familial and physical.

  9. Knowing our highest values gives us the learning tools for our life.

  10. Knowing our purpose gives us the direction and form for our life.


Ken Pierce, Executive Psychologist, Human Behaviour Expert

Ken Pierce is a board-certified, evolutionary psychologist, human behaviour expert and CEO of The Pierce Institute of Psychology Inc.(TPI) Ken has authored 14 psychological works including seven books and created 400 case-study-based web-posts. He has worked in business consultation, education and private practice for over 40 years serving thousands of people of all ages including individuals, couples, leaders, teams and organizations.daughters and three grandsons. Ken's interests vary widely from quantum theory to energy efficiency to building stone walls.



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