Cancer is a fitting metaphor for the evil and suffering of life, because it even brings pain and death to innocent children and adults who practice a healthy lifestyle. Cancer symbolizes the inherent fragility and brevity of human life—the undeniable universal fact that no matter what we do to protect ourselves, we all can be injured physically and psychologically by toxic and violent people, broken relationships, traumatic events, pathogens, accidents, loss, aging, illness, and death.

Thus, the challenge confronting us is how we can survive, thrive, and be happy under these terrible conditions. I proposed existential positive psychology (EPP; Wong, 2009a) and second wave positive psychology (PP 2.0; Wong, 2011) precisely because we need a positive and helpful answer to the tragedy of human existence.

Coping with the most aggressive type of prostate cancer (Gleason Score 9) allows me to experientially validate the key principles of PP 2.0. This presentation explains how these principles can help people live life to the full, even while bearing the agony of struggling under the unbearable existential burden. Here are the 12 rules of living with cancer or any other traumatic event:

  1. Confront and accept the dark side of life—your vulnerabilities, limitations, and the horrors of existence—with courage and honesty (Wong, 2015a).
  2. Know yourself. Write down precisely three things what matters most to you and three best spend your remaining days; then, act on your plan (Wong, 2015b).
  3. Sort out your life, clean up your desk, and wrap up your unfinished business so that you do not leave your mess to people who survive you.
  4. Be willing to make the necessary sacrifices and endure the pain so that you can transcend your limitations and make life better for yourself and others. You cannot ascend to heaven without descending to the gell of suffering and sacrifice (Wong, 2016a).
  5. View life through the lens of yin-yang, the universal coexistence of the good and the bad, success and failure, rejoicing and suffering. Mature happiness results from balancing yin-yang in each situation (Wong, 2016b; Wong & Bowers, 2018).
  6. Practice the dual-system model of coping by repairing what is broken and enhancing what is good in the pursuit of a worthy life goal. Meaning is experienced in the interaction between these two processes (Wong, 2012a).
  7. Adopt a double-vision. Always keep one eye on heaven with its uplifting ideals and another eye on earth with its grim unrelenting reality. Tragic optimism will emerge when we face the daily struggle to survive and at the same time believe that a better future is awaiting if we do not give up (Wong, 2009b, 2016c).
  8. Keep the faith that life is inherently worth living and you have intrinsic value. This worldview will empower you to face death with dignity and peace, if you have assumed the personal responsibility of fighting the good fight and completing your race (Wong, 2012b, 2015a).
  9. Maintain an appreciative attitude and be thankful for being alive each day. Practice existential gratitude for being alive each day, for planet earth, and for all the people that make your life comfortable. You can always find something positive in every negative situation (Wong, 2016c).
  10. Take stress reduction seriously by cultivating and conserving your resources and using appropriate coping strategies (Wong, 1993). You may need to talk to your spouse and family members truthfully and lovingly, asking for their cooperation and support to create a harmonious environment at home.
  11. Make each day count. This means that you not only savour each moment and value each day, but also learn how to transform your setbacks and negative emotions to positive motivation to improve your life (Wong, Wong, & Scott, 2006).
  12. Reach out to people with love and generosity and value their support but stay away from toxic people (Wong & Bowers, 2018).

I am gratified that my lifelong research on meaning and resilience (Wong, 2017) has prepared me for my battle with cancer. It is my sincere hope that the above 12 rules will offer some hope, encouragement, and wisdom to all those struggling with the horrors of life.

Learning Objectives

  1. Understand the concept of existential positive psychology (EPP) and second wave positive psychology (PP 2.0).
  2. Understand why PP 2.0 is needed for noxious situations and existential crises.
  3. Understand the 12 basic principles of PP 2.0.
  4. Apply the above principles to their own struggles with cancer or other traumas.

References

  1. Wong, P. T. P. (1993). Effective management of life stress: The resource-congruence modelStress Medicine, 9(1), 51-60.
  2. Wong, P. T. P. (2009a). Existential positive psychology. In S. J. Lopez (Ed.), Encyclopedia of positive psychology (Vol. 1, pp. 361-368). Oxford, UK: Wiley Blackwell.
  3. Wong, P. T. P. (2009b). Viktor Frankl: Prophet of hope for the 21st century. In A. Batthyany, & J. Levinson (Eds.), Existential psychotherapy of meaning: Handbook of logotherapy and existential analysis. Phoenix, AZ: Zeig, Tucker & Theisen. (Early version available here.)
  4. Wong, P. T. P. (2011). Positive psychology 2.0: Towards a balanced interactive model of the good life. Canadian Psychology, 52(2), 69-81.
  5. Wong, P. T. P. (2012a). Toward a dual-systems model of what makes life worth living. In P. T. P. Wong (Ed.), The human quest for meaning: Theories, research, and applications (2nd ed., pp. 3-22). New York, NY: Routledge.
  6. Wong, P. T. P. (2012b). What is the meaning mindset? International Journal of Existential Psychology and Psychotherapy, 4(1), 1-3.
  7. Wong, P. T. P. (2015a). The positive psychology of grit: The defiant power of the human spirit. [Review of the movie Unbroken, directed by Angelina Jolie]. PsycCRITIQUES, 60(25). http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0039390
  8. Wong, P. T. P. (2015b). Journal of personal development (part 1): Know yourself. International Network on Personal Meaning. Retrieved from http://www.inpm.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/Journey-of-personal-development-Part-1-Mar1-2015.pdf
  9. Wong, P. T. P. (2016a). Self-transcendence: A paradoxical way to become your bestInternational Journal of Existential Psychology and Psychotherapy, 6(1). Retrieved from http://journal.existentialpsychology.org/index.php/ExPsy/article/view/178/141
  10. Wong, P. T. P. (2016b, October 18). The good life through polarity and transcendence (Part 1 of 2). The Virtue Blog. Retrieved from https://thevirtueblog.com/2016/10/18/the-good-life-through-polarity-and-transcendence-part-1/
  11. Wong, P. T. P. (2016c). Integrative meaning therapy: From logotherapy to existential positive interventions. In P. Russo-Netzer, S. E. Schulenberg, & A. Batthyány (Eds.), Clinical perspectives on meaning: Positive and existential psychotherapy (pp. 323-342). New York, NY: Springer.
  12. Wong, P. T. P. (2017). Reflections on my psychology career: Where I came from, and where I am going. Dr. Paul Wong. Retrieved from http://www.drpaulwong.com/reflections-on-my-psychology-career/
  13. Wong, P. T. P. & Bowers, V. (2018). Mature happiness and global wellbeing in difficult times. In N. R. Silton (Ed.), Scientific concepts behind happiness, kindness, and empathy in contemporary society. Hershey, PA: IGI Global.
  14. Wong, P. T. P., Wong, L. C. J., & Scott, C. (2006). Beyond stress and coping: The positive psychology of transformation. In Wong, P. T. P., & Wong, L. C. J. (Eds.), Handbook of multicultural perspectives on stress and coping (pp. 1-26). New York, NY: Springer.

Cite

Wong, P. T. P. (2018, August 3). Living with cancer: A case for PP 2.0. Keynote presented at the 10th Biennial International Meaning Conference of the International Network on Personal Meaning, Vancouver, B.C., Canada.