a man gives his dog a pet on the head

Four Rules For a Happy Life

Last updated: January 2020

A few years back, long before I was diagnosed with prostate cancer, I wrote a jokey post on social media titled: Four rules for a happy life, and here they are:

  1. Spend time with your friends (and your pets)
  2. Set achievable goals
  3. Enjoy athletic sex with supermodels (Warning: Rule 2 may apply here in some cases)
  4. Don’t become a professional musician

Rethinking the rules after a cancer diagnosis

An old friend made a wry remark in the comment section, along the lines of ‘three out of four ain’t bad’ which should have made me laugh all over again if it wasn’t for the fact that she recently died of ovarian cancer. Incidentally, she wasn’t a musician.

All of which got me thinking about the rules for a happy life after a cancer diagnosis.

If I was to describe cancer as a journey with ups and downs, you’d describe me as the king of cliché and start to wonder why this website didn’t hire better writers. But of course, it’s true for all that, it is a rocky road.

The hormone rollercoaster ride

I’m currently on the hormone rollercoaster ride from hell, having completed radiotherapy just over a year ago. On my last visit to the oncologist, I received the good news that my PSA level was down to 0.03 or as the medics say, ‘virtually undetectable’. I’m a bit of a fatalist and recognize the ugly fact that my unwelcome guest may return but I thought well, this is good news and I can relax for a while. Not a bit of it said Mr. Cancer when a few days later I found blood in my feces. I’m back to the urologist next week, so we’ll see where that leads.

As to hormone therapy, I’m relatively lucky as far as side effects go, but I get the hot flashes; I’ve gained weight and lost libido (sorry to disappoint the supermodels). Why do we always gain the stuff we loathe and lose the stuff we love?

Another side effect is forgetfulness or ‘brain fog’ as it’s sometimes called. Fortunately, I don’t suffer from this, but when I mentioned that to my wife she howled with laughter and said I could barely remember what I had for breakfast. So, I guess the jury’s out on that one, though not if my wife is on the jury.

Lifestyle following the unwelcome guest

So how can you live a fulfilled and happy life when cancer is always at the back of your mind? I was recently given a book called ‘Lifestyle after cancer’ which sets out how to ‘Live stronger for longer.’

It’s a helpful, well-meaning paperback that contains the usual suggestions: stay physically active, organize your day, prioritize important tasks, plan activities for when you have the most energy, cut down on the booze and coffee, don’t smoke and eat a well-balanced diet.

Do the things you love

You’ve heard it all before, but for all that, it’s good advice and I try to follow the guidelines as best I can. I don’t drink alcohol during the week, I exercise and try to look after myself but there’s one really important aspect of wellness and dare I say happiness that doesn’t usually feature in books like this and that is: Do the things you love.

Play the bass guitar, paint that picture, paint the kitchen, spend time with your family and friends, go to the movies, take your dog on a hike. It’s too easy to give up and pre-grieve for yourself when you have cancer so as the old saying goes Carpe Diem (seize the day) or as we say in our family; grab the fish, but don’t try earning a living playing bass guitar.

Rusty bucket

When I wrote the four rules for a happy life and added ‘spend time with your pets’ it was meant to be mildly humorous. I didn’t realize how prescient it would prove to be. Just over two years ago a small brown dog came into our lives. She’s called Rusty, but I usually refer to her as Bucket, for obvious reasons.

I like to take Bucket with me whenever I can and thankfully, I’m able to bring her to work one day a week. As we are walking towards our office block, through the city’s rush-hour crush, I see people pause, look at Rusty, smile for a second and move on with their busy lives. This doesn’t just happen once or twice. At the office everyone loves to cuddle Bucket; she’s a de-stress, de-compress four-legged miracle mutt.

You can't bring that dog in here

I can see most of you nodding your heads in agreement and approval. That may be about to change. If I take her into a shop or restaurant and they tell me no dogs are allowed, I say confidentially, that I have cancer and she is my assistance dog. This is a big fat lie, or is it?

She’s a rescue dog who came from our local rescue center which until recently displayed a big poster showing an older man cuddling a dog that he had obviously just adopted. It had the strapline: ‘Maybe a dog will rescue you’. Which I thought was both clever and moving.

At the Post Office the other day I was told in no uncertain terms: ‘You can’t bring dogs in here’. To which I replied, ‘Well it’s a good job I didn’t bring the rhinoceros’. The lady smiled; Bucket stayed put. The blindingly obvious truth is that Rusty has rescued me and even if it’s not official, she is my assistance dog.

The new rules

So, with cancer in mind, here are the four new rules for a happy life:

  1. Spend time with your family and friends
  2. Lead a healthy life
  3. Do the things you love
  4. Get a dog

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