Cancer and the Importance of Acceptance 

 April 26, 2020

By  Paul Coghlan

Cancer and the Importance of Acceptance

“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn how to surf.” - Jon Kabat-Zinn

Accepting Unwanted Change

Desiring something that is outside your control can cause more pain than accepting something that you don’t want, haven’t envisaged, don’t like and haven’t chosen. Cancer brings so many changes. Changes to your physical appearance, your energy levels, your appetite. Changes to how you feel, including fear, frustration, anger, sadness and pain. But sometimes, accepting the pain brings a gain, just like Reinhold Niebuhr quotes in the Serenity Prayer:

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can

And the wisdom to know the difference”

​​​​Prioritising Your Energy

When you are given a diagnosis of cancer, you need to be very selective about what you expend your energy on, physically, emotionally and mentally. Denial often surfaces as a means to protect you from the shock and trauma of accepting you have cancer. But this will not serve you well.

No one would choose to have cancer. No one likes having cancer. One of the most important steps of fighting cancer is seeing what is true. In this case, accepting that you are ill is the first step you need to take. You must accept your cancer diagnosis in order to focus on how your life will change and what changes are within your control.

Acceptance vs Defeat

Acceptance requires practice and a change in perception. There is a huge difference in how you see and accept what is true.  Do you accept defeat or do you accept the challenge you face?

You can accept something in a negative, defeated, hopeless, resigned manner; “I accept that cancer will make my body useless. I accept that there is no hope and that I most likely will not survive”.


You can accept something in a positive, optimistic, hopeful and determined manner; “I accept that my body needs to use all its energy to fight this illness. I accept that I will be tired and feel afraid and that I won’t be able to do all the things I used to do. I accept that I will need to ask for help and that I do not have to fight this cancer alone”.

Being diagnosed with cancer can feel like everything you have been working towards in your life has suddenly been taken away. However, by accepting what you don’t want in a positive way, you can embark on a path of self-discovery, growth, self-belief and become a much better version of yourself.

How to make Acceptance Easier

​You need to be able to tolerate the changes to your life by being kind, compassionate, honest and courageous with yourself. You need to be willing to accept imperfection. You need to fully understand and embrace why you want and need to accept this. 

​Acceptance allows you to be true to yourself. It enables you to no longer feel the need to hide who you are or how you feel. It shows you that you don’t need to prove yourself to anyone.

​In order for acceptance to fully and successfully work, you must be honest with yourself and accept responsibility for the role you play in your life. Acceptance and responsibility go hand in hand. We are very good at accepting positive changes that we want. The trick is to accept changes that we don’t like and use them to become stronger and better. 

“We cannot change anything unless we accept it.” - Carl Jung

What I Learned to Accept

How important health and fitness is at all stages of life.

To trust the medical team and the treatment plan they select.

To be extremely patient.

How the body and mind will change from this illness.

That life has a way of bringing you on a journey that you may not fully understand until after it is all over.

To embrace change and make a difference to others who may need help and support.

Cancer is a threat to who you are and how you live your life. The possibility of magic happening only occurs if you put in the work. Are you prepared to fight this threat and win?

Paul Coghlan

Paul Coghlan is a native of Westport, Co Mayo. He shares the experience of his shock medical diagnosis in 2018. Faced with an appalling prognosis, Paul unearthed character and determination he never knew existed. Paul has always been a keen sports man and credits a great deal of his recovery both mental and physical to his love of sport.

He has spoken to sports groups, youth organisations and businesses both in Ireland and abroad. His personality and humour allow him to speak openly and passionately about the lessons he has learnt through his adversity, making him a compelling, memorable and above all inspirational speaker.

Paul Coghlan

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