We often think of children as students, not teachers. They spend their days exploring the world around them, asking questions and learning new things. For them, life is big, exciting and full of wonder. There’s so much they don’t understand, and, as adults, it’s our job to teach them.
Anyone who spends a lot of time around kids knows that they have powerful lessons to share, too. The difference is that children teach through their actions, not their words. They love life and finding the meaning in it, even when things don’t make any sense at all—like when a child gets diagnosed with cancer.
My boyfriend’s son Grady was diagnosed with Leukemia at age three. Fast forward a decade later, he’s now a healthy teenager leading a wonderful life. He plays football, basketball and baseball, loves going to school, hanging out with his friends—if you look at him now you would never know he’s a survivor.
Of course, Grady and the other 420,000 American children who have survived cancer are so lucky. These kids endure extraordinary circumstances, experiencing the worst of what adults fear. How can innocent kids process this life-threatening disease and have the courage to move forward after it?
They learn early on that life is unfair but understand better than anyone how precious it is. That’s why Grady amazes me every day. Here are three life-changing lessons these brave kids can teach us.
1. Don’t let fear define you.
Spiders, clowns, heights—everyone is afraid of something, and that’s okay! It’s only when your fears become debilitating that they start to control you. For cancer survivors, it’s so easy to live in constant fear of remission and going through that nightmare all over again, but living in constant fear isn’t living at all.
The best way to beat your fears is to focus on what really matters to you, not on the things you can’t control. Life is unpredictable, but if you spend your days worried about the unknown, you’ll lose sight of all the people and things that make it worth living.
2. Bad things happen to good people.
No matter where you are in life, this is a tough lesson to learn. It’s a natural tendency to want an explanation for everything that happens to us and the people we love. Sometimes, life just doesn’t make sense though. It’s random and unfair.
We teach our kids right from wrong through reward and punishment, but this method doesn’t always apply. Kids who get diagnosed with cancer have to understand that their condition is not their fault.
Sometimes, bad things happen to good people. The only thing you can do is control what you can and make the most of what you can’t, which leads us to the last lesson.
3. Positive thinking will improve your life.
When something terrible happens to you, it’s easy to fall into a victim mentality where everything feels totally beyond your control.
Here’s a mundane example: Think about the last time you had a bad day. Maybe you woke up late for work, burned your toast, got a speeding ticket—just a domino effect of lousy events. A lot of people react by thinking, “Okay, this will just be one of those days, nothing I can do about it.” Like I said, bad things happen sometimes. When giving up becomes your response to every situation though, that’s when it becomes a problem.
No matter what comes your way, the best defense you’ve got is your mind. I know, it sounds cheesy, but there’s a ton of research to prove it. Positive thinking has been shown to boost cognitive functions, improve physical health, build valuable skills and professional success, garner a higher sense of fulfillment and much more.
Life Beyond Cancer
The way Grady lives his life is such an inspiration. He looks for any reason to smile and doesn’t get caught up in silly things like other teenagers. After everything he’s been through, he knows what really matters.
Now he’s healthy and stronger than ever. He won’t let anything stop him from living his life. He’s a survivor. For him, every day is a new triumph.