How to Cope!

by Irwin Lengal
(Lakeland, FL)

Having been a fairly healthy male for sixty three and one-half years (June 2004), learning that, not only are you in need of a three-way heart by-pass operation, but also that you have prostate cancer and need surgery for that as well can be a bit intimidating, not to mention scary.

If that were not enough, having made it through the by-pass operation, while on the mend, your body decides to give you yet another surprise, you suffer a gall bladder attack and have to be rushed to the hospita.l Okay, you manage to get through the gall bladder surgery and are released back home. Finally, you can rest and recuperate while getting yourself psyched for the upcoming prostate surgery. Not true.

While recuperating from both *quadruple by-pass (*yes, I said quadruple bypass as they discovered four areas were blocked once they opened me up) and gall bladder surgery, we learned that we had to evacuate our home due to a hurricane that so rudely decided to drop in, at this, my special time.

So, off you go hugging your little red heart pillow the hospital gave you to hold onto when you had to cough to suppress some of the chest pain associated with the recuperation period. Finally after spending a night on the floor of a school gymnasium, the all clear sign is given and you are able to go home. Hooray!

Next up is the prostate surgery. Let me just say this about prostate surgery (leastways my prostate surgery). I would go through the by-pass surgery three times over rather than go through prostate surgery again. But that is just me as I am sure many others have made it through their prostate surgery without the problems I incurred during mine. I will say this though, going through three major operations such as these in less than five short months, can take a toll on one’s physical and mental well-being.

One begins to learn real fast as to what is important in life and what is not.

How does one cope with information such as this? The same way I was told as a kid how one would eat an elephant if that were the only food available between starving or dying: “One bite at a time!” Try your best to have and keep a positive attitude.

About the best method I can describe as a way to look at life in today’s crazy mixed up world would be to say this: “Wake up thankful cause you did in fact wake up”. We are reaching the age where we begin to wonder how much longer we have on this earth and thus we should be thankful for what we have and not concern ourselves with what we don’t have. Same thing holds true for problems we have. Believe me when I say that other people’s problems are and can be much more intimidating than ours are.

Now before I go any further, let me point out that I wasn’t always a real positive person.

As a matter of fact, if one would ask my wife the types we are, she would be the first to say she is the eternal optimist (to which I wholeheartedly agree) while I am the eternal pessimist.

But I can truthfully say that was before the events (surgeries) of 2004. Due to the negative effect my prostate surgery had on me and the time I lost from October, 2004 to October, 2005 (I had become a true basket case for one whole year), I have since come to recognize how short our time on this planet can be and how our lives can change in a “New York Minute”, meaning we have no idea what will happen tomorrow so we had best live each day to the fullest.

Put yet another way, live today as though there may be no tomorrow!

My life for that year (Oct ‘04- Oct ’05) was a living hell. I was miserable, constantly in pain, crying at the drop of a hat, and putting up with a rash that continually bugged the devil out of me making me very uncomfortable. I didn’t want to be around anyone and when I was in the company of others, let us just say, I am surprised some of those individuals still talk to me. I was not always on my best behavior. How my wife put up with me throughout this ordeal is anyone’s guess. But I will be forever indebted to her for standing by me during that part of our lives (we will be together 49 years next May).

If that period in my life taught me anything – it was to not take anything too seriously as life was meant to be enjoyed and to be lived while we can.

For a short period of time after my surgery, I actually considered myself “handicapped” to a degree. Why? Primarily because I felt anyone that had to run to the bathroom as often as I did (several times every hour or so) and cope with the side effects of prostate surgery surely was disabled and thus could not really enjoy life. Who would want to be around someone like that and how could I possibly enjoy life with such concerns facing me daily no matter where I was. But fortunately, after waking up to the fact that I was merely feeling sorry for myself, I said to myself, “Do I think I am the only one with this type problem?”

I am not the only one in the world with some type of health problem.

It was at this time that I thought about something that happened to me some time back (prior to these surgeries) while my wife and I were strolling on the beach. There we were, just enjoying the walk, listening to the surf and watching others doing their thing. A woman passed us and upon looking at her, I thought to myself, boy, what must her life be like? How does she cope? Now this woman was very overweight, actually obese. But, before I go any further, allow me to say that I am not using the term overweight/obese in a derogatory way. My heart really goes out to those individuals, male or female, that have any type of physical or mental problems in today’s world. My guess is that this woman suffered from a hormonal problem that caused her to have a weight problem. Her legs were so heavy that just walking must have taken quite a bit of effort on her part. Yet here she was, striding along with a smile on her face and it was evident that she was really enjoying her day. She was out and about, enjoying the sun, sand, and water. Apparently, she too, recognized that some things can be changed and some things cannot and she, in her infinite wisdom, learned to cope with whatever life threw her way. She was coping and so could I.

So, I made the decision that I would treat the side effects of my prostate surgery as a minor inconvenience (not as a disability) and find a way to cope with it. Besides as was just mentioned, other people were coping with situations or true disabilities far worse than what I was experiencing. Looking at things in that light will humble you very quickly. How does another old adage go: “I once felt bad because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet!” Figuring out how to overcome the inconvenience (carry adequate supplies with me and have a change of clothes in the car), made my life more bearable. Controlling the situation rather than allowing the situation to control you makes all the difference in the world.

Learning how to cope enables one to learn to make do with what they have. It has now been seven years since those three operations. Last check I was still cancer free.

I still stay active by walking at least five days a week. I keep my mind active by continually teaching, writing, volunteer work (I am an Assistant Newsletter Editor for a quarterly newsletter), and line dancing (both teaching and dancing). An aside here would be to point out that one does not comprehend how much memory is needed, especially for us older folks, to learn line dance steps. So, for anyone looking to improve their mental capacity, try your hand at line dancing. Not only will it improve your memory, it will keep you physically fit.

In addition to the above, we have made several cross country trips since my surgeries, visit our children who live over a thousand miles from us in opposite directions at least once a year, taken several cruises, and continue dancing (our group performs in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and VA hospitals.

We even performed at Cypress Gardens, Plant City Strawberry Festival, Kathleen Heritage Days, and the Florida State Fair). Life is what you make of it no matter what you have wrong with you be it health, finances, or whatever.

Another cute saying I think of now and then is this: When given lemons, don’t look upon them as just another sour thing in your life – make lemonade! So, for those of you out there that feel like giving up, my advice to you is, don’t do it. All you need to do is figure out a way to cope. Once you do that, everything else just seems to fall into place.

Enjoy your retirement- it can truly be one of the best times of your life!

Written by Irwin Lengel, Copyright © October 20, 2011

Comments for How to Cope!

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now to cope
by: Millie Garfield

Hi Irwin

Yes, I did get a laugh from the comment you left on my blog - re "The Ride."

I read your intro and agreed with what yo said about "writing enables me to clear my mind." I would add for me I ENJOY IT BECAUSE "NO ONE INTERRUPTS ME AND I GET MY THOUGHT OUT!!!

I'll stop by another time and write some of your other posts.

Keep on blogging! ;-)

Courage and wisdom
by: Nina from London

How wonderful to read about your courage and wisdom! After all those trials you ended up with such an amazing message. It sure is special to savour each minute and make the most of each day. I learned this when my husband found out he had a brain tumor. Taking care of him I realised what is important and what is not at all significant.

Luckily he was able to live five more years where we tried to do as much as we could. Like yourself I learned to value those things you can never replace. Living life to the full means just sometimes taking a walk on a sunny afternoon and enjoying the moment.

Rushing like I used to previously I really never took the time to enjoy hidden small things. Now I try to do that. I think it might be called serendipity. Not too much planning either.

Thanks so much for your message.
Best Wishes, Nina

by: Anonymous

Yes, so easy to take things for granted. Myself guilty big time for that but know it is something that I have to work on. Thank God there are people like yourself that put your experiences out there for other people to learn from.

Thank you

Cultus Lake BC

Life is what you make it!
by: Nina

Thanks Irvin,

How true your words of wisdom are as life holds many challenges. Since my husband died from Cancer I also feel that each day is make the most of it.

Best Wishes, Nina

Karen's Response
by: Irwin

Karen: Thank you for your kind words. Hopefully, I can think up enough items to talk about that you and others might enjoy my blog. I will continue to write, but do not know at this point whether it will be daily, weekly, monthly or just when I have something important I wish to share. Have a great day!

Carol's Response
by: Irwin

Just to let you know I appreciate the comments placed in relation to my coping abilities. I have just recently gotten back into the exercise routine - it seems to get harder the older we get to start and follow through with a routine - but I am now walking three miles a day, five days a week, and while I do have my days (such as today when I say, oh, I would much rather stay in bed), I am up and ready to go walking. I walk three miles every morning before I even start my day. I feel better after doing it and am also beginning to sleep better. Who knows, I may even lose a few pounds in the process. Hang in there - Life is good.

Very Inspiring, Irwin
by: Anonymous

Your article went far with me in keeping on "coping" when physical disabilities crop up (arthritis) and a damaged ankle rears up and causes walking to be difficult. I can't get much exercise, and I sure need it!

But I can walk and get around and go out and live life! And I am very lucky to be alive at almost 75 with a large, lively family!

Thanks for sharing!

How to Cope
by: Karen

Thank you Irwin, you are an inspiration to all of us. You have done a beautiful job of coping.
Keep this blog going and allow us to continue your journey with you.

Every day brings joy and satisfaction.


Your comments to my topic - How to Cope!
by: Irwin

Thanks Roger

I appreciate your comments. Stay tuned as this is my first time at blogging and I hope it turns out well. Hopefully the articles/topics I write about will be read and enjoyed by you and others visiting this site.

by: Roger Triplett

I really enjoyed your article. Thanks for sharing it with us. I have Copd and emphysema and afib. I cope just like you said.

There are those who can't do what I can do, I still drive and walk, not too far at a time but still take care of myself. Remembering they are those who can't I thank my good Lord for each and every breath!

Thank you Irvin, Roger

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