Personal Vision

Personal Vision sessions

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The way of St. James

Rob van de Blaak’s 8 insights

IN JUNE 2011 ROB VAN DE BLAAK AGED 44 WAS DIAGNOSED WITH CANCER. IT STARTED ON HIS LIP AND WAS LATER FOUND TO HAVE SPREAD TO HIS LYMPH NODES. ROB IS MARRIED WITH FOUR CHILDREN. HE IS A CONSULTANT AT &SAMHOUD. THE USUAL UNUSUAL CONSULTING FIRM AND A FORMER TOP-FLIGHT SPORTSMAN; FOR MANY YEARS HE PLAYED WATER POLO AT THE HIGHEST LEVEL FOR THE POLAR BEARS IN EDE AS WELL AS PLAYING FOR THE DUTCH TEAM. ‘MISSING THE OLYMPIC GAMES IN BARCELONA WAS THE FIRST BIG SETBACK IN MY LIFE. THIS IS THE SECOND.’ DEALING WITH HIS ILLNESS HAS GIVEN ROB EIGHT INSIGHTS. ‘NOW TWO YEARS AFTER I GOT CANCER ENOUGH TIME HAS ELAPSED TO DISTIL A NUMBER OF INSIGHTS WHICH I HOPE WILL BE OF HELP TO OTHER PEOPLE.’

1. Take control
‘Right from the start I directed my own treatment methods and my handling of the illness. I took fast, resolute action from the moment I learned I had cancer. I phoned people in my network who might be of help in the medical sphere. I reminded doctors that they shouldn’t forget to include my lip in the investigations as well as the spread to my lymph nodes, and I made sure they did so. Some small cancer cells were indeed discovered on my lip and were removed in the same operation. Alies, my wife, and I always prepared well for the discussions with the specialist. We always went together, kept asking questions and played an active role in the treatment. I started looking for complementary treatment methods, such as shiatsu, orthomolecular therapy, oedema therapy and a lot of talking. Finally, I tried to stay as fi t as possible. All these things made me feel good. You feel as if you’re contributing to your own recovery, that you’re doing everything possible, alongside the standard treatment methods.’

2. Know yourself
‘A few weeks before I got cancer I had just completed a leadership training course with the name of CALL. As part of the training you work on yourself, in four dimensions: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. Essentially it’s all about getting to know yourself better, how you became who you are. On that basis you determine what to do with the rest of your life. One of my learning points was dealing with emotions, being more open, expressing myself more. And also admitting emotions. Particularly at the beginning of my illness I suffered fear and panic. I imagined my own funeral or felt intense sadness welling up when I thought that I might not see our children grow up. Learning to deal with that type of emotion was an enormous relief. Another learning point was that I felt very comfortable with the physical dimension. I benefited greatly from that during the whole process. I focused on good nutrition, taking good care of myself, actively keeping my body in good condition. But I also learned to process my emotions through my body and to connect with my spiritual side, for example through breathing exercises, massage and meditation. On the mental level I can say that I was able to preserve a sense of peace and optimism. I did not tense up or panic but looked for other resources. I took it step by step, with a lot of discipline. I would venture to say that the leadership training really helped me to deal with cancer. That’s certainly down to my decision to be open.’

3. Be open to those around you
‘From the outset, with the support of the people around me, I was open about my illness. And as a result I also received a great deal of commitment from others. In recent times I’ve become very aware of what connection can mean. &samhoud, my employer, also gave me the space I needed. I was not put under pressure at any stage; on the contrary. I received a lot of support from my colleagues. Salem in particular devoted a lot of attention to me. It was clear that my illness affected him greatly. As a result I became keenly aware of the core value of ‘friendship’. I wrote regular reports on recent events. Or my wife did. And then we sent it round by e-mail. I had nothing to hide, nothing to be ashamed of. That was what I felt. Just after the operation I also sent out photos of my face. That lowered the barrier against talking to other people about my illness. Another thing that lowered the barrier was that after the operation, the chemo and the radiotherapy I got back out into the world very quickly. One of the high points was that I sent a list round to my family, friends and colleagues on which they could sign up to drive me to Utrecht and back for one of my 43 radiotherapy sessions. There was a huge response. On each occasion I was sat next to someone different in the car. That created variety, I could tell my story and many people told me how things were going with them.’

4. Look into the cause and consequences of your illness
‘If you get an illness that has a big impact, you have to face a question that you can’t escape. No one can. That question is: why did I become sick, what message is my body trying to send me? Th inking and talking about the cause and consequences also deepened the relationship between my wife and me. One of the main insights we gained is that you must watch out for the quasi-positive pitfall that says “everything will turn out fine”. Genuine positive energy comes from going through despair, fear, rage and sadness together. As long as there is hope, you must draw on it and tug at it. Acceptance also plays a role for me in this process. There’s no point whatsoever denying that you’re seriously ill, there’s no point getting angry that it happened to me. Looking back nostalgically at the carefree days before my illness will not help, nor will worrying that my appearance has changed. It sounds quite rational, but acceptance goes far deeper. Acceptance gives you peace. Ultimately you get no answer to the question of why you’ve become ill. At most you’ll have your own answer. There are so many factors involved: genes, nutrition, lifestyle, happiness, dealing with emotions, bad luck, coincidence. My answer is a mix of these factors and the conviction that I myself can play a major role in my recovery.’

5. Eat healthily
‘I took an in-depth look at my illness and nutrition. I read a lot of books and watched a lot of films. You learn a lot that way. For example, it has been shown that certain food supplements have a positive effect on particular types of cancer. Nutrition, however, plays only a very small part in medical specialists’ training. My oncologist actually wanted me to stop taking supplements. With healthcare costs running out of control, it’s odd that nutrition isn’t looked at and worked on to a greater extent. Food is just like all addictions: it’s long-term behaviour and people don’t readily change it. Over the past few months I’ve developed a completely new eating pattern, with a great deal of fruit and vegetables, green tea, soya products, nuts, dark chocolate and oily fish. No meat, milk, potatoes, pasta or sugar, to give a few examples. I feel great, talk about it a lot with other people and sometimes have to watch out that I don’t go around pushing too many other people to do the same.’

6. Make choices in your work
‘I made an important choice in my work. I’d been a partner at &samhoud since 2004, but I decided to step back from my partner role for the next two years. That has given me the space I need. I don’t want to run the risk of the cancer returning and then regretting throwing myself fully into my work. I found it difficult to give up that role of partner. The idea had been a around since April 2012. But that’s mainly something to do with my ego, which I had to get over. I believe that if you acknowledge to yourself that your ego plays a role, it’s also easier to tell yourself that it’s nonsense. My health, wife and children are many times more important. But I’ll have to get used to it, no longer knowing everything that’s going on at &samhoud, no longer being part of the inner circle. Decisions will be taken without my involvement. After those two years we’ll take another look. Perhaps by then things will be going so well that I’ll be asked to come back in and maybe I’ll be really happy with the way things are then. I’m a more complete, happier person, however strange that may sound. And if you’re more complete as a person, you are as a consultant too. You are your own instrument, so I take my illness with me. I also tell clients about it, sometimes very specifically, sometimes more generally. That depends on the situation, because at such times you give yourself space and you also give others space to tell you about themselves. Naturally such space isn’t always available in a discussion. In my work I try as far as possible to operate on the basis of my strength; I’ve used the past months to catch up with customers I’ve become friends with. That’s given rise to the first projects, and hopefully the first successes. I also hope to share more of my knowledge, experience and perhaps even some wisdom with my colleagues and clients.’

7. Accept yourself and focus on your positive sides
‘Of all the things in life that you can focus on yourself, this illness is a perfect example. I’ve become aware of my vulnerability. I’m more sensitive, I’ve developed my ability to empathize, express my feelings more. I no longer let things stay bottled up inside me. And that gives me more self-confidence. I let myself be frightened, and it no longer matters to me so much what others think of me, I’m much readier to accept who I am, with my strong points and less strong points. There’s no two ways about it, love and friendship are the most important things in my life. That puts things into perspective, makes choices easier. I now only want to do things for the full 100%. Otherwise I won’t do them. What fascinates me? What sort of things will I come across, for example in work, and when do I break of a discussion? Am I still contributing properly? Do I think this is still worth all the energy? That type of question. I take time for my family, experience everything with more intensity. And I enjoy myself. There are a lot of people who like me and want to be with me.’

 8. Changing your behaviour is difficult, but it is possible
Changing your behaviour is insanely difficult. For me it has to do with getting used to patterns. If it becomes a habit,then I can stick to it. This is the list which I hope I’ll be able to stick to every day: 100%. Today and every day I want to:
• live 100% consciously and occupy myself with the right things
• devote 100% attention to the people I deal with
• be 100% engaged in giving sense and direction to people and organizations
• live 100% on the basis of love and friendship and help other people
• breathe well
• get intense enjoyment from everything I take part in
• be myself with complete self-confidence and vulnerability
• be satisfied with what I can do and who I am
• live, drink and eat healthily
• let the people I love know how much I love them
• learn and experience new things
It looks like a hefty list. But for me it doesn’t mean that I’m going to do completely different things. It means I’m going to do things differently, more consciously. My illness has been a particular catalyst for my personal development. Because personal development means building on what you already have, on who you already are. It had a big effect on my relationship and my work. And the impact on those around me was huge and reciprocal. It was the unconditional support and love from the people around us that got me and my family through this period.’

 

 

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