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My Personal Resilience Story

By Marshall L. Lightner

Each of us has a story where resilience plays an important role. Some people have life experiences that require more resilience than others. My life, like most others, has required the development of some resilience. I will give you the essential details. Sharing this story with you may assist you in developing your own resilience. Telling your story will help others to develop their resilience.

At age 18, I was attending college full-time, managing a movie theater in Hollywood evenings and weekends, married, and had a lovely daughter. One year later, my intestines were ravaged by ulcerative colitis, an extremely painful condition known to be a consequence of stress. My weight dropped from 154 to 115 pounds in ten days. I was rushed into surgery for an ileostomy. I, like so many other ostomates, was terrified of the surgery and the huge adjustments that would follow.

An ileostomy is a surgery that removes the large intestine and creates an external opening below the stomach that diverts intestinal contents into a sack. When I had this procedure done 33 years ago, the appliances used were unreliable and bulky. Leakages and other problems made it difficult to live an active life.

I decided that I was going to survive the procedure, adjust as best I could, return to college, enjoy my family, and focus on the benefits of good health. I allowed myself to cry, have angry outbursts, laugh, pray, seek advice from other ostomates, and move on. There were many days when coping with pain and adjusting to an ostomy was quite difficult.

I had three subsequent surgeries due to adhesions, but emerged more grateful and appreciative of life. My marriage did not survive, however. My wife and I were divorced when I was 22. I sought support through psychotherapy to better understand and cope with what was happening to me. I looked for the lessons offered by this drama and sought ways to better my life.

In 1997, at age 49, I had become a successful psychologist and consultant. New technology had created ostomy appliances that adhere like a second skin and allow one to have a lifestyle unencumbered by the ostomy. I had been happily married for 15 years to my second wife, had three children, five grandchildren, and was enjoying my life. Early in March, 1997, I lost my voice. I kept waiting for my voice to return, but it didnt. After four weeks, I went for a medical evaluation.

On April 1, 1997, I was diagnosed with cancer of the thyroid. When I heard the word cancer, my mind heard the word death. I was filled with fear, anger, sadness, and confusion. I searched the internet and downloaded everything I could find on the disease. I consulted an old friend who was a specialist in this area, and designed a plan of action. The plan included surgical and radiation procedures, supportive psychotherapy (thanks, Gordon), herbal support (thanks, Steve), and any other weapon I could put into my arsenal.

To say this was an emotional time is an understatement. I decided to let it flow and let it go. Whatever feelings I had were allowed expression. My wife (thanks, Molly) was the greatest! I read books by Louise Hay, Bernie Siegel, and many others to mentally prepare myself for battle. As before, I embraced my condition and prayed to be guided to the reasons for this illness. I closed my office and focused on getting well. I met with friends who were loving and supportive. I grew hopeful. Ultimately, I knew I was not going to be done in by this whimpy tumor. As Bernie Siegel suggested, I did not ask, "Why me, God?" I declared, "Try me, God!"

Today, in 2000, I am almost three years post surgery and clear of the cancer. The people who know me very well say that I am a changed man. I have grown in compassion, love, tolerance, confidence, and acceptance. I have much more to learn and develop. I plan to be here a long time since there is so much to do and enjoy.

Best wishes for a life filled with love, success, fulfillment and all you desire.

— Marshall Lightner
Author of: Adjusting The Sails: Resilience Development Strategies for Professionals, Executives, and Managers.


Please note, Marshall Lightner lost his battle with cancer on November 18, 2005. Please see the following obituary:

ENCINITAS — Marshall Lee Lightner, 57, died Friday, Nov. 18, 2005, at his home.

Born Dec. 21, 1947, in Los Angeles, he lived in San Diego County for 32 years. He was a psychologist, author, teacher and executive coach. He received a PhD from USIU San Diego in 1976. He enjoyed traveling, playing golf and bicycling.

Mr. Lightner is survived by his wife of 23 years, Molly Cook, and others (removed for privacy).

He was laid to rest at sea off the coast of Oceanside on Saturday, Nov. 26.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to the American Cancer Society, 2655 Camino del Rio North, Suite 100, San Diego, CA 92108.