Part 1: Happiness; Chapter 8:
Facing Illness [8.8]
8.8 “Laugh Off the Devil of Illness”
The example of a women’s division member who triumphed brilliantly over illness teaches the importance of never losing hope and employing strong faith to change winter into spring.
One day after a women’s division meeting, I learned that a woman I knew well was going to be hospitalized. I had known her from her student days, and I also knew her parents.
She had developed a lump under her chin and gone to see the doctor about it. He examined her and, though a precise diagnosis would have to wait until further tests, he thought it was serious. She had always been in the best of health and very energetic and active, so this news surprised me. I could imagine how unsettling it must have been for her.
I immediately composed a poem as a message of encouragement and had someone convey it to her verbally:
Confidently live out your life
and triumph over all,
the devil of illness
to become a queen of longevity.
The next day, I inscribed the poem on a decorative card and sent it to her.
I sent another message to her the day before she was hospitalized: “Don’t worry. Be confident. My wife and I are chanting for you. Put your mind at ease, and whatever you find out, don’t let yourself be intimidated by illness. You mustn’t let yourself be defeated. Again, there’s nothing to worry about. Take care.”
I continued to send her messages the following day (the day she was hospitalized) and the day after that. She was undergoing several days of tests, so I wanted to give her as much encouragement as I could. I told her: “Stay cheerful. Remember, from the standpoint of the eternity of life, we are ‘Buddhas in life’ and ‘Buddhas in death’ (cf. WND-1, 456). It’s a pity to make life a painful affair. Remain positive and upbeat, no matter what.”
I had a women’s division member go in my stead to visit her at the hospital. She was apparently in high spirits, happy to have received my messages, and chanting with a firm determination to beat the devil of illness.
Two weeks later, the day before she was to receive the results of her tests, I sent her another message, this time asking someone to convey it by phone: “How are you doing? I am chanting in earnest for you, so everything will be fine. You will get better. This encounter with illness will deepen your prayers and become a source of strength as a personal experience in faith.”
The test results showed that she had cancer—a malignant lymphoma. She was also found to have a tumor about the size of a fist deep in her abdomen. Surgery was not possible, so she would have to undergo chemotherapy. This would involve one round of chemotherapy a month for 10 months. For the first two or three months she would have to remain in hospital, but after that, she could receive treatment as an outpatient.
She said that her doctors told her she would suffer severe side effects from the chemotherapy, including hair loss, lack of appetite, and nausea.
Because she hadn’t yet experienced any symptoms of pain or discomfort, this discussion of her treatment drove home to her for the first time that she was dealing with something life-threatening.
The news of her illness was a great shock for her elderly parents and the rest of her family. They must have been distressed and worried beyond imagination.
She sent me a letter expressing her determination in which she wrote: “Because of your constant encouragement, I have been able to accept my diagnosis calmly. I will follow your advice to ‘laugh off the devil of illness,’ determined to fight on cheerfully and win.”
A person of firm resolve is strong. Resolute prayer strengthens our life force.
Everyone in her hospital ward was suffering from similar illnesses. Some of them openly expressed their misery and said they would rather die than continue the harsh treatments. Observing their plight, she was well aware of the tough battle that lay ahead of her. It was only natural that one might feel anxious and afraid in such a situation. But she decided to face this challenge with unflinching courage.
Strangely, she experienced no pain or discomfort after her first chemotherapy treatment. I was very happy to hear her first joyous report.
Her hair soon began to fall out, but her second treatment also went well, and she was allowed to leave the hospital. Her appetite remained good, and she even gained weight. Not only that, the tumor in her stomach shrunk to one-third its original size.
I received that report while I was on a visit to Russia. I immediately sent her a message congratulating her and telling her not to overexert herself.
Praying for her to make a full recovery, my wife also wrote her a postcard saying: “You have achieved victory in the first stage. Please continue to be patient and take things slowly until you achieve complete victory. Remember, laugh off the devil of illness!”
After several more months of outpatient treatment, she completed her chemotherapy. The tumor in her stomach had almost completely disappeared.
She had to be careful over that nearly one-year period, because the chemotherapy had weakened her immune system. But aside from losing her hair, she experienced no painful side effects. She even returned to work. She was so cheerful throughout that no one would ever have imagined she was ill unless she told them. Her doctor, too, was genuinely surprised.
I received a letter from her that was filled with joy and appreciation. I had been kept well informed of her progress, and I was very happy to hear of the successful outcome of her battle with illness. She wrote that she had constantly reminded herself of my advice to “laugh off the devil of illness,” which she had found a great source of encouragement and strength.
She is now even more active than she was before her illness, and a growing number of people come to her for advice about dealing with health problems, because they know that she successfully overcame a serious illness.
She sincerely shares her experience with each of them and encourages them wholeheartedly. Nothing provides greater reassurance and hope than words of encouragement brimming with conviction based on personal experience.
Overcoming illness is profoundly meaningful, not only in terms of one’s own well-being, but also because it enables one to inspire and help many others who are going through similar struggles.
All sorts of things happen in life. It is a continuous series of changes. What matters in the end is never to be defeated by anything—to keep fighting and not lose hope.
Life is a struggle against our inner tendencies to give up when things are tough, to compromise and accept less. Please win in the struggle with yourself, vowing not to give up, not to be defeated.
We mustn’t avoid difficulties. We must win out over our problems and sufferings. It is up to us to create our own treasures through our own efforts. “I am happy. I have won!”—those who can create value in life so that they can say this with confidence are people who shine with true brilliance and character.
From Haha no uta (Ode to Mothers), published in Japanese in August 1997.
The Wisdom for Creating Happiness and Peace brings together selections from President Ikeda’s works under key themes.