Life lessons from the man who beat terminal cancer "with laughter"

| 07 Nov 2017

Eyal Eltawil is an Israeli Actor, Stand-up comedian, Author, Script writer, who was diagnosed with terminal cancer. After recovering from the cancer - or "making it die of laughter" - he wrote a stand-up show to share the experience he went through and the insight he acquired. I sat down with him for a chat, and these are the life lessons I walked away with.

It’s how you react that matters

Speaking with Eyal reminded me of a famous quote by Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus, “It's not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”

Seven-and-a-half years ago at the age of 31, Eyal woke up with severe gut pains – results of a 20 cm tumour – that were diagnosed as terminal cancer. Even after a set of intensive treatments, he was told he had slim chances of recovery from the malignant cancer.

While he could just feel sorry for himself and give up on life – which were some of the emotions he went through – he eventually made two life changing decisions: to film his battle against cancer and to make sure he laughed at every experience he went through. His reaction choice to this crisis was how his empowering stand-up show, “I CAME. I LAUGHED. I CONQURED - The Cancer that Died of Laughter”, was born.

There is a big difference between a sick person, and a person with a sickness, he said. “If you define yourself as sick, it means that something suddenly dropped on you, and you drop with it. If you live with a disease, it’s part of your routine.”

When you’re being tested... again

So he decided to battle the cancer as positively as he can, all should be plain sailing from then on, right? Unfortunately, no. Two months after he had surgery, the stomach pains returned. CT scans showed the tumour was back as well. Two months later it was confirmed that he had Ewing Sarcoma – bone cancer which typically affects children. “Most people get it before they turn 18, I got it at the age of 31,” he said. 

It took another four months of intensive treatment, which he duly recorded on video.

Eyal feels blessed to survive his battle with cancer, but he is adamant that no matter what happens, positivity is the best way to face any problems. He said: “There were many people in the hospital with me, and they were angry. For those who passed away, I feel that it’s a waste when in their last few months, they were angry about the situation instead of spending time with family in love and laughter.”

But he stressed that it’s normal and understandable. “I was sad and angry at times too when I was sick. Even today, sometimes I get upset. Be with friends and family, choose the right people for you, people who make you feel better. Find people with positive thinking, positive energy. There’s no time for negativity.”

There’re many such mini-battles in life

Since his recovery, Eyal has been active and keen to share his experience of battling cancer. “Because I talk about cancer, but it’s an allegory to all the little obstacles in life,” he said. It could be stress over finance, obstacles in relationships or challenges at work.

“It is a matter of choice how we look at it. Laugh more, release endorphins, and make the environment positive. When you are positive and when the environment is positive, it is easier to be relaxed, to make the right decisions and to get the right results,” he said. “Happiness is a way of looking at life and laughter is the catharsis.”

Living life to the fullest

For those in the insurance industry reading this, he applauds and appreciates the role the industry plays. Like most people at the prime of their lives, he didn’t think he could get sick and didn’t think about insurance. He said he was lucky that his mother bought insurance for him but it was a “small one” and his friends still had to organise a fund raising event on his behalf to contribute to his treatment costs. 

“People don’t like to talk about insurance. But you can never know what tomorrow leads. Continue the good work. Be there for your clients. Be an adviser that your client can trust – like a marriage,” he said.

Having stared death in the face twice, he has a simple message, “Live your life to the fullest.” He said: “It is normal to fear and be worried about what people will say. But when you realise that everyday could be your last day, such fears become inconsequential.”


Picture credit:
Tim Hamons, Art of Awakening
Eyal Eltawil

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