Nobody I ever met wants to have cancer. 

Ditto for crushing chest pain, legs that swell, crack and weep fluid, constant exhaustion, going blind, burning pain in your hands and feet, or open sores that won’t heal. I have never heard anyone say that what they really wanted out of life was to amputate a foot or leg, or gasp with air hunger for months until they finally die. 

People want to be able to get in and out of their cars, walk around a supermarket without gasping or having to ride a cart, go to movies and be able to sit in the seats, and find clothes to wear that make them feel attractive. Nobody, but nobody, craves a big dose of chemotherapy followed by radiation and mutilating surgery. A life of invalidism, joyless exhaustion and feeling fat and ugly is not the goal we set for ourselves when we graduated high school. 

However, many Americans — including me — have lived their lives as if that is exactly what we were after. I could blame a lot of people and things for the health problems I’ve suffered the past two years. But, in the final analysis, the single most significant factor in the good times I’ve had with the medical establishment is me and my own behavior.

I’m not bashing myself. If I contributed to my own bodily harm through eating junk, under-exercising, not sleeping, and subjecting myself to relentless stress — and I did do those things — then I’ve certainly paid the price. As far as I’m concerned, me and myself are even in this deal. I did it, and I suffered the consequences. 

I would like to share what I’ve learned. In fact, I feel compelled to do so.

We have been given the incredible gift of being alive. Think for a moment what a miracle it is that you exist. You are not some inanimate bit of matter that is the building block of other inanimate matter. You are a living, thinking, loving, acting, reacting completely free moral agent. You are unique and irreplaceable. 

You are a human being, made in the Image and Likeness of the living God. You can act on events, the matter that makes the universe, other living things and other people in a free manner. You have the power within you to hurt or heal, to choose life or death.

Out of all the living things on this planet, only human beings can choose and know what they are choosing. We are the only moral agents standing in this world. 

As the Jewish proverb says, you and I are, each one of us, the world entire. We are, as Scripture tells us, a littler lower than the angels. 

Out of all the vast reaches of existence, God has taken note of us, become one of us and died for us. You are a miracle, my friend. Your life is a beautiful, glorious gift. Just as God blessed Abraham so that he might be a blessing to the rest of the world, you are I were given life that we might bless others, that we might return to Him one day having added value to what was given us. 

That is the context in which we should consider our bodies. Our bodies are not profane, sinful hunks of flesh. They are magnificent machines, efficient chemical factories in which we live while we are in this life. Our bodies give us the power to perceive, think, play, pray, create, destroy, enjoy, give life and, if we are perverse enough, bring death. We decide how we will live this life because our lives are free gifts. God doesn’t do things halfway. He gave us our lives and they are ours to live. He gave us free will, and we can do good or ill, as we choose. 

But there is always a reckoning for our choices. Good choices bring good things. Bad choices redound on us, sometimes with a geometric force that can crush, maim, kill or damn us. 

I’ve spent the last two and a half years surviving, not thriving. The past three months have been especially edifying. 

Sometimes things just happen. But a lot of the time, we cause our own problems. Americans eat a lot of junk. And we don’t exercise, sleep enough, relax or enjoy this great gift of life. We are frantic in the way we rush from one thing to the next. Everything we do, even our recreation, is scheduled, competitive and driving. 

The only time and place we give ourselves to rest is in front of the TV, with a bowl of whatever greasy, salty, sugar-filled carb soothes us. Our pleasure, our way of soothing, loving and comforting ourselves into some sort of peace is to mindlessly chomp down on what amounts to a type of poison and force ourselves into physical torpor. 

One of the first things I had to do to get better — at least so far as diet was concerned — was to stop eating out. 

We were eating out almost every night. It was our recreation. Now, we go out after Mass on Sunday and eat at home the rest of the week. 

I also got rid of the chips, dip and other fat-filled, high-salt processed food. 

By doing these simple things, I dropped my daily salt intake into the levels where they should be, and began — slowly, but steadily — to lose weight. I didn’t have to diet. All I had to do was throw away the chips and stop eating out. 

I also began a program of carefully monitored exercise. It was baby steps at first, and still isn’t anything to write home about. But I didn’t think I would ever again feel as pain free as I do now. 

The point of this post is to encourage you to take a look at yourself beforeyou get cancer or have a heart attack. Don’t eat out so much. Toss the processed “convenience” foods in the trash. And go for a walk or a swim or something. Get eight hours sleep. And have some fun; go to movies, concerts, picnics. Enjoy your life. 

Exercise is not fun at first. Your body will fight you and complain. It hurts with real pain to exercise when you’ve been sick. But the payback is incredible. 

You don’t have to eat weird foods or run marathons to get results. All you have to do is exercise yourself into a healthy sweat for about 30 minutes three or four times a week. Do that and eat ordinary, home-cooked food that you like, get regular sleep, and have fun with your life. 

I hope you take this message to heart (pun intended). Because your life is a miracle. And you matter.