Cancer is scary business, no two ways about it.
Making gratitude lists is something I try to do whenever I’m feeling scared or angry or bored or, well, grateful. (An alphabetical gratitude list is also a great way for me to fall asleep when monkey brain is keeping me awake.) For me, listing the many things for which I am thankful has always helped me get back to center and put the less important things into their proper perspective.
Let me tell you, with a cancer diagnosis, the list of what’s really important gets real short, real quick.
After the diagnosis, although I was filled with gratitude for all of the wonderful things in my life -- my new husband and healthy new baby at the top of the list -- I also found myself being kept awake at night with a different kind of list: fears.
I tried to push these fears aside, but they were always right there in the back of my head, whispering in my ear. So I decided to give them equal time, and list them just like I did with the good stuff. My hope was that voicing them would help take away their power, and to some extent, it did.
Here are some that were in heavy rotation in those early days, which still crop up from time to time:
- That I'm going to die of cancer in the near future.
- That I won't be able to grow old with my husband or watch my daughter grow up beyond toddlerhood.
- That I won't deal well, physically or emotionally, with the side effects of chemotherapy.
- That I'll be bald, bloated, dried up, unattractive, chronically nauseated, and unable to care for my baby or be a good partner to my husband.
- That I'll no longer be the woman I used to be, in every sense of that word, with so many of my pieces and parts taken in a radical hysterectomy.
- That I'll become a burden to my husband and family.
- That some other woman will end up raising my child. Someone younger and way hotter.
You get the picture. Heavy stuff. And certainly more insomnia-worthy than the now seemingly petty stuff that used to keep me up at night.
Around this time, a friend of mine passed on a piece of advice that had been given to her when she was in the midst of her own battle with the disease. It's a theory called the "50 Minute Hour." Under this methodology, you give yourself 50 minutes of each hour to "cherish, love, and engulf yourself in what's important," and 10 minutes to “give yourself permission to be scared or tired or angry" about whatever challenge you are facing.
I started applying this principle to my day-to-day life and found that it generally works. The beauty and wonder of a newborn alone usually make it easy to keep the scary thoughts to their allotted 10 minutes per hour. Sometimes I don't even use all 10 minutes. (Or sometimes I just doze through the 10 minutes ...)
I realized that the cancer can’t take away who I am. It may change my appearance or my energy level, but, inside, where it counts, I’m still the same woman I’ve always been (albeit perhaps a bit more humble and a whole lot more appreciative of my life).
I have to turn over my body to the medical professionals and allow myself to be infused with what I choose to believe will ultimately save me. No matter what is taken away from me in the process, even temporarily, my "Joanna-ness" will always be there. Unless I allow it to be smothered by fear and insecurity.
So I just can't let that happen.
Image via Brooke Kelly Photography