My husband was driving me home from chemo last week and made the comment, looking at the sky, "Now we just need a good hard rain."
Within a couple of minutes, the blue skies turned dark and we could see rain falling ahead. Soon we were in the midst of an old-fashioned rainstorm. A good, hard rain.
I said to him, "Your wish is obviously the universe's command."
His response was, "If my wish was the universe's command, you wouldn't have cancer."
I thought about this for a minute and replied, "I'm pretty sure I'm supposed to have cancer."
Obviously if I die from this cancer, the following statement may prove not to be true. But right now I'm feeling like cancer might be the best thing that ever happened to me.
With the cancer diagnosis, my priorities changed in an instant. The list of what was truly important got real short, real quick. Decision-making became easier. I became more motivated to do things I had been putting off.
The old phrase about not sweating the small stuff became crystal clear. I used to be someone who tended to get bogged down at times in the minutiae. Not so much post-diagnosis. My time now is much more precious.
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Although cancer is definitely scary, in some ways it has decreased my level of anxiety about certain things, almost like a built-in Xanax drip. Getting stressed over much of anything seems silly now. An instant mellowing of sorts has transpired.
I've been in the same job for 20 years and was always one of the ones who billed hours on nights and weekends, taking pride in always being available. When I did take vacations, I always stayed connected to the office and to clients ... even on my honeymoon.
For the first time in two decades ... really for the first time in my adult life ... I'm truly taking a break. After my maternity leave ran out, I took advantage of our firm's medical leave policy. And I really, truly have been "off" work.
Although I've missed my job, this break has forced me to see what truly disconnecting looks and feels like. And it has made me realize that while I do want to go back, I also want to do things a little differently when I do. I want to truly practice the art of balancing home life and work life, and not just talk about doing so.
Cancer helped me find my voice in writing from a personal standpoint. What started out as a way to avoid talking about my diagnosis became therapeutic for me and then, it turns out, for others as well.
The cancer surgery and treatment forced me to look at old body image issues I had not realized were still under the surface. The disease also caused me to take a hard look at how well (or not) I take care of myself, and what food I put into my body.
Cancer treatment made me reexamine my old ideals of beauty. And to be grateful for the gifts of health and well being that I have been given, like a strong and steady heartbeat. Two legs on which to walk. The ability to see and hear and breathe deeply on my own. A (mostly) sharp mind.
Cancer took my relationship with my husband to another level.
The cancer brought me closer to my family. It helped take down walls I didn't realize were there.
It also brought me closer to many of the amazing people in my life, and drew many, many more new friends into my circle. A core group quietly formed, relationships that are truer and deeper than ever before. It's amazing how certain people show up, sometimes when you least expect it. I feel so fortunate to have such a loving team on my side. And I know part of this has to do with me putting aside pretense and letting myself be vulnerable. Cancer caused me to get real. And I learned that when you're real with people, oftentimes they're real right back. And therein lies the reward.
Cancer forced me to set aside pride and to learn to ask for and accept help.
Cancer showed me what I knew intellectually but never really "got" before now: that control is a largely an illusion, and that attempts to control are a waste of valuable energy.
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Cancer caused me to say "yes" more, and to say aloud certain things that before I would have just kept to myself ... to not let moments pass.
It has given me bigger balls and a smaller ego. It is truly humbling.
Cancer also gave me the courage to say "no" more, to not agree to do things I do not want to do just to please others or maintain appearances.
Knowing that my time on this planet may be more limited than I anticipated made me treasure the present, the big things as well as the seemingly small.
It sharpened all five of my senses and then some.
Cancer filled me with gratitude for all that I have, and all of the experiences that led me to this moment in time. It made me savor more and regret less.
Cancer has given me courage and confidence. It has also given me more compassion and empathy. It has made me realize than I'm stronger than I ever thought I was.
Before I started chemo, I made the choice to view my treatment as the ultimate cleanse. I just had no idea how much would be cleaned out in the process. Old baggage far beyond the cancer. A chance to be reborn.
And I don't intend to waste it.
Image via Brooke Kelly