Life Is Short, Whether You Have Cancer ... or Not
Well, no sooner had I written about the one-year anniversary of my cancer diagnosis than I received some frightening news. Blood tests at my second 3-month check-up this past week showed a raised CA-125 protein level (that's the cancer marker). And subsequent CT scans revealed some "worrisome" nodules around my pelvis and colon.
Not the news for which I was hoping.
My oncologist told me that there's a 50 percent chance I'm having a recurrence of cancer (and a 50 percent chance I'm not). We will duplicate the tests and scans in eight weeks to see if a trend is apparent before making any decisions. In the meantime, all I can do is wait.
Actually, that isn't all I can do.
When I was first diagnosed, I became very motivated to change my diet, exercise more (well, as much as one can exercise while undergoing chemotherapy), and take much better care of myself than I had in the past. I engaged the help of nutritionists, organic chefs, holistic health care practitioners, trainers, and all sorts of wellness experts to get me on the right path.
I was on it.
And once I got the "all clear" following more than six months of treatment, I resolved to stay on that path. Wellness from here on out, right? I would be the portrait of health, the poster girl for post-cancer wellness.
Well, it didn't take me long to get complacent. I "celebrated" my cancer-free status with lots of good wine, champagne, and cocktails, and meals out with friends and family. (Hey, I have a wide circle ...) Then, I stopped going to exercise class as much. I let sugar creep back into my diet as well ... a little here and a little there, followed by a complete free-for-all around the holiday season. I started eating some meat and dairy, and essentially stopped juicing. I also started having caffeinated coffees and teas every now and then instead of sticking with decaf.
I felt like I dodged a bullet, and I relaxed.
And it wasn't just in the area of personal health and wellness that I got complacent. Even worse, I stopped being as present with my husband and child as I had during treatment. I started doing more social things, getting out more. I would stay up and watch Girls on Apple TV while my husband went to bed early rather than go with him. I would get on the computer and work while my daughter played on the floor next to me rather than getting down there and playing with her. I felt less urgency to get my life story on paper, to really get serious about writing that memoir.
In short, I stopped feeling like life was short. When, in reality, life is short whether or not you have the scepter of cancer hanging over your head.
Regardless of whether this scare proves to be a true recurrence, I have re-renewed my resolve to live intentionally and to stay present in my life for as long as I have breath in my body. It's unfortunate that it takes the fear of a terminal illness to give me the kick in the ass I need, but I guess that's human nature to an extent.
Now, I'm not big on New Year's resolutions, since those usually fall by the wayside before the 1st of February. However, this year, I did decide that I would commit to live intentionally. And I actually made an intention box containing cards on which I had written my goals and desires.
I wrote each goal in the present tense, as though it had already happened. I figured putting them out to the universe in a confident rather than wishful fashion couldn't hurt. Some were big (like "I am cancer free" or "I am a successful author"); and some were small ("I drink at least a gallon of alkaline water each day"). The exercise was in taking the time to decide what improvements I wanted to make to my quality of life. And the ongoing work will be to look at those cards daily or nightly and remind myself of the goals I set for myself. I think of it as a portable vision board, and something that will constantly change and evolve.
Aside from the obvious goals about taking better care of myself, eating a healthy, largely plant-based diet, exercising more, and whatnot -- plus career milestones I've established for myself -- the most important goals, for me, relate to my immediate family.
I want to be present for my husband and daughter as much as I absolutely can, and to savor every moment I can be with them. This means not being on the computer or mobile device when my child is around. This also means choosing spending time with my husband over catching up on my favorite guilty pleasure television show or burying myself in a book. And sitting down and talking with one another over a meal rather than eating separately on the run.
When I got my first "all clear" from the oncologist, one of my fellow cancer fighting friends wrote me a note of congratulations and ended it with: "Now go make love to your husband, because you can."
That's the kind of life I want to live going forward. I know I'll never regret missing the latest episodes of Downton Abbey (okay, that might not be the best example ... I would actually hate to die without closure about what happens at Downton), but I would most definitely regret having missed time with my husband or daughter.
So, go make love to your partner. Then go for a walk. And drink some water.
Because life is short.
Image via Brooke Kelly Photography