18 lessons cancer taught me
Today is a special day for me. Actually, every day is a special for me. Every day that I wake up, can breathe deeply, get out of bed on my own two legs. And every night when I get into bed, say prayers of gratitude, close my eyes and fall asleep, breathing on my own. And every moment in between.
Eighteen years ago I walked out of the hospital, finally finished with an aggressive treatment for bone cancer. I spent most of 13 months in the hospital while intense chemotherapy pumped through my body. I endured a surgery that removed most of my femur and part of my tibia, replacing these with a titanium rod, and forcing me to teach my leg muscles to walk again (but, man, did I have amazing arm muscles after seven months on crutches!). I lost my hair, weight, eyelashes, and appetite. I felt fear, anxiety, loneliness, sadness, anger and more.
But, wait. I refused to let cancer fill me with bitterness and fear (I still refuse!). I also felt hope, joy, love and support. I made new friends and reconnected with old friends who touched me with their outpouring of love and encouragement throughout treatment and beyond. I discovered a strength and determination I didn’t know existed inside of me. My love for life blossomed, laughter at simple things bubbled up inside of me and I caught myself throwing my arms to welcome new adventures, new people, and new possibilities.
Cancer, for all of its scary and sad moments, taught me to embrace life and accept change as gracefully as I can (which isn’t always easy!). Here are a few other lessons that I’ve learned along the way during these past 18 years:
- Take no one or nothing for granted. You just don’t know when life will change or that person will no longer be in your life.
- Don’t be afraid to take chances. Go after your dreams. You may not get another opportunity.
- Tell someone how you feel. Don’t be afraid to share your feelings. Feeling love, happiness, gratitude? Spill it. Feeling frustrated, sad, lonely, annoyed? Share those emotions too. Let people know and understand how you feel. It’s okay to be vulnerable.
- Let go of negative emotions. Seriously, just let it go. Resentment, hate, anger and all those just build into a negative ball of energy and drag you down. Life is too short to not be happy.
- Travel. Get away from your hometown, state, country if you can. Sometimes stepping away from the every day helps clear your view of life, present and future.
- Ditch technology every so often. We’re a society programmed into being connected. I get it (heck, I’m typing this on a computer!). But that doesn’t mean that we can’t set technology down to have real conversations in person, read a real book with pages, play a real sport or activity in the real outdoors.
- Hang out with kids. Life is much simpler through the eyes of children and teens. They mostly still believe in magic and ask good questions and project a sense of innocence onto you.
- Make new friends. If you still have friends from childhood, you’re fortunate. But life brings a wave of new circumstances that sometimes offer new relationships with people. Embrace new friends and new experiences. I believe everyone touches our lives for a reason, even those you sometimes quickly move past.
- Volunteer in your community and beyond. We are all fortunate to be here. We all have something to give to others. It doesn’t have to be money – volunteer your time, help at an event, help make our communities better places. The world could use a lot more love and gratitude.
- Spend time with older generations. Ask questions and really listen to the answers. Just as children give me a sense of innocence, older generations give me a sense of wisdom. In today’s fast-paced, technology society, I think we often forget to listen to those who learned long before us. Wisdom should not be ignored.
- Be a good friend. Be there when others need you, not just when you need others. Accept that we are not all the same, that our lives may have different paths. Know it’s okay to have friends who are different than you.
- Love fiercely and deeply. Don’t be afraid to open yourself to falling in love. I am a romantic and believe love drives so much of our kindness, smiles and contentment. Love isn’t perfect but neither are you. Embrace it to find joy.
- Don’t take today, tomorrow, or next year for granted.
- Be prepared to move on. Sometimes you try and try, but life presents a situation or problem that you can’t solve. It’s okay to say, “I’ve given it my all and now I am letting go.” Be brave and accept your decision.
- Snuggle with a puppy. Animals love unconditionally when you love them.
- Don’t settle for less than happy. As I said, life is too short to not be happy.
- Respect and listen to your body. We only get one great vessel so take care of it, listen when it tells you something is wrong and keep it healthy and strong.
- Welcome each new day with gratitude and love.