I recently read an article in the Huffington Post called “What Cancer Taught Me About Appreciating Life”. It was one of those pieces where the author tells you some profound lesson they have learned because of their experience with illness, or a close brush with death. These stories are meant to inspire others to appreciate life, and show that even something as terrible as cancer can be a blessing if you can find the lesson in it.
Well, I have gotten up close and personal with cancer. In fact, cancer has been hanging around for a few years now. I was diagnosed with cancer a couple years ago. My mom was diagnosed with cancer before that. My best friend’s mom died of cancer. All of this has changed me. It has made me worry more about getting cancer again, and my kids. It has made me think about people who I care about and caused me to check in and talk to them more often. It made me think more about what I should be doing to take care of myself. It has made me realize that there are lessons that come with getting this close to cancer… and that I am a slow learner when it comes to some of these lessons…
1. Don’t take anyone for granted. You never know when someone you love is going to wake up with cancer, or get hit by a bus. When my best friend’s mom died it was the last thing anyone expected. She ate organic, exercised, and was one of the healthiest people we knew. Then she was gone. Although I know this, and experienced it, I am still guilty of taking advantage of the fact that the people I love are here, and not sick. I don’t make enough time for them, and I assume I will always have tomorrow, or next weekend to see them, catch up, or tell them I love them. I think about that fact and try to set aside time, but eventually life gets in the way and then months go by before I start setting aside time again.
2. Don’t count on tomorrow. Getting diagnosed with cancer hit me like a truck. It came out of nowhere. I thought it was just a normal, run of the mill check up that turned into surgery which turned into an appointment with an oncologist. I didn’t have to go through chemotherapy, or battle the cancer, or even worry that I was going to die… but the word cancer was not one I thought I would hear at 25 years old. So, when I did I decided I wasn’t going to wait to have the baby I wanted, and I wasn’t going to put off schooling to do it, and I was going to do it all. Why, then, do I put off inviting my friends over for dinner, or having coffee with my mom, or starting an art project that I am super excited about?
3. Make your health a priority. I know that eating right and exercising increases the length of your life and the quality. I know that having a long life is one of the greatest gifts I could give my children. I know this because if there was one thing my mom could give me it would be another 50 years with her on this planet. When she told me she had cancer all I wanted in the world was for it not to be true, and when she beat cancer it was the best feeling in the world. It made me realize how much I still need her and want her around. But in the same way that cancer didn’t immediately make her quit smoking, it doesn’t make me join the gym and eat organic. I always plan to start exercising “next week” and try to eat more greens but then winter comes, and turkey dinners and cake beat health every time.
I am sorry if you thought this was going to be another uplifting, inspirational blogs about how cancer changed my life and I am all the better for it. Really, this is an apology. To my family and friends, I am sorry for not making more time. To my kids, I am sorry for not taking better care of myself. To my partner, I am sorry for going to bed angry, assuming we will both wake up tomorrow. To my Mom, I am sorry for thinking I could make up for a shitty mother’s day next year (or in a month when I had finished the gift I wanted to give you). To myself, I am sorry for not making more of an effort to change these things.
These lessons are important. All of you are important. Making these changes are important. One thing I have always tried to do in my life is something important. Now is as good a time as any to start. Not tomorrow. Not next year. I am going to start by saying I love you, and am thankful for you. It’s been too long since we had a “coffee date”. When is a good time for you?