3 Things Cancer SHOULD Have Taught Me – But Didn’t. (AKA: How I Am Failing At Life) (AAKA: Open Letter To Everyone I Love)

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?

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One comment on “3 Things Cancer SHOULD Have Taught Me – But Didn’t. (AKA: How I Am Failing At Life) (AAKA: Open Letter To Everyone I Love)

  1. My daughter…so much I want to say….where to start? First of all…please never apologize for LIFE getting in the way. I am all too guilty of this as well. We (meaning you) have so much on the go., the last thing we need is to feel guilty about LIFE getting in the way. Look at you and all you are accomplishing! Mother, partner, student, employee, and now….brand new baby! I am SO proud of you…your drive, determination, preserverence. I am also scared for you…so very much on your plate! I worry for you, that you are going to implode one day.
    Now then…cancer. It rocks you to your core to hear those words. Sitting in that drs office waiting for the ‘good’ news that your test came back negative. Then BAM! the doc hits you in the head with a brick and you sit there reeling and wondering if you are going to remember everything he said, if you are going to be able to make sense out of anything ever again. If you are going to be able to drive yourself home without crashing. To sit in a drs office and hear that your child has cancer….um….what??!! Cancer? Are you sure? Shes only 25 years old. How can this be happening? How can this be? Are you SURE? YOU, SIR, ARE WRONG. DO THE FREAKING TEST AGAIN! Thats my DAUGHTER!! FUCK! I know what cancer did to me. I know how it changes you forever. I know that Im scared every minute of every day that IT is going to get me and one day the grim reaper is going to find me and I can’t hide. Please, Lord, don’t do this to my DAUGHTER! Shes just a baby!
    How the hell did you get through that and come out on the other side ok? At least you seem ok. I know Im not ok….not since. Not during. Not after.
    You think that you are going to make grand changes to your life if you come through this alive. Truth is, it doesn’t change who you really are. You just want to go back to your life pre-cancer, the way it was before. Not thinking that it could happen to you…no grim reaper in your near future. Everything peachy-keen. I JUST WANT MY LIFE BACK. GET OUT OF MY HEAD! LEAVE ME THE HELL ALONE! FUCK YOU CANCER!!!!!!! FUCK. YOU.
    Yes, Love, we are guilty of not taking better care of ourselves,not making more time for the people we love, not changing our habits to improve our health, to give ourselves a fighting chance. But we are human. We do what we need to do to survive…not just cancer, but life. If that means taking time for yourself, cocooning, hiding out, holing up, then thats what you need to do. If (in your case, as I see it) you need to be busy, productive, keep your mind occupied, then thats what you need to do. For me….I need to hide out. Not participate fully in life right now. Disconnect. Not get too invested. I just want to concentrate on my family. Making sure they know they are loved. Im sure in the last four years I’ve said I love you to my family more than I ever did in all the years pre-cancer. Its because I want you all to know that its you guys I live for. Its you guys that bring me the most joy. Its you guys. I don’t know if Im doing a good enough job to get the message across. I love you. Im here for you. I WOULD catch a grenade for you. All of you.
    Now then, Mothers day. Yep. This was the shittiest one ever. No doubt about it. Don’t want flowers, don’t need to go out to brunch, don’t want ‘stuff’. Just your time. That being said, I also ‘GET IT’. You have a migraine. Your son is sick. You have a new baby and midnight feedings. You have a home to maintain. A partner who needs your attention. FOUR CHILDREN!! I understand, Love. Not angry. Not one bit. Just sad, and a little bit jealous that there are people out there that knew you had a rough night and a migraine and were having a shitty day and I DID NOT KNOW. I didn’t know why I didnt get a visit or a phone call. But she did. Now then, I have another daughter. She carved out 30 minutes of her day for me. 30 minutes. Then she went and spent the rest of her day at her Mother in Laws. Wait…what? Yep. Jealous. Fuck. WTH???? Im the mom! Me! Wait just a minute here. Whaddya mean you are going to spend mothers day with some other mom? Im here! Can you see me? Hello?? WTH??? What a mixed bag of feelings. I love you both so much. So very much. My intention here was not to make you feel any worse than you already do. My intention was to let you know that I absolutely understand why things played out the way they did. Life is complicated. Life is busy. Life is just trying to survive. Just don’t forget me in your quest for survival. I’m here. I can help. I want to help. And most importantly of all ….I love you and you love me. No doubt about it.

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