On March 15, 2011, I sat in my living room with a few friends, celebrating my friend Sherry’s 44th birthday. Eventually the conversation came around to Michelle, an acquaintance of ours who was dying from a very aggressive form of breast cancer. I said, “Look around you ladies. With the stats as they are, there is a good chance that one of us could get breast cancer.” Hey, I didn’t mean ME! I meant Sherry, Jackie or Madonna. Surely I wasn’t going to get breast cancer. I was young, healthy, fit, and had no family history. As if some creepy premonition were unfolding, I found it the very next day: a lump in my left breast. Life would never be the same. I do not remember the exact day that I received my diagnosis, or when I had my biopsy or lumpectomy, but I will always mark March 16th as the day cancer came into my life (completely uninvited, I might add).
People mark time by major life altering events, such as when you get married, have children, or move to a new city. Cancer has become my new way of marking time. It is as if a line was drawn through my life, and everything has become referenced to the cancer. When did I buy my Kia? 2011 B.C. (before cancer). When did Shawn and I take our first holiday together? 2012 A.D. (after diagnosis).
You may be thinking that life A.D. cannot possibly be as fulfilling as life B.C. But that is not necessarily the case. I believe that happiness and a positive attitude are choices that people make every day. After I had gone through the grieving process, which took about six months, I was faced with a choice. I could choose to focus on the pain, suffering and utter devastation that is cancer. There is no denying that few things in life can rival a cancer diagnosis for the award of “worst thing that could ever happen to you.” Cancer brings with it the terror of facing an untimely death; uncomfortable and painful treatments and procedures; loss of identity; coming to grips with a new body image; strained relationships; and financial setbacks or ruin. That is the reality of cancer.
But for some “fortunate” cancer patients, the diagnosis brings with it another reality. When faced with their mortality, some people come to realize what is really important in life, and then to go on make life altering changes. I am one of those fortunate people. What gifts has cancer given me? Perk # 13: Cancer boosted my self esteem. Perk # 21: Cancer helped me to find my soul mate. Perk # 25: Cancer connected me to a powerful prayer network. Perk # 28: Having cancer revealed to me a whole new side of my autistic son. Perk # 34: Cancer made me realize my own strength. Having cancer forced me to evaluate my life and make some major changes. I ended some relationships which were not serving me well, and put more of my energy into those which were. I identified work environments which were toxic to my spirit and embraced a change in my career. I started to feed my body nutritious foods, and made exercise and meditation an important part of my day. As ironic as it may sound, this past year with cancer has been one of the happiest of my life.
Would I give up my cancer? Absolutely, in a heartbeat! However, I would not part with the changes that cancer has forced me to make in my life. Some say that a positive attitude alone cannot cure cancer. I agree. However, a positive attitude combined with positive action will give me the best chances of surviving this disease. If I live another forty years, it will be wonderful thing if I can look back on this year and say that I lived it with happiness, joy and grace. If I live only one year, then it is even more important that I be able to say I lived it that way. For that reason, I choose to fight cancer with attitude-a positive attitude.