Monday, October 19, 2009

How Cancer Changed My Life

Everyone knows at some level that life is finite, but I never thought about it as concretely or as often as after my cancer diagnosis. Cancer survivors are acutely aware of our limited time on earth. It’s a side effect of mortality staring you in the face. Once I crossed that line in the sand, I realized my cancer experience had permanently affected my perception of time. The shift for me began during my second week of a 24-hour a day chemo treatment. Seven days of toxic chemicals corsing through my veins had left me exhausted. I spent my days lying in bed looking out my window, searching for the positive things that would come out of my battle against the dragon. I grew impatient and frustrated over the reality that I had ignored my passions and at mid-life found myself unfulfilled.

Everyday I reaffirmed that many more people today now survive cancer, but the thought that my cancer could be life-threatening rarely left my mind. I had always believed I would live to 85 or beyond and die happily of old age, but now my script could potentially end differently. That was reason enough to re-evaluate priorities. The process forced me to take stock in the friends who were there for me during my darkest hours, to painstakingly evaluate who should receive my time and attention from that day forward, I made a comitment to become actively involved in protecting our environment, and acknowledged the importance of living my dreams now. Starting over would provide the opportunity to redefine who I am. I had overcome the ravages of chemo and radiation and fought my way back to the land of the living. It was in that moment that I knew I could do anything with my life I wanted now that I had clear intention. We each have a purpose here; some of us take longer than others to uncover what that gift is. But once we find it, our souls are challenged to give it back to the world in full measure.

Like many cancer survivors, I am a realist. A year later, I am now in full remission and consider myself one of the “lucky ones.” I move forward with my life harboring the realization that my life could change again in an instant. My cancer could resurface, the battle could begin again, but right now I am cancer-free and there is nothing more important than looking forward to explore the many positives and gifts in my life. Living with purpose gives focus to everything. I have my life, I have my energy back and I conquered the dragon by maintaining a healthy positive perspective and the confidence to no longer settle for less.

No one says, “I’m glad I got cancer.” But almost everyone says “It changed the way I look at my life, my relationships, my career, everything.” Cancer taught me that life is precious and so worth the struggles that cross our path. I realize now the gift I was given was the clarity to see my purpose. Cancer is the most powerful motivator I know. I tell myself everyday that everything in our universe happens for a reason and each event leads me closer to where I am meant to be.