Reflections on My Three Year Cancerversary…Lessons Learned

I should start by saying that on my actual Cancerversary (April 15th) I was so preoccupied with a doggie crisis that I spend all day at the emergency veterinarian’s worrying about my dog that I forgot all about what day it was! Needless to say, in the days that followed I did a bit of reflection on what surviving three years means to me.

I remember shortly after I was diagnosed, a friend of mine told me about her mother who was also battling cancer at the time. She mentioned that her mother had been fighting for three years. I thought, wow, what a long time!! In hindsight, it seems like no time at all!! It’s strange, I barely recognize myself or my life anymore, but I love who I am and I certainly love my life…cancer and all! I had always thought I knew what I wanted, but it took cancer to show me what was really important, and it wasn’t what I thought it was. Cancer has been both a blessing and a curse, and along the way, I’ve learned a few things that I’d like to share.

I’ve never felt so loved or so alone in my life

It is a strange paradox having an amazing family and friends who love and support you and yet still feel alone and isolated from everyone. This was the situation I found myself in after my diagnosis and treatment. Initially, this really bothered me until I found Young Adult Cancer Canada. Even though I had never met an actual young adult survivor, just knowing they existed gave me hope and let me know I was not alone.

Richness is redefined

I used to think that if I worked hard and got a good job that life would be good. I’d have money, be able to travel, maybe buy a house, and finally retire with a nice fat bank account. I’ve learned that even with a good job, a nice house, and a fat wallet, life can throw you a curve ball. If you don’t have your health, nothing else really matters. I remember being envious of those who lived “the good life” but what was that? Were they really happy? Sure they had pretty things and drove nice cars, but were they really rich? I’ve discovered that money isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, that richness is a state of mind. I’ve discovered I am rich. I have a loving supportive family, I am healthy (more or less), I have a roof over my head and food in my belly. All these things make me luckier than a majority of the global population! I have also had this life altering experience that for good or bad has made me a new person, one who values connections over dollars, and experiences over possessions.

I’ve never wanted to live so hard in my life

Being told you have cancer once is frightening, but being told it has come back can be both devastating and liberating at the same time…again another paradox…let me explain! After I finished treatment the first time, I figured that the new and improved me could pick up the pieces and dive right back into my old life and for a while I did. In May of 2011, I was told the cancer had come back after about a year of stability, this news was a blow! To top it off, I was told that my options were limited, I wasn’t a candidate for radiation or surgery and chemo wasn’t really an option until I became sicker, and even then despite our best efforts the cancer would come back. Essentially I was screwed…so I said to hell with expectations; I’m going to do whatever I want and what ever makes me happy. Since then, I have done exactly that. Living hard isn’t what you might think!! It’s not about partying or running amok, for me it’s about experiencing all the beautiful moments life has to offer if we just took the time to stop and enjoy them. It’s about sharing myself, my story, connecting to people and nurturing those relationships, so that when it is time to cash in my chips, I won’t have regrets about what I didn’t do or remorse about how it treated someone. Living hard is about being present and engaged in life!!

Letting go of things

There are certain things I’m learning to let go of and mourn their losses, and it is a process. Some days are better than others, and some things are more painful than others! I’ll never be a home owner, that’s ok…the white picket fence and double car garage are over rated, I’d rather travel anyway!! I’ll also probably never have my own children, partially by choice, but mostly due to treatment. For the most part, I’ve accepted that getting pregnant or being fertile is not going to happen for me, usually I’m okay with this, but sometimes the desire to have a baby comes over me and my heart breaks at this loss. This usually happens when I’m surrounded by cute babies (Damn their cuteness)!! Pregnancy and carrying a child to term would be incredibly difficult as I’d need to stop treatment to try, and even then there are no guarantees that the drugs wouldn’t affect the health of the baby, so I think its better not to take the chance.

Realism is perfectly fine

I’ve realized that I’m not an optimist or a pessimist but a hopeful realist, and this is perfectly fine for me. I accept my reality, I have cancer. I’ll likely die with cancer, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to live with cancer for a very long time!! That sometimes shocks people, but it’s the truth, it’s okay to accept our mortality without giving up on life. I chose to live, and I chose to live with cancer, but I also realize that there will come a time when that is no longer a possibility, and I’m okay with that even if others aren’t.

People will give advice from the heart even if it is annoying

I’ve had many people try to give me advice or suggestions to “help” me, and I’ve realized that they do this with the best intentions even if they have no clue or are annoying, they do it with love. This is true with questions too; I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked if I smoked. Having lung cancer at 30 can be hard to get your head around, I guess some people assume you did something to bring it on because it’s all they know…After all smoking = lung cancer. This question used to make me homicidal, but I’ve realized that not many people know that almost 25% of new diagnoses of NSCLC are people who have never smoked, I happen to be one of them, so I choose to educate rather than berate…although I admit to the occasional sarcasm!

Ok I’ve babbled on long enough!!

Needless to say, life is good! So my life isn’t what I thought it would be, big deal! I’m much happier this way. After all, isn’t life is supposed to be about, learning, discovering, living, and loving?!

In case you are wondering, my dog is just fine and was back to his perky self in no time!

Thanks for reading!