Monday, January 25, 2010

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Shortly after my partial mastectomy, I remember reading survivor stories where breast cancer survivors would state, “Breast cancer was the best thing that happened to me.” This statement truly perplexed me. Here I was, 46 years old, having just lost a breast to cancer. For the life of me I could not fathom that the hell I found myself forced into would ever be a good thing. Was I was missing something? What was wrong with me that I couldn't believe this? I was angry at the world, life, and my own body for letting me down. I did not want to believe that anything good could arise from having breast cancer because in doing so meant I accepted it. Life consisted of a fog of powerful emotions ranging from grief and anxiety to terror and rage. I just wanted to go back to my pre-cancer life and pick up where my life left off before I had breast cancer. But I wasn’t the same person, so how could I expect my life to pick up again where it left off? So who was I now? Such questions I still ponder. I now realize that acceptance of breast cancer does not mean I like it or agree with it, but that I have come to terms with the fact that yes, this has happened to me. I need to fit it into my life somehow. I can only hope that good things can come from bad experiences.
I am not about to suggest that cancer or other life-threatening illnesses are gifts, rather I think that they provide opportunities and insights you would not normally have. There are advantages to having blinders for every day life--the fantasy that keeps awareness of our mortality at bay, ripped away by a cancer diagnosis. Everyone goes down life's path toward death. Some arrive there sooner than others. Some live better lives because they recognize the limitations that life brings. Cancer can provide people with the opportunity to reflect on the meaning of their lives, to renew their commitments, to grow in ways never expected and to have time to repair relationships.
I've realized that many of the big things in life are out of my control. I may not be able to prevent my agency from closing in the future or cancer from striking, but I can control my responses to such events. And there are many little things in life I can control: taking time with my loved ones, watching the passing clouds on a warm summer day, or going to my daughter's track meet. I can embrace small pleasures, pace myself and not "sweat the small stuff.” I can find humor wherever possible. No point in living, no matter how long, if I can’t find laughter and joy in every day.

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