No one says, "I'm glad I got cancer." But it has changed the way I look at my life, the way I handle relationships, my career, everything. My reaction is considered typical. Mental health experts who work with cancer survivors say it's common for people to seek out more creative, and therefore meaningful, avenues of work or leisure. It's typical to hear an investment banker say she'd like to be a poet, but much less rare to hear a poet decide to become an investment banker. For many people trying to shift to a more meaningful job or career, money becomes secondary--despite the fact that medical bills may be overwhelming. I have a sense of "forward propulsion" that comes out of this experience, a sense that the sickness, hopefully soon to be in the past, is perhaps one of my greatest motivators. And, with some patience and planning, the end of my cancer story will be a happy one, complete with more meaningful relationships on and off the job.
Friday, February 26, 2010
Cancer as a change agent?
As a cancer survivor (can I say that yet?) I now think of life as B.C. and A.C. -- for, of course, before cancer and after cancer. Once you've coped with cancer, life isn't the same. Survivors will often talk about major and minor overhauls of their lives--from taking another look at their family life and other relationships to switching jobs, finding an entirely new career or pursuing new leisure activities. While I know at some level that life is finite, I had never thought about it as concretely or as frequently as after my diagnosis of breast cancer. I am acutely aware of our limited time on earth. Mortality is, quite literally, in my face. The cancer experience affects your perception of time (I always say time flies while you're having cancer). I am suddenly impatient and acutely aware of my frustration at spending time on things I have always perceived as meaningless—only now they seem more so. Whenever you have a more acute sense of time being finite, you start to think more and more about what matters to you and how you want to spend your time. Trite as it may sound, cancer truly is a life-changing event. Often, someone who has weathered a cancer diagnosis comes through treatment much stronger—and ready for change.