Monday, April 5, 2010

"Healthy Survivor"

"Live each day as if it is your last." Good advice? Maybe, maybe not. I have only one thing to say about this popular mantra among patients who have completed cancer treatment: I don't think so! I understand the logic. Just as hunger is the best appetizer, the threat of loss can heighten all the senses in pleasurable ways. I remember the sensory feast when my breast cancer diagnosis first forced me to face my mortality. Fruit tasted sweeter. Music sounded richer. Skies looked bluer. Why not embrace this mantra by living each day as if it is my last? Why not hold on to the outlook that enhances the beauty of everything in my little world? Because, such an effort can be an exercise in defeat. To maintain the urgency and intensity of a "last day" mentality would be exhausting, physically and emotionally.
To live each day as if it is my last is to raise expectations about each outing and interaction, putting pressure on everyone and everything to be last-day worthy. Lastly (and most important), to live each day as if it is my last is to live without hope for tomorrow. And I won't do that. Not yet, anyway. I am committed to being a "Healthy Survivor," namely, a survivor who (1) gets good care and (2) lives as fully as possible. A central element of healthy survivorship is nourishing hope. Every day I strive to accept my present situation while hoping for a better tomorrow. How would it affect "my care" if I were to live each day as if it were my last? I would stop taking my medications and stop going for checkups. Why bother? I would eat pizza for breakfast, ice cream for lunch, and cherry pie for dinner. And I surely would not exercise!
As for the "living fully" part of Healthy Survivorship, if I were to live each day as if it were my last, would today's troubles still have meaning? Instead of seeing my challenges and unpleasant emotions as part of my path to a better tomorrow, would they feel like nothing other than my miserable lot in life? Nope, no self pity, please. A cancer diagnosis encourages us to know both the fragility and the hopes of life, and with that knowledge to live as fully as possible. As a Healthy Survivor, instead of trying to live each day as if it is my last, I will seize the day--carpe diem. I choose to embrace today--whatever the circumstances--and find some happiness today while hoping for a better tomorrow.

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