This time two years ago I had a stage III tumor removed on what was supposed to be my wedding day.
Rewind a few weeks. I was wildly excited about taking an overseas honeymoon in Italy and vacation Spain with family and friends. As time to hop on the plane drew closer, I had abdominal pain that had gotten increasingly worse over the last several months. I chose to live in denial, so life could go on the way I had planned. I decided to power through the trip, altering I did along the way as not to exacerbate my discomfort. With minor interruptions my now husband and I jaunted through Italy. Life was magical.
After celebrating Christmas with family in Barcelona, family and friends from all stages of my life gathered on patios to celebrate my marriage while I was buried under covers in an apartment. Unable to walk on my own, I was barely able to sit up. I could not poop. After a few hospital visits, I was rushed into emergency surgery to remove what wound up being a stage III colon cancer.
In 2013, I experienced four major abdominal surgeries, six months of chemo, and ten months living with an ostomy. Today I am a better version of myself after having those life-changing experiences. And so this year, I will spend my holidays mostly grateful for cancer. This is why:
1. Cancer makes us stop. In the conscious world, this is referred to as being (versus doing). When cancer comes, all else is background noise. It teaches us how to focus on what matters. Decisions are simple because you do what you have to do to get sh*t done. There is no "I'm too busy". There is no "I'll catch it next time". Following my diagnosis, I finally ended my under-rested, over-committed lifestyle. For the first time, I noticed that my value increased the more I was able to be. Ask yourself, how and when can you let go of doing this holiday and just BE?
2. Cancer makes us listen. Cancer says "Jump!". We say "How high?". It pulls the carpet from under us. Things come undone. It's sad. It's painful. It's tiring. It's inconvenient. But cancer offers a unique element of humanity. People know that cancer sucks so when you are facing it, doctors, nurses, spiritual guides, family, and friends listen with intent. They want to know how you are. They want to let you vent. I wanted to be there for my dad before he passed away from cancer, and as a patient I loved when others were there to hear the voice I had pushed down for so 34 years. Ask someone how they are. Ask because you care and want to listen. Let someone bend your ear.
3. Cancer makes us say yes. Experiencing cancer as a patient, caregiver, or loved one is tricky. Life is especially unpredictable. The shift from one thing to the next can change drastically. Pieces of the daily routine may be completely new and frightening. For this reason, cancer gives us the power to say yes. We can invite new activities into our lives to find inner peace. We can read books in our Amazon queue to take our mind out of serious mode. We can start putting effort into a relationship that has become lack luster. We can say yes to gaining new perspective on something much bigger than our tiny existence in this universe. What can you say yes to today?
4. Cancer makes us say no. As soon as we get accustomed to believing that yes means yes and no means no, something shakes us into thinking again. Like a snow globe we stand there in the midst of everything swarming around us and wonder how it will all land. As a recovering over-scheduler, one of the biggest realizations I had was that saying no to others means saying yes to myself. Wow. Mind blown. One day it finally stuck. If I was at my capacity, I could tell other people "no" and they would accept it. How can you nourish yourself by saying no?
5. Cancer makes us grow. Whether you are drinking the concoction the night before a CT scan or driving a patient to their chemotherapy appointment, there are opportunities to grow throughout the process. We can look at doctor visits as disruptive to normal life. Or we can look at all of the beautiful gifts along the way. When we face illness, we are showered with gifts we would never have otherwise experienced like the chance to learn more about physiology, a deeper relationship with someone who has stepped up to schlep us from A to B, or that chance to dig deep down and unveil the connective power that lies within. There is a growth spurt waiting for you in the face of cancer, or whatever your challenge, if you take notice. Are you able to recognize it?
6. Cancer makes us savor. I am fully aware of my situation and how fortunate I am. I am cured for god's sake. After almost losing my life twice in the course of a few days, having to be put in a medically induced coma, and having a sacred heart-to-heart visit while in ICU from my dad (who has been deceased for ten years this February), I realize how fragile and miraculous life is. If fact, it seems all I see are miracle moments to savor. Look at your loved ones and notice their gorgeous laugh lines. Smell the pine tree needles as you sink into the holiday season. Taste each nourishing bite you put in your mouth. Listen to your children sing. Feel the satisfaction of living in a moment of reckless abandon. As you savor more, you may want to consume less. Starting now, be grateful for your variety of experiences. Be willing to drink in the spice of life. Your perception of cancer just might change.