It’s July 2020, more than 6 months from when I was diagnosed with stage iv breast cancer. I’m sitting on my back porch on this sunny morning, frankly feeling better than I have in years. I’ve been through stages of coping with this diagnosis in no particular order – pure adrenaline, extreme exhaustion, mourning the loss of my old life and aspects of myself, and then finding purpose in my new life. It’s that last bit that’s handed me the magic, y’all. So, I just wanted to share a few helpings of it with you, too. I know it sounds weird to be thankful for a terminal diagnosis, and I feel like a crazy person for even saying it. But I hope to help illustrate for all of you the several ways that cancer has essentially given me my life back through this series that will explore it’s effect on several areas of my life. I’m starting with cancer’s effect on my emotional well being and sense of purpose. If you want to be sure not miss the other parts, consider subscribing to my blog (see link at the top right if you’re on a computer, or the bottom if you’re on a phone).
Emotional Health and Purpose
Balance in my life has always been complicated. I’m a people pleaser, and I generally like to feel like I’m doing something worthwhile to add value to the planet. So I’ve always gotten sucked into things I wasn’t able to fully dedicate myself to, and wasn’t sure how to move away from. I wasn’t always aware of how to find the right fits for me and how to lean into the joy of the things I was committed to. And I haven’t always been willing or able to confront my emotions fully, so I’ve sometimes gotten caught in a vicious cycle of just reacting – which can manifest itself in all kinds of unhealthy ways.
Cancer changed all that for me, but “how” may not be as obvious. My goal when I was initially diagnosed was to just keep my life as normal as possible. I wanted to keep going to work, showing up, doing too much. Cancer is not here for that, period. I had too many doctors appointments scheduled to be able to work every day. I was too tired and having too hard of a time getting around on my broken back to jet off to my usual activities after work. I was too immune compromised to just throw myself into everything I had been doing with all my might. I was too sad about my appearance to show up everywhere I always had. So, I had to sit still in ways I had not in many years, if ever. I had to rest. I had to sleep. I had to resign activities and start saying no. I didn’t want to, but I was just not physically able. Then covid-19 happened and I really didn’t have a choice. I had to stay home, which gave me the freedom to rest and sleep without the guilty feeling that I was missing something or needed to be somewhere.
In that silence, I found my voice again. I’ve always loved to write, but sometimes life has just beaten the words right out of me. I haven’t known what to say or how to say it, because I’ve been tired and sad and busy. I haven’t sat with my feelings long enough to process them into words. Now, I’m without so many of the distractions that I’ve hidden behind for years, and because my liver is covered with cancer, I don’t have alcohol to numb my emotions anymore. What has emerged is clarity.
I now have the space to recognize my initial emotion as a reaction to whatever happens, to accept it and let it be for a bit, but then to keep going with it. I explore it, look behind it and challenge it. I have more time to think before I react, or even after. I’ve come to love my short, curly hair in a way that I was never connected to my longer, labor intensive hair. It’s just me. I’m just me. And I’m so thankful to be here. I don’t claim to be in a perfect space, but I feel like I’m putting in the work that I’ve been needing to put in for years. And it doesn’t even really feel like work. It’s a labor of love and it feels like a gift. I’m not sure I would have found my way back to myself, found the time and motivation to put myself first, and found the courage to take real control of my life through any other path. Many of my previous feelings of unrest have been replaced by a deep gratitude to be alive and improving in the face of a whole bunch of cancer.
I want to live so badly that I’m trying not to waste too many moments living in a space of negative emotions. Do I feel them? Yes. Are they strong and intense at times? Yes. Do I acknowledge and honor them? Yes. But then its time to move forward into purpose. I’ve started recognizing that if I’m feeling a negative emotion, I know other people are too. And if I can articulate how I’m feeling, how I’m working through it, and how others might do the same, then I’m sharing my gifts with the other party guests. And y’all, that’s the best party of all. It has given me a tremendous emotional freedom and truth, and it has resulted in all these words on the page lately. I’ve wanted to write a book since I was in elementary school, and I actually have one fully outlined with chapters written for the first time in my life.
So, I write this to acknowledge my gratitude for the wake up call that handed me back my sense of self. These kinds of gifts never come packaged in the lovely, easy way we’d like to receive them, but damn they’re worthwhile sometimes. Aren’t they? My challenge to you (can we call it a gift?) is that you’ll try to shift perspective on some of the difficulties in your own life. I don’t want you to ignore them or sell them short. Quite the opposite, I want you fully acknowledge them and consider what they’ve given you or taught you, and how you might put those things out into the world to make it, or even you, better. That’s purpose. That’s a gift that cancer gave me. I would love to hear how seemingly bad things have provided a catalyst for good change within your life, so consider sharing your stories in the comments.
Stay tuned for the next blogs in the series, where I’ll talk about how cancer has impacted my physical health and my relationships!