I am a cancer survivor. I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in January 2012 and immediately upon diagnosis, I left my alcoholic husband and moved two states away to enter treatment. The life that I once knew (career, family, home, dogs, San Diego) was over in an instant.
Prior to diagnosis, I realize how my priorities were all wrong. I spent the majority of my time on things that weren’t important at all. But it’s amazing how radically that changed once I knew I was sick and fighting for my life.
First, I became fearless. Other than my disease, I am afraid of nothing and no one else. It took a while for that concept to sink in, but sink in it did. Loud and powerfully. In the midst of massive chemo and emotional trauma associated with fighting my disease, I was also going through a horrific divorce. While it’s been over two years since I left him, the drama from this man has not stopped. The difference is that I simply don’t care anymore.
I have one enemy these days: myeloma. My ex, court hearings, threats of more lawsuits and counter lawsuits? Whatever. I hear from my attorneys and my heart doesn’t even pound. While I still rush off to get frequent massages and go to yoga, I do it for the simple enjoyment of it, not as a coping skill. It’s a fabulous change in mindset.
Second, I only spend time with people I want to. If I get invited to something and it’s not exactly what I want to be doing, I simply decline. I still overschedule myself but I go through my calendar every Sunday and I systematically cancel anything that is just too much or that I don’t really want to do. That was an amazing epiphany—I don’t have to do anything. Saying no is simple and effective. I come first. That means exercise, massage, meditation, rest, writing, my family and children… If it brings me or those I love joy, I’m all over it. Everything else? Get in line!
I’ve learned to forgive in bigger ways. It started with my in-laws. Upon diagnosis, my ex sent me awful email exchanges between them about me. They were angry with me for leaving my husband. But I’ve forgiven them completely. I do everything possible to keep the girls in their lives. I text frequently with updates on the girls, and send cards and gifts for every occasion. And I make huge efforts to meet up for visits. It wasn’t easy but it was absolutely the right thing to do.
I no longer feel the need to be perfect. In my prior life, I spent so much time making sure that I looked the image of a successful and happy mom, wife, and employee. The house had to be spotless at all times. I would never leave the house without proper clothing, hair and makeup. I would never let anyone see the horrible pain I was in while trying to survive an abusive marriage. Few people knew that my husband was an alcoholic and I helped him hide it. I spent so much time living up to the expectations that I had for my life, that I neglected to live my life in honesty and openness.
After losing all my hair to chemo, things have changed for me. While my hair is back and my health has vastly improved, I no longer feel the need to try and be something I’m not. I’m quirky, klutzy, funny, sometimes snarky, forgiving, and everything in between. I’m imperfect and I embrace the real me. Letting go has been liberating and powerful.
I live my life in openness and honesty. That has been a huge change. I started blogging and it’s all there—the good, bad and ugly. It’s me. It’s my story. It’s my journey and someday my children will read it and understand how I got to this point in my life. It feels good to live in truth.
I live my life with purpose. Few things are more important to me than helping other cancer warriors. To that end, I’ve started working with a fellow cancer survivor to bring awareness of myeloma to the forefront and to speed up cures and treatments. Myeloma is a tricky disease to navigate and I’m doing my best to help others power through their treatments and get well.
I’ve learned to love differently. I love purely without any strings attached. I give of myself with no expectations. What I’ve found is that the love I give is returned to me in new and beautiful ways.
And, lastly, I’ve learned to be grateful for things big and small. Sure, the love of my family, boyfriend and friends is huge. But I love the smell of the mountains, the look of the waves crashing on the beach, the birds that nest above my doorstep, the purring of my cat at night, the smell of my freshly laundered sheets. I take a moment to know that I’m alive and every single day counts. I know it sounds trite, but it’s true and I appreciate it.
I wouldn’t wish cancer on anyone. But, while looking at death’s door, I learned to live again.