“Cancer gave me [a] sense of urgency, and it’s a change I embrace.”
Cancer patients often hear the term “new normal” to describe a return to normalcy after cancer, but the words never resonated for me. There is nothing normal about cancer, and there is no returning to my pre-cancer self. Frankly, as much as I wish I’d never had cancer, I wouldn’t want to go back because I’m discovering, and coming to love, a new post-cancer me. These are a few of the things I’ve learned along the way:
Time can help heal.
When I was diagnosed, I lived in a cancer haze. It permeated everything. Then my treatment ended and the appointments slowed. But I still thought about cancer all the time. At some point though, without any conscious effort on my part and sometimes without even realizing, I began to go days, occasionally a week or two, without cancer intruding on my thoughts. I am eight years from diagnosis now, and I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about my cancer. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when a life experience triggers a flood of emotions (Ulman’s Key to Keys Ride, a friend’s diagnosis, a ballpark of fans and players Standing Up to Cancer at the World Series . . .). But I can engage with cancer on my own terms now too, which allows me to support others facing the disease.
Hugs make life better.
Before cancer, I wasn’t very good at hugs. Now I love them, because I want the people I care about to know right now how much they mean to me. I also give compliments more freely so I don’t miss the chance to tell my friends they are kind, intelligent, strong and beautiful. Cancer gave me this sense of urgency, and it’s a change I embrace.
How you say it matters.
Cancer is a difficult thing to talk about, and everyone reacts differently. I’ve had cancer, and even so I don’t always know what to say when a friend is diagnosed. When I was sick, people told me that I was brave and strong. Kind words to be sure, but they irked me sometimes because I didn’t feel very courageous or tough. I simply was doing what my doctors told me to. In retrospect though, I am incredibly thankful for the people who said those things because they were expressing support in the best way they knew how.
Life is beautiful.
Sometimes while driving with the windows down or powering up a difficult hill on my bike, I feel so alive and so grateful I almost can’t stand it. I don’t remember this happening before cancer but today I am mindful of these moments. I breathe deeply and treasure them every time.