I know you saw that ugly “C” word in the title so lets just address the pink elephant in the room. I have cancer. I was diagnosed about 3 years ago with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. While I still struggle to accept this ugly little trespasser in my life, I have to admit that it has taught me more about living life than anything else ever has.
I got “the call” the day after Thanksgiving several years ago. Which was really crappy timing in my mind to find out I had cancer, although if you’re picking days, none of them sound great. However, that Christmas was incredibly special. I didn’t know much about my diagnosis at the time and I just assumed that it was my last Christmas; EVER.
Every twinkle light, every scent of cinnamon, every Christmas tree seemed more glorious than I’d ever noticed before because I thought I was experiencing it for the last time. I hugged my babies extra tight and extra long every chance I had throughout every day. I noticed every detail of their faces and memorized every tiny inch of them. I appreciated my husband in every way and loved him even more deeply. I literally soaked up every moment and cherished it in my heart. Later, I got more clarification on my particular diagnosis and realized I was not a total goner like I had thought, but all this made me realize that I should cherish ALL the moments like that. Life is actually brighter and more joyful when you realize how temporary it can be.
My diagnosis has given me more empathy for others because I’ve experienced what it is to grieve very deeply. Grief tends to feel like a lonely activity. No one can fix the heartbreak of another. We can only be there to lend a shoulder to cry on, or an ear to listen or provide a meal to eat. Knowing my own heartache, I am able to see it in another’s eyes. When I see it, I don’t just look with my eyes and think in my head how sorry I am for that person. I actually feel it in my gut as if it were myself, which has made me so much more uniquely aware of being there for someone else.
It’s given me the freedom to acknowledge another’s pain because I’m not scared of it. It’s there. It’s waiting to be acknowledged. It won’t go away because we ignore it. In fact, ignoring it just gives it more strength to try and drown us. So if you know someone who is going through a hard time, be there. Acknowledge their pain and then give them the space to use that mutual understanding that they are in hardship in whatever way they need.
I don’t feel so bad for myself anymore, so I don’t really need the sad eyes and empty “I’m so sorry’s”. You know why? Because I realized I’m not the only one who’s going to die one day. Everyone is going to die, every single one of us. In fact it’s just about the only thing that we are guaranteed in this life. You know the saying “death and taxes,” although I think there are some people getting away with not paying taxes. Maybe that sounds like a dark and depressing thought, but when you start to pity yourself because you think that everyone else around you is going to party unhindered until they are 120, it’s actually hugely refreshing to remember that we are all on a ticking clock and no one knows when the alarm will go off. You might not have cancer, but that doesn’t guarantee you more days than me. So let’s all use every hour of our life to the fullest, diagnosis or not.
My faith is more important to me than ever. I have no fear of where I am going when this life is over. I will not be consumed by the temporary problems of this world because I believe that the best is yet to come. Maybe it’s getting older that makes you so much more aware of the pain and sadness in this world but I look forward to the place where every tear is wiped away and there is no more sadness and no more pain. There is no comfort greater than that which comes from the Bible and all its promises.
I’ll never love the fact that I have cancer and all that comes with it, but I am blessed by what it has done for me as a person. I hope what I have learned will also speak to you wherever you are and whatever you are going through.