What I’ve Let Cancer Teach Me

I posted this last summer, but when I redesigned my blog, it was deleted. So this is a repost….

When I first heard of my best friend’s breast cancer diagnosis, I
remember feeling shocked. Still, because she was having surgery and
radiation treatments, I also remember having a sense that things would
‘get fixed’.

I had no idea what it really meant to battle breast cancer. I didn’t
realize it would be so much more.

I flew to Florida to help her through her surgery. Afterwards, the
Doctor came out and told me the disease was much more advanced that
they had thought. Not only did they have to remove a bunch of her
lymph nodes, she would also have to endure chemotherapy. And, despite
the Doctor suggesting he be the one to tell her, all my best friend
needed was to see the look on my face to know that there was a

This was 3 years ago. Since then, she has undergone surgeries and
round of chemotherapy for way longer than anyone should have to bear.
Today, her cancer is at bay. Her hair has grown back. She’s in
constant pain from so much chemo, but she doesn’t complain. To look at
her, you’d never know what she’d been up against just a handful of
months before.

I am still reeling from this experience. I have always lived my life
knowing things happen as they should, and I have struggled with why
this happened to her. She always ate healthy, exercised, was good and
kind to the world around her. Just to give you insight into the type
of person she is, her dream is for the bus stops where she lives to
have a canopy over them. It really bothers her that her city can find
a way to spend $1,000 to plant a palm tree, but can’t spend the same
money on a comfortable and dry shelter for waiting bus riders to dodge
the inevitable, almost daily pop-up rainstorms in Florida.

If I’ve learned anything from her illness, I’ve learned to try and
stop putting the truly important things off. For instance, I feel
forever lucky that we were able to take a spa weekend together. It’s
something we have always said we wanted to do, but with kids and work,
we were just not able to do it. With my priorities re-aligned, as soon
as I knew she was well enough, this spa getaway was the first thing I
wanted us to do. It truly was the most special and unforgettable trip.
We got to relax by the beach, pool, and got massages. We went for 2
days without our kids, and then had so much fun, we decided to go for
more 2 more days with our kids.

I have always been comforted by a belief that things happen for a
reason. That such a kind, generous and healthy person – one whom I
cherish and revere – was nearly taken for no apparent reason — has
rattled that once unshakable philosophy. I’ve since begun to question
everything. I have always been that person that always knew things
happened for a reason, but after this happened to her I really lost
sight of that philosophy, I started to question everything; beginning
with the ‘how could this happen to such a good, generous and kind
person?’ and cascading on to ‘If this can happen to her, what other
senseless tragedies and hardships might be on the horizon?’.

On our spa trip, we talked about her cancer’s impact on our lives. I
confessed that it had been tough for me to witness. In keeping with
her generous spirit, she shared with me the gift of 4 words that will
forever change my outlook on life. “My cancer released me,” she said.

My cancer released me. The layers of profundity in this statement
still reverberate to my core. The uncertainty of her illness woke her
up to the uncertainty of life. Facing a future that she couldn’t plan
for actually forced her to live her life differently. Today, she lives
on her terms. She makes choices based on what is good for her and her
child today. She’s shed so many of the labels and expectations one
just naturally accumulates in life.

If only the rest of us could be so lucky – to awaken to this
revelation before it’s thrust upon us. I’m still struggling to take it
in, myself.

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