“Death is very likely the single best invention of life. It is life’s change agent.” Steve Jobs
Nearly eight years ago I was diagnosed with an illness that makes many women shudder. No one wants to hear the words, “you have breast cancer,” least of all on a dark, cold night six weeks after your fortieth birthday. Still reeling from the end of my nineteen year marriage, I felt that I had been thrown a test before I knew what the lesson was. I was a divorced, single parent with my oldest daughter in college and my youngest daughter a sophomore in high school. I had just bought a new home and I worked full-time. So many what if’s ran through my mind.
- Who was going to take care of my girls if I died?
- Would I see my youngest graduate?
- Would I see my oldest be the third person in our family to graduate college?
- Would I live to go wedding dress shopping with them?
- Would I watch them get married and have children of their own?
- Would I hold my grand babies in my arms?
- Would I ever know what it feels like to have a man truly, madly, deeply love me?
- Would I experience all the places in the world I had not yet seen?
The Author After Her Head Shaving Party – June 2004
Through two surgeries (one to remove my left breast and 26 lymph nodes), chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and reconstructive surgery, I never once asked, “why me?” Instead, I remember asking “what else am I supposed to learn?” Steve Jobs once said, “The benefit of death is you know not to waste life living someone else’s choices.” And that’s the lesson I learned.
Before cancer, I thought I was making good choices and doing the right things. Only the good choices and right things very rarely had anything to do with me. I was hardly ever on my priority list. I was the “good” girl: living my life based on the expectations of others.
During and after cancer treatment, I realized that I had to put myself first. No one was going to advocate for me better than me. No one was going to value me, make time for me, love me, or deserve me unless I valued myself, made time for myself, loved myself, or deemed myself worthy. I quit some awful habits.
- I stopped being a people pleaser.
- I stopped saying yes to everyone and everything.
- I stopped doing things that were unimportant in my life.
- I stopped looking for love in all the wrong emotional places.
- I stopped seeking the approval of others.
I learned better habits:
- I made healthier food choices.
- I started practicing yoga and meditation.
- I learned to reduce and manage every day stress.
- I embraced who and what I am.
- I began to focus on the people and things that were important in my life.
A funny thing happened on the day I signed my living will and DNR paperwork. Death no longer scared me. I remember walking out of the notary’s office feeling this amazing sense of calm and peacefulness. Knowing that I could die, and will die someday, gave me a brand new perspective and lease on life. I promised myself that I would live my life instead of waiting for it to happen or allowing the expectations and choices of others to dictate my life. In the famous words from the poem Invictus, I became the “captain of my fate, the master of my destiny.”
A lot has happened since my original breast cancer diagnosis in January 2004.
- I watched both my daughters graduate.
- I met the love of my life and married him!
- My husband gifted me with two stepdaughters and two stepsons.
- I’ve gone wedding dress shopping with three of my four daughters.
- I’ve witnessed two daughters get married.
- I’ve held my grand babies in my arms (and still do!).
- I became a certified yoga teacher.
- I became a first degree black belt in Muay Thai Kickboxing.
- I learned how to play golf!
- I’ve traveled to Mexico, Italy, Turks & Caicos, Ireland, the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Spain, Key West, Lake Tahoe, Yosemite, San Francisco, Seattle, and I’m looking forward to an eight day hike on the West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island in June 2012.
I’ve done so much more but I think you get the picture. Don’t wait for a life threatening illness to learn what I learned. Live YOUR life now – not someone else’s.
“Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.” ~ Steve Jobs