Defining Moments: The Wake-up Call of Cancer


We all have defining moments. Do they chart the course of our lives?
 
Last Monday, like most other days, I startled when my alarm went off at 7 a.m. And, like most days, I routinely made my way to the bathroom, shuffled into the kitchen, pressed the button on my coffeemaker to brew myself my usual dose of caffeine. Stirred in the half and half. Waddled into my office. Carefully set the steaming hot cup down on my desk, where I checked my emails and scanned the news headlines.

But then, just as suddenly as I’d jumped when my alarm went off, I paused, and my morning routines came to a halt. It was not just a day like most other days. It became the day, 26 years ago, that would ultimately define me.

It’s a day that reminds me to mourn. I mourn losing my breast to cancer on December 8, 1988.

I mourn the loss of invincibility (however flawed that notion might be) at a relatively young age. I mourn the grueling chemo sessions and the emotional roller coaster that both my family and I had to endure for many years following, where I feared that my life might end—as well as the lives of loved ones who also were stricken with cancer.

Cancer has a wide reach and a firm grip, and its anguish stretches far beyond its victims.

But my “anniversary” was also a day that reminds me to celebrate. I know, I know: we should celebrate every day, since we never know what is in store for us. Every day is a gift, right? This is a lesson you (hopefully) learn with so-called age.

Shame on me for not living by those words that I promised myself I would, all those years ago.

Just let me live, and I’ll always be grateful for every day. Just let me be healthy, and I’ll forever be a more compassionate, patient, forgiving, gentle, loving, kind, charitable, courageous, honest and spiritual being.

Does it take cancer—or another equally weighted crisis—to shake up our world?

The physically flawed Joseph Merrick, depicted as John Merrick in The Elephant Man, said that his head was so big because it was filled with dreams. But, he said, “Before I spoke with people, I did not think of all these things, because there was no one to bother to think them for.”

The thing is, now that I reflect on this, before I had cancer, I did not think of all these things because when you’re healthy, life just goes on and on and there’s no reason to think it might not always be that way. Alas, I was all those things before—there was just no reason to think about them.

For me, it took a defining moment: that moment I learned that life is unsure, bodies can betray, unexpected things can happen, even though we do everything in our power to avoid them and we ultimately don’t have control.

I suspect we all have those defining moments in us. Some might say, “Why dwell on those moments? You’re better off forgetting them and leaving them in the past, where they belong.”

To those people, I say this: Mourning does not always usher in sadness; many times it unwraps a precious gift.

My defining moment revealed me so completely; more than any others I’ve had. More than that first awkward, tentative kiss or that eagerly awaited spot of blood that would officially usher in my “womanhood.”  More than losing my virginity, leaving home for college, getting married, becoming a mother, losing numerous loved ones, becoming an empty-nester, passing through menopause and understanding that I’m on the other side of young.

On December 8, I was reminded of all that life is and all that I am.

This post originally appeared on mysocalledmidlife.net.

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