It takes a lot of nerve to invest in your future after cancer. Because this illness attacks your belief in yourself. When we’re diagnosed, every one of us asks the same question: How could I have been carrying this monster and never suspected? Am I really that stupid? Even worse, is cancer really that smart?
Either way, it doesn’t feel great for our prospects going forward.
My hilariously funny friend Emily from Mississippi, whom I met when she was in her first fight with ovarian cancer, put it in household terms: “I always bought the jumbo Tide. Now I wonder, should I just get the travel size?”
I totally understood. Emily was Facing her Situation, like a grownup. Only guess what? It turns out Emily overfaced. (I just thought up this word.) Thousands of tiny Tides later, Emily’s still scared, still hilarious, and still here.
I’m scared too. All the time, whenever I am not distracted with worrying about the mortgage and whether my poodle has chewed up my headphones again. Millions of us are in the same boat, scared all the time. That’s the price of belonging to the secret worldwide society of “How the hell are you still here?”
It is so confusing to be alive! Our poor human brains keep scrambling to understand. Who are we now? Are we miracles or flukes? Should we walk proud, knowing we beat the odds, or should we crouch down and make ourselves small, in case the monster is still out there?
This leads me right back to the question of the future. Do I have one?
On one hand, there are so many things I want to do. Until cancer, I never even knew how many! On the other hand, it’s stupid to even think I have a future. I better clean out the garage so my kids don’t have to!
The jumbo Tide? Or the travel size?
Being a storyteller, I was really stuck on this question of the future. People like me can find no rest until we at least imagine a “happily ever after.”
One morning I sat myself down in a coffee shop and vowed that I would not get up until I had a list of true statements about life beyond cancer. Not just true for one kind of cancer or one kind of survivor. True, and trustworthy, for all of us.
Afternoon came. Then night. I tried out and rejected every platitude, truism, creed, and bumper sticker I had ever come across.
Every statement of belief contradicted something else. Every right made someone else wrong. I knew this wasn’t good enough. When it comes to cancer, the last thing we need is to tear each other down with “I’m correct and you’re an idiot.”
Finally, just as they put the CLOSED sign in the window, I sat back. I’d written a list of nine simple statements. I’d done my best to refute each one; I couldn’t. Five years later, for me, anyway, they still hold up.
These nine statements became my 9 Ways to Well Again. They are truths I can rely on. You can think of them as waypoints, as articles of faith, or, of course, as nothing at all. Doesn’t matter. They’re really for me.
I know I’m on the Well Again Path, and so I’m not lost anymore. I’m going forward, not back. I’m on a mapped and charted route, even if I made it up myself. And when I know where I’m going, I’m not so scared.
In my last post, I told you how I came to my first truth on the Well Again Path: “I EMBRACE THE ADVENTURE OF LIFE BEYOND CANCER"
Here’s truth two: “I BELIEVE MY FUTURE WILL BE BETTER THAN MY PAST.”
For me, these statements are a way to get my defiance going. They’re about telling cancer to kiss off. You may attack my body, pal, but you’re not getting inside my soul.
I see life as an ADVENTURE because that’s what it is—especially the rough parts. And I don’t need cancer’s permission to imagine a great FUTURE for myself. I defiantly, pigheadedly claim the right to dream all my dreams and jump into every one, all the time, up to and including the moment when I take leave of this life.
I mean, when you get to it, considering that I’ve been wrestling cancer this time around, there’s every chance that my cosmic, unknowable future will be better than my past.
Next time I’ll tell you about truth 3 on the Well Again Path.
Meanwhile: Hey cancer. Look for me in the detergent aisle. I’m filling my cart with jumbo Tide. I plan to make a lot of messes before I’m through!
PLEASE JOIN ME ON MAY 15 for the first 9 WAYS TO WELL AGAIN ONLINE WORKSHOP! As a ClearID reader, you’re invited free of charge. Just email us at email@example.com with the subject line, CLEARID!
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