Celebrate Life

“You beat cancer by how you live, why you live and in the manner in which you live.”
~Stuart Scott

I am so thankful!

Yesterday was my Ten-Year “Cancerversary!” It’s a strange anniversary or ‘Cancerversary’ as it’s often referred to in our circles … an elite group of special people whose bodies had turned into angry monsters and were trying to kill us from the inside out. My getting to year ten surviving Triple Negative Breast Cancer is a pretty big achievement.

Ten years ago yesterday, I was deemed cancer free …. Not cured but cancer free. I had been diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer about a month earlier… it’s considered not curable but treatable. My cancer surgery at Duke University Cancer Center was on June 19, 2012. Yesterday was ten years later and I am still alive and well and kicking – and passionate about giving hope that there is life after cancer.

I am grateful. I still watch. I still worry. I still hope. Nothing comes with a guarantee, especially in my body. But I am grateful! With cancer, there is no final, clear answer … I accept this. Cancer survivors are more aware of this than anyone else. The blinders have been stripped away. We know what we know and we know what we don’t know. We accept this, and move on day by day. What other choice do we have? We celebrate our victories. We move forward one day at a time … it is all the more reason to celebrate life every day.

You see … Cancer gave me a new perspective that I needed to learn. Cancer taught me many things, and it continues to do so … or should I say, I’ve learned things because of cancer. I do not necessarily think that cancer is the teacher though. God is the teacher. Life is the teacher. It just took cancer to get me to listen. It is sad that it would take cancer or my personal trials to do this – but by sharing my experiences perhaps someone else can learn from my observations. Now I try my best not to worry about the small things that consumed my life before cancer. It was my invitation to take stock and re-examine my life … to discover ways of leading a more meaningful and fulfilling life.

I try to make my family and friends more of a priority now. I want them to know how much I love them and want to help them in their lives in any way that I can. Most of all I prioritize fun. If there’s something I want to do, I want to do it now, and who knows what’s around the corner? Now … if I love you, I’m going to tell you. I’m also going to tell you if you’re pissing me off. I really don’t have time for energy draining, negative, unkind people in my life.

I now have a list of things I want to achieve and a list of things I have learned. I do believe that fighting cancer remains the hardest thing I have ever done. Let me share a few of my observations after being blessed with another ten years after diagnosis.

I am definitely stronger than I knew! People often tell me how brave I am. In the words of Ebenezer Scrooge … “ bah humbug!” I am not brave at all … I just take each day as they come. I now look at some of the mundane issues people face in their day-to-day lives and chuckle knowing that they too are stronger than words can say. I have a special knowledge that our Heavenly Father will always give us the inner strength to deal with our trials. I am a better person! It has definitely changed me for the better. I still have the stresses of everyday life but I never forget how lucky I am to have another day … another chance. I am trying to live my life … not my cancer

Why waste time? I sometimes feel that cancer killed my lazy gene. If I am awake, I just have to get up. I feel that I have wasted too much time and now I cannot waste another minute. I want to be of service to others and do what I can to help others. One of my favorite sayings is: “The decision to look forward, stay positive, and remain hopeful is a key that unlocks the door to possibilities, and, when shared, returns to renew the spirit.” I choose to move forward, and to stay positive and hopeful. I hope that I can forget myself and help those around me who need my help … because in helping others, I am helping myself. Life is as good as we make it.

Family and Friends are everything! Many outside activities consumed a lot of my time before my diagnosis. Now my family and friends always come before work or other activities. My amazing community has surprised me by their caring and compassion for me and my family so many times. Nothing is as vital as connections with others … not just your family and friends. Love and kindness — give and receive. I know this sounds obvious, so I make it my daily goal!

Material things do not matter! Remove all of the B.S. from your life! Cancer taught me not to sweat the small stuff. The financial and emotional things I used to worry about every month suddenly are not an issue – they will be sorted out. Remember the old saying: “Rule 1: Don’t sweat the small stuff. Rule 2: It is all small stuff. Rule 3: When in doubt, refer to rules 1&2.” I do not worry about the small things that consumed my life before cancer … instead, I work on my list of things to achieve. Life is about small pleasures! I am more grateful for things like a beautiful moon or an amazing sunrise. I appreciate the joy of hearing the waves while I sit along the beach. These things may have given me joy before but I now notice them more and have a new-found tendency to see the glass half-full. Live in the moment! As a cancer survivor, I now understand that we must really enjoy life.

Do not give up! That is my number one motto! If the medical community says it cannot be done, I am determined to prove them wrong. Having cancer showed me just how persistent I can be. I have learned that when a problem comes into my life that it is not “the end of the world,” and not allow it to defeat me. The less I let things bring me down, the more I can see the joy that is in my life! One of my very favorite quotes that remind me of seeking joy and beauty in my life came from Jimmy Valvano in what I call his “Don’t Ever Give Up” speech.

“To me, there are three things we all should do every day. We should do this every day of our lives. Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think! You should spend some time in thought. And number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.”

-Jim Valvano

His words have always inspired me! I know that tomorrow is a blessing … it is not a guarantee! Never giving up is really up to my attitude!

We will all die one day! Every day we all get one day closer to our death. None of us knows for sure if we will have a tomorrow. This fact was again pounded into my brain when I suffered a heart attack in January of this year. This is not morbid or depressing … it is actually quite inspiring. If only we could live like this was our last day … every day. If you knew that today was your last day, what would you choose to do? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all live as if we were dying … to commit to live each day to the full.

This journey taught me how to look forward to each day with awe and amazement. It taught me how to live in the moment again. It taught me how to be kind to others – and to give them the opportunity to be kind to me. In short, it taught me how to live again. I have thought about this a lot. I never ever wanted cancer, but if I was given the opportunity to do a rewind and give it all back – and lose all I have gained in the process, I do not think I would. Sounds crazy, I know … Wow!

We all have trials in our lives … we can either allow things to worsen by thinking negatively, or we can be hopeful and positive. As the late Christopher Reeve said:

”Once you choose hope, anything’s possible.”

Having hope gives you power over your life. Once you are able to hope, you are then able to see miracles happen in your life … it sure has in my life! The more and more you are able to hope… the more easily happiness will enter your life.

So my advice for you for today … Enjoy today! Wake up early to live an hour longer. Show love. Be strong. Go ahead … Dance. Laugh. Cry. Serve others. Celebrate every single minute. Have Hope! Life is really good! I am so lucky to celebrate another year … hopefully another ten at least …. Just saying!