I was diagnosed with colon cancer in the Fall of 2004. It was a huge surprise because there were no previous symptoms in my family of cancer of any kind. My sister's was an even nastier surprise. She was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2002, much worse than mine, and while her prognosis for survival was 18 months, we were lucky enough to have her with us for three more years. But by the end of 2005, she was gone and I was an official Survivor.
I'm also one of the luckier ones in that I haven't been stricken again. I believe that between surgery and chemotherapy they destroyed both the tumor and any cancer cells left floating around in my system. As far as I'm concerned, I'm cured.
That's a particularly Pollyanna-ish attitude and I know it. Some would call it denial. While I don't feel the nearness of the possibility of recurrence, I know the possibility exists. That knowledge is tucked away somewhere deep in my brain, but I've got it well buried. It never comes up to haunt me. I'm convinced that if I live my life as if my years will be long, at least as long as my mother and two of my grandparents, who made it to 87, 92 and 100 respectively, then I, too, will die at a ripe old age, hopefully quite peacefully in my own bed.
But I'm not the same as I was before. What has cancer taught me and how has it made me different? While I would never have chosen to go through such a difficult, debilitating, devastating experience, can I say that I'm a better person because of it? Is there a gift in the situation?
Cancer has taught me patience. It has brought home to me unavoidably the knowledge that I really don't have control over much of anything, and the best I can do is keep trying, never give up, just do the best I can. As a private person, not in the public eye, I'm not called upon to set an example, do great things or leave an important legacy. My legacy will be the memories of relationships shared by the people who've known me all my life as well as the ones I've still to meet before my life ends, the memories of how much we cared for each other and how much love we shared.
Another great gift from the cancer is that it has increased my reservoir of compassion... compassion for myself, to be less critical of my failures and less angry at my shortcomings and, more importantly, compassion for others, to be much gentler in our interactions and much more forgiving of our inconsistencies.
But perhaps best of all, cancer has taught me not to worry, that worrying about what I cannot control is unproductive, time-wasting, frustrating and, in the end, totally useless. Whatever is going to happen to me will happen, whether I worry about it beforehand or not. Whatever is coming to me, for good or ill, will come whether or not I try to influence its course.
There is no joy in worry. There's no positive energy, no creativity. At least, I've never actually seen any. Let me spend my time in giving, creating, uniting, communicating. Let me enjoy every minute that remains to me and spread as much love as I can. Worry, begone! Live and let live! That's my motto!
So far it's working.