I shouldn’t be happy.
I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, and given a 50/50 chance of surviving it. Without my year of treatment, my chances would have hovered around 15-20 percent. I’m not complaining. What I’m trying to convey through these numbers is simply this: the situation is serious.
But, oddly, I find I’m rarely serious about it. I’ll concede it poses inconveniences, but I’ve found that having my worst fears come true has freed me in ways I never thought possible. I laugh more, and I complain less. What the heck is going on? I have theories.
1) There is no “some day.”
Nothing reprioritizes your time like a potential limitation on it. ‘Some day,’ I used to think to myself, ‘I’ll do all the things I’ve wanted to do. Right after I finish [fill in the blank with meaningless crap.]’ Then one day, life answered: ‘OK, but what if today is your last healthy day?’ Oh. Well. Then I guess I’ll write that book, and go to Italy. Pronto. Because ‘some day’ no longer exists. And I’m beginning to suspect it never did.
2) I know what I can change, and what I can’t.
The people in my life? My choice. The thoughts in my head? My choice. My reaction to life’s ups and downs? My choice. Bills, taxes, medical test results? Arbitrary. Not my choice. This brutal education has cobbled me into someone who recognizes my choices and seeks out opportunities to employ them, rather than wallowing in situations where I have no control. I’d do it all again, five times over (but maybe not six) just for that lesson alone.
3) Priorities are my choice, and mine alone.
Having no options in some areas brings the changeable areas of your life into stark relief. I came to understand, slowly, that by letting the unchangeable, inevitable frustrations of life drain my time and energy, I was aiding and abetting a crime against my happiness. I realized I’d been giving everything – whether I could change it or not — equal weight, attention, and importance in my life. I don’t let myself do that anymore.
4) I’m over it.
Before cancer, I was squeamish about needles. And blood. And anything that touched my eyeballs. Now I know being squeamish, or allowing myself to indulge in anticipation over painful procedures or situations, is just extending the unpleasantness. I finally realized: I don’t need to torture myself. I have oncologists now for that. During procedures, I read, or play Words with Friends.
5) I can finally speak Yoga Teacher.
I finally get the concept of “being present in the moment.” I’ve never been a zen, crystal-wearing type, but when you strip down all my yoga teacher’s chakra talk, presence is simple. If you had control of your thoughts, would you use them to worry about the future? Would you eat your lunch in the car at red lights while ruminating over everything that’s got to get done? Or would you notice your kid’s dimples when he smiles? Or enjoy that hug more? Because, as it turns out, you actually do have control over your thoughts. And the world is an amazing place when you live in it, rather than hovering over it, worrying.
7) I don’t hide my feelings.
I used to spend a lot of time caring about other people’s expectations, and tailoring my responses to them. Now I’ll say what I need to, and I’ve stopped speaking in code. I give more room to those whom I love, and no longer provide safe harbor for those who don’t love me.
8) I no longer believe happiness is situational.
Because, amazingly, it’s not.