What did Cancer Teach Me?

It might seem difficult to comprehend, but I think cancer taught me a number of profound life lessons that few people realize until it’s too late. I don’t think I stand alone in that thought. In the face of breast cancer, I’ve seen many women show remarkable strength and do things even they never thought they could do. “You never know how strong you are until being strong is your only choice,” said the ever-so-wise Bob Marley. It’s true. I have definitely become acutely aware of the passage of time… it’s so precious and fleeting. I have a greater desire to do more, which means that sometimes I overextend myself – but I feel like I don’t want to sit back and “waste time.” 

Determine never to be idle. No person will have occasion to complain of the want of time who never loses any.                      

It is wonderful how much can be done if we are always doing. - Thomas Jefferson

Since my cancer situation (sidebar - I’ve never liked the “journey” reference), I’ve run a few half marathons, spent a couple years dragon boating, I’ve picked up paddle boarding and road cycling more, challenging myself on a number of levels. I can tell you with certainty that I never take my health for granted – not for one second!  I can also tell you of a few things that I cannot do anymore, like lift weights inside a gym or run on a treadmill. I now need to be outside breathing the fresh air, though on occasion I’ll still get an indoor workout in. Recently, I put a deposit down on a lovely new mountain bike that I’m very excited about!

Those are all things that I’ve done for myself, but there’s an “itch” I developed a few years back that I had to  “scratch,” which was paying it forward or giving back for my survivorship in a more meaningful way. A combination of events had to occur to allow me to be here today, and it’s important to me to make a contribution to do what I can, when I can. This can be during my day-to-day through random acts of kindness or something a little bigger, for example the annual Ride to Support Breast Cancer Awareness Month cycling event I organize in Florida with the help of countless friends, family and local community businesses. Last year, we raised approximately $16,000 through the participation of more than 500 cyclists. 100% of the monies raised went to The Women’s Breast & Heart Initiative, a local non-profit that provides education to women about the importance of breast and heart health, while providing them with the resources to beat these diseases. I’m already looking forward to this year’s event on October 2!  

Looking back, it’s hard for me to say that cancer was the best thing that ever happened to me, but I will say that through adversity I feel I’ve grown as a person. I’m not certain I felt that way at the time, but certainly I’ve become stronger for it. I have a clearer outlook on life and more compassion for people with serious medical conditions, but also lesser tolerance for people who complain of the trivial. My barometer for life has shifted.

I also think I have a better appreciation for the value of life and human connection. And that human kindness supersedes all status, money or power. In every negative, there is a positive. It’s a catchphrase – “Live each day to its fullest, not putting off until tomorrow what you could do today.” After all, one day, there will not be a tomorrow and that scares me because I don’t feel I’m done living.

One of my greatest fears is not “living” enough. This year I’ve stepped up my game, continuing to ride my bike, participate and organize charity events, but also traveling more and seeing more of this big beautiful world we live in… not just my little corner of it. I want to go further and deeper – now, not when I retire or even in 5 or 10 years.  Tomorrow may never come or my health status could change. I can’t live in fear of a recurrence, but I can absolutely make the most of what I do have today.

I truly believe that each of us has the power to make a real difference to the world in which we live. Every once in a while, something happens that reminds me of the lessons my bout with cancer taught me… and I am grateful.  

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