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Cancer Lessons
July 2, 2017
Each year on the anniversary of my cancer diagnosis I thankfully acknowledge one more year of being cancer-free. My type of cancer always has a chance or recurring, but each year of survivorship makes that possibility seem less likely. Now I have reached a place where an ache or pain or headache is just an ache or pain or headache and not a warning that cancer may have moved to some new part of my body.
Create Your Own Longevity Village
I no longer think much about my cancer experience-until I do. Certain events remind me how cancer affected my life: news of a friend's cancer diagnosis, reports of cancer treatment break-throughs, stories like Olivia Newton-John's of breast cancer recurrence after a long remission. Although I never felt like those who said they were thankful for their cancer experience, I tried to learn from my cancer experience to live more intentionally and better support others experiencing cancer.

Cancer survivors are everywhere. Maybe it is like being pregnant and suddenly noticing pregnant women everywhere, but after my diagnosis, I started encountering people who had cancer everywhere. Often, I would never have guessed they, too, had cancer. Although cancer takes center stage during treatment and recovery, those who survive, gradually return to their regular lives. And after a while, cancer is no longer at the top of their "think-about" and "talk-about" list. These people were wonderful role models for life after cancer.

Support comforts and heals, but not everyone has support for their cancer journey. Most of the cancer stories we hear are about people who are surrounded by caring friends and family who provide emotional support, bring meals, watch kids, mow lawns and help in many other wonderful ways. The less acknowledged story is about people dealing with cancer who have no family or close friends, no one to give them the much-needed feeling of being loved. Sadly, I met people who were making the scary cancer journey on their own.

Some cancer stories comfort; some do not. When I was going through treatment, friends, acquaintances and almost-strangers shared a lot of cancer stories with me. Most were about survivors and hearing them gave me hope for a good outcome. But a few people shared horror stories of bad treatment experiences and tragic outcomes. These stories never did anything good for me. The most comforting cancer stories were those where the cancer was more serious than mine and the outcome was good.

Humor helps. "Laughter is the best medicine" certainly applies to cancer. Although it can be hard to find humor when dealing with cancer, laughter and humor can provide a much-needed break from the fears and stresses of cancer. One day as I was starting to lose my hair but not yet wearing a hat, I came out of the grocery store with bags in both arms. A huge storm was approaching; the sky darkened, lightening flashed and the wind was blowing so hard I started to worry my remaining hair would blow off my head, and I would be standing bald in the parking lot. When I got safely to my car and realized the bigger danger, by far, was getting struck by lightning, not standing bald in a parking lot, I started laughing. It felt great.

Symbols are powerful healers. When I started chemotherapy, a friend gave me a rose quartz crystal on a silver chain. I put the crystal around my neck and never took it off until I completed chemotherapy six months later. Because crystals are reputed to have healing power, wearing the crystal reminded me that many healing forces were at work, helping me rid my body of cancer and become healthy again. The crystal, my symbol of healing, gave me strength to believe that I would survive.

On my last day of chemotherapy, my crystal necklace broke. One of the little silver bars that held it on the chain came unhooked. The nurse re-hooked it for me, but it broke again. The nurse fixed it twice, but when it broke the third time, we left it unhooked. The nurse told me the crystal had done its job. Now the crystal rests in a velvet pouch in my jewelry chest. I occasionally take it out and hold it and remember the healing energy it gave me.

Pink products for breast cancer may be a boondoggle. The number of pink products to benefit breast cancer has gotten a bit ridiculous. First, I saw items like pink pajamas and sneakers to benefit breast cancer, and these seemed like a great way to raise awareness and support breast cancer research. When I started seeing pink vacuum cleaners and mixers, I began to question the marketers' motivation and sincerity. Then I saw pink garbage cans for breast cancer, and I knew the "buy pink to benefit breast cancer" promotion had gone too far.

I am not going to live forever. Sounds obvious, doesn't it? Intellectually I knew I was not going to live forever, but my cancer diagnosis caused me to face mortality much earlier than I expected. Suddenly, each day seemed more precious than ever, and I didn't want to waste a minute. I try to keep this awareness in mind and be intentional about how I spend my time.
Oh, my friend, it's not what they take away from you that counts — it's what you do with what you have left.
Hubert Humphrey


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debbie@ageinista.com
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