The “Gift” of Cancer
By Rethink Contributor November 25 2019
– Photography by Alicia Thurston Photography
Since I found out I had breast cancer last year, it has been a roller coaster of a ride in many ways and an awakening in others. I have met some incredible people, I have gotten through moments I didn’t know I could and I have gained a different perspective on living. And it’s that last piece that leads me to say that in some ways the words ‘you have cancer’ have been a gift to me.
Cancer is not a good gift
It’s weird. Cancer isn’t a good gift. It is definitely not that unwanted gift you would consider passing on to someone else like that chunky glass picture frame from a great aunt. It is the gift you never wanted and didn’t realize you needed until after. It’s a gift in that reminds me that every day we live, and how we choose to live is up to us. For me, in 2019, and for many others I know, we have a somewhat strained relationship with our own mortality. We think we have all the time in the world to do all the things we want to do and to experience. We feel we can put off today what really matters, as surely there are countless days under the sun ahead of us. But, there isn’t. Each one of us has a finite time to experience the world around us. What that time is we have no idea. Our biology may work for us or it may work against us and recognizing that we sometimes have a minimal influence over this is a staggering realization that isn’t easy to come by. We are so removed from the thought of death and dying. We joke about teens thinking they are invincible but as we age we still hold on to that belief and sitting in a doctor’s office hearing the word cancer quickly reminded me that no, I was NOT immortal.
My diagnosis is not terminal. I found the lump earlier enough that treatment from surgery to chemotherapy and radiation and hormone treatments likely means I won’t ever hear the words ‘you have cancer’ again. But breast cancer is a fickle little beast and can reoccur in 20% of early diagnoses for years, even decades, after. What does one do with that information? Rather than live in fear of what could maybe happen someday, I realized I want to live in life today and for every day. I want to use this as a reminder that there are no guarantees and that if something matters – I need to act on it now.
The Balancing Act
It’s a hard balancing act, as I hope for a long life, which means I don’t want to be too rash – so no quitting my job and going travelling quite yet. For me, living for today means reaching out to friends I may not have seen for a while and letting go of the people in my life who push me down. It means pursuing dreams instead of just dreaming them and not looking for the perfect moments when each moment is perfect in its own way. Waking up each morning and saying I am grateful. Enjoying the little tiny things I take for granted when I feel overwhelmed by the big things. In the last few months, I know people who have lost loved ones in sudden shocking ways and that has confirmed my feelings that we aren’t guaranteed long life or health and we have to appreciate and value each moment of both of those things as we never know when it can change.
So don’t wait to take the trip. Don’t tell yourself you will have friends over when the house is clean and the floors are vacuumed. Have them now! If the big trip isn’t going to happen this month then maybe try for a little trip to do something new. Play with the kids on a school night and eat chocolate in bed. Be open to possibilities and see what is out there to experience.
I had an amazing aunt who always had a little saying on her fridge that until only recently, I truly understand what it meant.
‘Yesterday is history and tomorrow is unknown. Today is a gift which is why it is called the present.’
Today is the gift and I will choose to live in the present and treat it like the present it is each and every moment I can. – By Michelle Tinling
Click here to read about all the things that cancer taught another Rethinker.