Thursday, January 10, 2019

15 lessons that cancer has taught me

Some serious, some fun, all things I've learned from my journey:
1. I've learned that it matters where you are treated. I didn't know this fact when I was diagnosed but was referred to an NCI designated cancer center and believe that referral saved my life. The important take away is to be your own advocate and insist on the best care.
2. I've learned that science is even cooler than I ever knew. We are on the edge of the biggest breakthroughs in cancer treatment in centuries with immunotherapy trials opening on a regular basis and I feel blessed to work alongside amazing colleagues on the cutting edge of developing these treatments.
3. I've learned that disparities in healthcare have real consequences. The underserved don't have access to the same insurance options and often feel powerless to advocate for themselves, which means that #1 and #2 may not even be options for them, and that breaks my heart.
4. I've learned that sometimes the odds are just odd. We've all heard amazing stories of patients overcoming the odds and beating them to survive the unsurvivable cancer diagnosis, but more often than not cancer is a fickle beast and the odds just don't matter. Sometimes the least likely lose and that just sucks.
5. I've learned that death on your own terms doesn't have to be so scary. I used to fear dying and now it is something that is part of my day-to-day existence. It's never easy but palliative care and training for staff have made a difference in the lives of many and allowed patients to exit this existence on their own terms.
6. I've learned that a post-treatment body is quirky. I don't know what it is like to age 15 years in a body different than the one I am in but I do know that some days in this body aren't easy, but I'll take them.
7. I've learned the blessing of ordinary days. Nothing is ordinary when you are a cancer patient so returning to normal and having ordinary days is a blessing.
8. I've learned that it is okay not to always have the right thing to say. But I've also learned that it is better to remain silent or confess that you don't know what to say than share platitudes or shallow expressions.
9. I've learned a whole new definition for compassion. I thought I was a compassionate person before, but the empathy I feel for those in the fight against cancer is something that can't be put into words and something I feel in my gut.
10. I've learned the true power of giving. There is no better feeling to me than giving to another. That comes in all shapes and forms, but to me can be summed up with in one word: Love. I strive to love as much as I can each day and it comes back to me tenfold.
11. I've learned to style curly hair. I had totally straight hair before and now have curly turning wavy hair. It's a totally different ballgame to style and I'm grateful for those that advised me to stop brushing it and spend extra money on the right products.
12. I've learned that life is too short to sweat the small stuff. The world won't stop spinning if I leave my bed unmade or if there are dirty dishes in the sink or if I'm not as perfect as I'm supposed to be. Enjoying the moment and leaving the chores is a gift in itself.
13. I've learned that knocking things off your bucket list is magical. Don't wait "until" or for "someday", just do it. Making your own dreams come true really embracing life.
14. I've learned that authentic people are my favorite. I love people who know who they are and stay true to themselves every day. Even if we don't believe the same things, I have an appreciation for their perspective and place in my life.
15. I've learned the true blessing of finding my calling in life. I didn't find my passion, it found me. I'm doing the work I was destined to do and many days it doesn't feel like work. Even on the worst days, when nothing goes right, I know this is true.