I have an acquaintance, Kelli, living with breast cancer metastases. She is the same age as my stepdaughter, 35. She lives in Arkansas with a loving husband and a daughter who is about 6. She’s dealt with a lot of cancer trauma: surgeries, chemo, weight gain, depression, and more. But, even so, she seems to try to seize the day: building her dream house, going on vacations, hugging her family tight, starting a fundraiser for metastatic breast cancer research – she’s squeezing all she can out of life.
The other day, she posted on Facebook that she was thinking of self-publishing a book. But then this horrible question loomed: Her cancer isn’t progressing now, but if it takes two years to write and publish a book, will she be around to see it through?
She doesn’t know.
I think that these kinds of thoughts haunt all cancer patients: If you’re in remission, there’s always the nagging fear that your cancer might recur. If your disease has progressed, then you’re constantly wondering, “How long have I got? When will my current treatment stop working? What then?”
Kelli says that when she first learned of her mets, she was so stunned she couldn’t even plan for the next weekend. She constantly imagined herself on her deathbed. She was so paralyzed by terror that she needed psychiatric treatment.
You may hear her story and think, “Wow, that young woman has really been dealt a terrible hand.”
Yes, she has. And yet, perhaps she has also been given a great gift: the shattering of illusions.
Most of us, most of the time, plan our lives as if we’ll never die. We avoid the reality of our mortality to keep ourselves from going bonkers. So, we talk about what we’ll do in a decade, when we retire, when the kids are grown and out of the house. But, really, none of us know if we’ll be around in a decade.
Kelli does not have that luxury – she can’t deny that her future is uncertain. But she tries not to dwell on it. Instead, she tries to enjoy the present, for as long as she can. Because really, the present is all we really have. She’s trying not to waste time. And yes, she’s going ahead with her plans to write that book.
Kelli inspires me. She reminds me not to waste a single day. She reminds me that worry and doubt and cursing one’s lot don’t help anyone. Those things keep us from living life fully.
So go ahead and plan that trip for next summer. Think about what you’d like to do next year, even two years from now, or five. Maybe you’ll be able to do those things; maybe not. But you certainly won’t do them if you don’t make a plan. So take a cue from Kelli – live fully today and make plans for tomorrow.