Friday, May 18, 2012

Lessons learned

I found myself nodding along in silence over and over again as I read this article by Mary Tyler Mom yesterday.

She writes about the ways that living through the hell that is cancer messes you up forever, leaves you questioning things all the time, panicked at the slightest changes.

And it does.

She's absolutely right about that.

My first run-in with the big C word happened a long time ago now.  Other people in my life had been touched by cancer, but I never gave any real thought that it could happen to me until it happened to my husband.  Until it happened to us.  At 22, long before most people even entertain thoughts of mortality, we were faced with scary words and surgery and radiation.  We worried about whether we had things like wills.  We started talking about the what ifs.

My husband got through it, we both did.  Some would say that he's cured now, though no one who knows what they are talking about really ever tempts fate by saying words like that.  Instead, you just get to spend the rest of your life hoping it doesn't come back.  Having been humbled by the knowledge you aren't invincible, you're left wondering how long you have until the next thing happens.

The next time the C word showed up, it was life altering for me too, although in a different way.

Cancer killed my father.

I saw how it slowly drained the strength out of him.  I saw how it weakened him.  I saw how it changed him in some ways, I saw how he refused to let it change him in others.  I held his hand when his body stopped fighting, knowing his spirit wasn't ready yet.

I spent all day today at a blood drive for a little boy who shouldn't need a blood drive hosted in his honor.  For a little boy who should just get to be a little boy, who has every right to think he's the invincible superhero that little boys think they are.  He's fighting when he's fighting, he's sad when he doesn't feel good, he's just a normal kid as often as he can be.

It's not fair, this life we are given, but it goes on anyway.

I've said that before, and I'm sure I will say it again.

I wanted to take this chance to write about the things that cancer has taught me.  I've written so much about what it's taken from me, who it's taken from me.  How much it has changed my life and the lives of others.

That piece I read yesterday reminded me of all the ways it still continues to do that now.

And yet, that isn't what I want to write about here, now.  Today.

I want to write the things I've taken away from these experiences that are positive.  The lessons.  The hope.

I want to believe that these things, terrible though they are, happen for some kind of reason.  That there is some purpose behind it all.

I've learned that you really have no idea what your priorities should be until you're faced with life changing issues.

I've learned that when those priorities are tested, they will inevitably get shifted around in ways you never imagined, and that what you thought was important often isn't at all.

I've learned that all that really matters is your health and that of your family and your friends.  

I've learned that plans are great, but they aren't everything.

I've learned that almost everything can wait.

I've learned that even when it is excruciating, you have to find a way to live in the moment sometimes, refusing to think about the past or the future.

I've learned that sometimes you have to ask for help, sometimes you have to offer it, and sometimes you have to help without being asked at all.

I've learned that the human spirit is stronger than the body, and that the spirit can override the body when it has to.

I've learned that even when we feel most helpless, there is always something that we can do.

I've learned that some people are caregivers, and that some are not...and that is okay.  Recognizing it is harder, accepting it is sometimes impossible.

I've learned that there are moments in time that become etched in your soul forever through no voluntary choice of your own.

I've learned that these lessons are meant to be shared.  As others have shared them with me, I will do the same.

I've learned that you have to trust your instincts.

I've learned to see past the mask that others wear.

I've learned to embrace hope.

Sometimes, hope is all we have.  Hang on to it.

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