Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Being Alive vs. Living

I originally posted this on CureDiva April 20, 2014

There is a difference between being alive and actually living. It was a difference that took a Stage IV diagnosis of breast cancer for me to understand.

I was busy with the mundane activities of life. I was a 28 year old stay at home mother to a set of 4 year old twins in preschool and a 2 year old with special needs. My special needs miracle was my son, SJ, who was born nearly 8 weeks premature and suffered from complications of his prematurity since birth. We went twice a day, every day during the week to some sort of therapy session or medical appointment of his. It was tiring work taking care of him. When I came home I still had to be a mother to two other young ones and also be a wife. I ran a nonprofit organization that I co-founded and spent many of my nights up until 3 or 4am trying to get work accomplished. I said “No” a lot to the kids; I was always too busy doing some sort of project to play. Dragging my son out of our minivan kicking and screaming because he didn’t want to keep going to therapy sessions took its toll on me mentally and physically. My back seemed to spasm every week which left me in excoriating pain. Sure we did fun stuff, but not often. I always had a full schedule. I didn't think life could get much more complicated.

That was until I felt the mass in my breast. I got the devastating news that I had breast cancer just days before I turned 29. Preliminary reports came back as HER2 positive, grade 3, IDC and DCIS; but my staging would change after my initial scans later that week. I’ll never forget when the doctor came in the room and told me that the cancer was found all throughout my body and that I was facing a Stage IV terminal diagnosis. I just sobbed hysterically and asked if I was going to die. The best answer she could offer was “We are going to try and not let that happen”.

I had mets to my liver, both breasts, lymph nodes, shoulder, ribs, thoracic and lumbar spine and down through my pelvis. It did not guarantee me a great prognosis. It is estimated that a mere 16% of young women with Metastatic Breast Cancer live past 5 years from their original diagnosis date. I was given a less than 5% chance of ever being cured. My immediate thoughts were of my children. What if I die? What if I leave them? What if they miss me? What if they don’t miss me? I won’t see them graduate, get married or have kids. My mind contemplated all of the things I have never done and all the things I will never do with my children. It was in that moment that I decided something. I would not let cancer be my death sentence. Rather it would be a living sentence; an opportunity to live my life to the fullest despite my own mortality shoved in my face. Living life is an occasion many take advantage of, including myself. I vowed I would never do that again.
No matter how much I tried to plan, schedule and manage my life prior to my diagnosis; cancer and everything associated with it was unexpected and I had to learn how to roll with it. In return, I created a list of things I would try harder to do or not to do in order to fully love living my life with or without cancer.

I say “yes” more often.
I complain a whole heck of a lot less.
I pay it forward every chance I get.
I am spontaneous.
I let go.
I ain’t got time to be glued to devices or screens. (No fancy phone and no personal FB account for me anymore!)
The world can wait on me because my family is my world.
Every Friday is Game and Movie night.
I slowed down. I barely ever say “Hurry up” or “We’re gonna be late” any more.
I smile and I smile often.
Laughter is one the best medicines and I surround myself with all things funny.
I appreciate the little things and smell the flowers more.
I inundate myself with only positive people. I don’t have time to be negative.
I compliment strangers.
I dance and sing like no one’s watching.
I soak up the sun.
I am better at being patient.
I am hopeful.
I am faithful.

And most importantly I love. I love so much now that it hurts.

I can’t say that I am thankful for cancer, because I am not. I can say that my cancer has blessed me. It has opened my eyes and made me live my life the way we were intended to live life. Without cancer, I don’t think I would have ever realized what a big difference there was between being alive and really living my life.