lessons I learned from having cancer

It's interesting.  I tell people that I'm happy to put 2012 in the history books. This is my way of stating that I'm happy to be done with having cancer and relieved to return to health.  And that's true. I am.

But this is a massive over-simplification of the most intense year of learning I've had as an adult.   I realize I say this phrase in part because it is true but more than that...I say it because it is what people want me to say. It's what they expect me to say. It's a nice way of packaging up a serious mess of an experience and it allows them and me to move on and get back to "ordinary" life.  As I sit here writing this post, I can feel the emotion well up in my chest and eyes.  In many respects, I'm deeply thankful I had cancer. And if you talk to enough people with cancer -- you'll hear over and over again, that also don't regret having the cancer at all.

Why? Well, it's trite but I am totally down with the life is short meme. I think this could be the defining meme of the next many years of my life.  Carpe diem. Sieze the day. Tell someone you love them. Hug your kids. Don't work so much. Basically, we're all going to die -- we deny that we don't know when. That it could be any moment freaks us out too much and makes living and planning impossible. I've already started to prioritize vacations and time with friends and family in a way that I didn't before.  The thing about this meme is that I now have an emotional understanding of this concept. It's easy to say and to understand -- life is short.  But unless you've looked at a doctor as they told you that you have cancer (substitute any life threatening illness), or you've driven down the road and thought that this could be the last drive of your life, or had to tell a spouse that you have cancer (or other major illness)...then the understanding and the clarity that comes from this meme is likely illusive.

I learned how important friends are.  I was shocked at how important it was for me to hear from people who just sent an email or a facebook message and said. "heard you're not well...thinking of you...get well".  And the friends close to me who cooked dinners, dropped by the house, came to my chemotherapy, called me.  These people made my heart sing and helped me through a tough time. I am forever thankful and changed by their reaching out to check on me.  As a result, I'm much more aware than ever the importance of checking in on people. 

Lastly, at least for this post, I learned compassion and vulnerability.  I don't assume that everyone I meet in my day isn't struggling with some life event that makes them feel hurt, vulnerable, or something else.  I'm aware that people have all sorts of shit they're trying to overcome and it doesn't always look pretty or nice or calm.  I personally feel stronger in my vulnerability than ever before. I cry easily. The world and people touch me and I'm happy to be touched. I watched Jodi Foster on the Golden Globes and I cried.  I talk to my mom and she tells me she isn't doing well and I cry for her.  I carry my compassion and vulnerability with me in easily accessible pockets -- they're emotional handkerchiefs I easily can wave and wipe a tear with.  

I thought that was my last point it wasn't -- I learned how important and vital health is.  We all take it for granted and there's nothing more valuable than one's health.  I think I read this on twitter --  We spend our time building our wealth, when we should be building our health.