Today I’m sitting for my 5th round of chemo which marks my 9th week of treatment. Today is a long day- seven hours in the chair. Fortunately, I’m getting some work done and also finishing up this blog post that I started last week. I’ve had a lot of time to think about what I want the next few weeks, months and even years to look like and I’m ready to start on a new journey.
I’ve decided to be content. I know, that sounds like a terribly vague and ridiculous thing to say. But I have given it a lot of thought. I even went away for the weekend to sort out my feelings about it and the conclusion I came to was always the same: I want to be a more content, peaceful and happier person.
As silly as this sounds, I’ve actually done it before. About 15 years ago I was in the most miserable place of my life. I hadn’t healed from my parent’s divorce, I was failing my college courses, I was in a terrible relationship, and I wasn’t eating or sleeping well. The tipping point came when I was finally asked to step away from the rowing team I loved so much because the turmoil had turned me into a parasite person. I was a wrecking ball in my own life and it was starting to pull other people down, too. I was so broken and unhealthy that I decided I absolutely had to change.
At that time, the decision was not grandios or even all that brave. It was simple: get better, or get worse. And worse looked pretty scary from the low depths I was already surfing. Fortunately, I was young and unencumbered. I basically picked a few spots on a map, applied for some jobs, and the first person to call me back and offer me a position won. Who knew my phone interview with a Mr. Tom Mazurek would be so incredibly fateful? He interviewed me to work the night shift at the Summit front desk in Big Sky, MT. I accepted immediately.
At that time, I put it all out on the line. I left university and moved to a state I had only heard about in our 5th grade school reports. (Shannon Nystrom, I’m still jealous you got to report on Helena, Montana…even then the place stood out in my heart). Within a week of accepting the position the airplane wheels were touching down in Big Sky country. For a girl who had never seen mountains, the bus ride from Bozeman to Big Sky was pure awe. Even now, a drive through that canyon cleanses my soul, the same it did for me as a 21-year-old girl.
I knew I had work to do when I got here. So, I wrote down everything I knew I needed to reclaim my health. I typed my “rules to live by” neatly on a sheet of paper and kept it in my pocket at all times. I vowed I would pay off my debts, treat my body kindly and with respect, always tell the truth, live a life I could be proud of (to make truth-telling easier), not live in self-pity, and stay away from boys. I’m sure there were more things on that sheet, but that is what stands out for me today. In my heart, I knew what needed to be done. So I did it. I worked 3 jobs, kept my purchases minimal, trained for a marathon, joined Weight Watchers, lived an honorable life and set a timer for 5 minutes any time I started to feel sorry for myself. Once the bell rang on the egg timer, I let go of the pity party. By the end of 8 months I was healthy, happy and confident. I also attracted the attention of the most solid and wholesome person I’ve ever known, the man I’d ecstatically marry 3 years later. (I crossed that last item off the list once I realized that he was, in fact, as good as he seemed to be.)
When I think back on that time, it was so simple. I was young and my whole life was ahead of me. I was responsible for no one and nothing. Being poor was easy and even liberating. I felt almost drunk with optimism at what my life could become.
Now, it’s a bit harder. I will not pack my bags and escape the mistakes of my life. (And there are lots of mistakes). I have a lot of responsibilities. I carry my family, my employees, my clients, etc. with me at all times. My life is increasingly framed in by the choices I have made, good and bad. At 21 I didn’t even know what I wanted to be when I grew up. I now wear labels that define me: mother, wife, attorney, business owner, entrepreneur, cancer patient. I have to admit, there is some sadness in seeing the years of my life that have already slipped away and knowing that my life will end someday, hopefully a long ways from now, but still…I’m getting older, as are my parents and the other people I love. Life is short and I will only get so many rotations around the sun.
These are the thoughts, I believe, that keep us from living the lives we intend to live. We see the opportunities narrowing, the door closing on our futures. It at once seems hopeless and foolish. “Being and adult” increasingly reminds us that we should take fewer risks, act more responsibility and reasonably, and not deviate too far from what is acceptable and known. It’s why we tear up at graduations and weddings. We know with growing heaviness that for those lucky people life is still out ahead of them. Experiences and opportunities abound. Life will be sweet and crushing but they have only just begun. Fragrant nostalgia waffles in and reminds of a time when we were so fortunate, and how blissfully unaware we were in our wasting it.
But wait, I’m only 33. My life is far from over. And I hope I would say the same thing when I’m 43, and 53, and 63. And even so, I still get to decide how I live what I have left. I still get to make my list and put it in my pocket. Even though I’ve wandered far from the peace and serenity I know is possible in life, I believe I know my way back. Or at least, I’m willing to try. And I’m willing to do it in front of the thousands of you around the world that are reading this blog. I have no idea if I can succeed on the level that I have in the past, I don’t know what the variables of time and maturity will present but I have to believe that a good, happy life is waiting for me no matter cancer diagnosis or financial burden or what. I believe in a good life and I’m going for it.
So what this means to me is talking through a bit more of how I’ve strayed, what I believe to be true, and then committing to the changes. I believe we all have an internal compass that will guide us home. I don’t know what that map looks like up against the burdens and responsibilities of adulthood, but my strength is problem-solving so we’ll see what I can muster up.
I’d also like to invite you along with me. I realize we all suffer along the same lines. Human suffering and pain is not unique, it is just a variation on a theme. I have seen some truly beautiful things as a result of this cancer journey so far, and I am constantly reminded how incredible and good and inspiriting my friends and family are. I love seeing the world from your point of view. It breathes life into the stale, dusty corners of my heart and mind when I need it most. Maybe I’ll look like an idiot trying new things and seeing what fits, and maybe I don’t give a damn. No one else has to live my life, so I may as well live in a way that pleases the only person that is stuck with it in the end. I have to do this for myself, for the man I so love and married, and for my children. They deserve the best parts of me, and I can’t give them what I don’t have. And so it begins with some enthusiasm and excitement for what lies ahead.
Over the next few days, I plan to be honest about where I have fallen and then clear about what I believe I need. What is most exciting to me is that with each day, you have the opportunity to start over. The past is behind you, not subject to modification. (Spoken like a true lawyer). There is literally nothing you can do about it. So I’m releasing it. Today I get the opportunity to be whomever I desire, and today, I desire to be a happy, peaceful person. If I can do it hooked up to tubes and machines, imagine what you can do.
Give em’ hell.