What I’ve Learned From Cancer

No, I don’t have cancer. But the disease has greatly impacted my life over the past year. My Mom and my best friend were both diagnosed within 2 months of each other. Then my Mom’s best friend a few months later. If that weren’t enough, a family friend lost his long battle and passed away- on Christmas Eve. I’ve been surrounded by cancer for the past year. Completely surrounded.

Looking back over the past months, I wouldn’t relive them- not even for the biggest Lotto jackpot ever. But, I have realized some important things during these grueling days…things I don’t want to forget.

Every Day is a Gift

Life can seem so random and unfair, especially when your loved ones are being attacked by a horrible disease. Watching those I care about fighting through and for every day made me realize that each one of those days is a gift. I started to feel ashamed that my husband and children and I were in perfect health and I had hardly given it a thought. I was reminded, almost daily, how fragile life can be and how ungrateful I had been for taking it all for granted. My struggles seemed to shrink next to the life and death situations I was reluctantly a part of. I have a renewed appreciation for getting up every morning- and I don’t want to waste a single day.

Say “I Love You”

Facing death- your’s or someone close to you- gives you instant clarity. You suddenly realize what and who you could lose. And you don’t want to leave anything unsaid. I felt compelled to share my deep feelings- to say, ” I love you,” as often as possible. We always feel that we’ll have time for that another day and we put off having serious or meaningful conversations with those we care about.  I found myself being more direct with the people I love, because wasting time seemed unwise and risky. Say the hard things, but also say the good things; and say them more than ever.

Your Attitude Matters

Watching how each of my loved ones are handling their horrible circumstances has been eye opening. I’ve seen almost daily bouts of doubt, fear and anger tempered by incredible hope, strength and faith. I’ve witnessed the roller coaster rides of good news and bad news and intense periods of waiting and wondering. Nothing tests your internal fortitude quite like that. And these tests reminded me that your attitude is everything. The difference between making the most of every day- and just surviving. The difference between living and just breathing. Our attitude is all wrapped up in that complicated brain or ours…and it’s the key to everything. We all hold the key to a good life.

Hold on to Your Faith

My biggest lesson in watching the people I love struggle through cancer is the ultimate importance of faith. It’s hard to get up in morning if you’ve decided their is no hope. And hope- the kind that is real, the kind that endures, comes through real faith. Not the kind that makes people dress up on Sunday and “play church.” But the kind that brings peace and defies logic. A faith you can lean on when everything around you is crumbling apart. A belief so strong, you can face death, and not be afraid.

For me, that faith is in God. The pain and grief of watching the people I care about in a fight for their lives took a toll on me. I felt some very dark days, and cried my share of tears. But through it all, I have leaned on my faith. I didn’t have a choice- I just wasn’t strong enough. Having to rely on my faith to get me through the day made it stronger. Watching my loved ones doing the same renewed it even more. I honestly don’t know how you make it through such an incredible battle without it. I don’t think I could. If you are interested in a faith like that, find a pastor, priest, rabbi or trusted “faithful” friend you can talk too. It could can change how you live…and how you die.

Christmas is About a Baby

christmas-star-77979-m As I look back over the Christmas Holiday that just passed, there was another story of grief and loss; a baby that was never born. The grand daughter of a good friend experienced a miscarriage that was followed with three months of physical complications and pain. Her emotional saga finally came to a close with a final procedure that took place the week before Christmas. It has been a very difficult time for the family.

I thought about how many times I have seen and heard about stories just like this one in my many years of supporting families who are dealing with the grief and loss of miscarriage. The “regularity” in which it seems to happen is striking and disheartening. It could become easy to focus on this very sad reality. But then I think about all of the new babies that I have welcomed into the world this year, and years gone by, with gifts and showers and notes of congratulations.

Just like anything else, we can choose to see the tragedy the world can bring, or the hope we all long for. During the Christmas Season we tend to turn our thoughts to the joy and peace we’d like to have all year long- not just while we attend festive parties, eat our goodies and tear open gifts with family and friends.

When the tree is taken down and the gifts have all been put away the spirit and joy of Christmas can disappear as well. It can be tough to hold on throughout the year- especially if we are dealing with grief and pain. Unless we remember that Christmas is about a baby- a baby that was born to bring us a peace and hope that does not fade when the decorations are put away. Want to know more about this baby? Would you like to know a peace that does not get packed away in attic each year? Find a pastor, rabbi, priest, church or trusted friend who can tell you more.

May you find and keep the Christmas spirit throughout 2015 and beyond.