One frequent theme within the cancer community to which I belong is the “life is too short” theme. Cancer changes your priorities. This is my top ten (in no particular order) of things life is too short for.
1. Life is too short stay in a job you hate. I had just moved to the area when I was diagnosed with cancer. I had left a job situation that was slowly destroying my love for teaching. Not only is my current job one that I love, cancer offered me the opportunity to reconsider the importance of my work. I wrote here about my revelation about my job. Not everyone has the choice to leave their job, but if you want to and you can, do it! Find a place that nurtures you. Find work that you believe in.
2. Life is too short to miss out on spending time with friends and family. Nothing is more important to me than my friends and family. Cancer invites you think about the finiteness of your life. Now is the time to listen, to hug, to laugh, to share, and to forgive. I see the people around me in a completely different way, and I work hard to remember the clarity that my diagnosis gave me about them. These people who love you and care for you, whom you care for and love. They are it, the most important thing.
3. Life is too short to stay tangled inside bad relationships. Cancer revealed the gold in the people around me. Sometimes I had missed seeing that. But it also revealed the futility of staying in relationships that hurt. Cancer makes it crystal clear who your friends and family are. I have found the courage to let go of these toxic relationships. I don’t want to waste energy fighting or worrying. Letting go is one of the best things I’ve learned to do.
4. Life is too short to catch every ball thrown to you. Learning to say “No” has always been hard for me. I want to support people around me, contribute, do my part. Everything doesn’t depend on me, though, and, frankly, people sometimes make it seem that way because they want to use me. A therapist once told me that just because someone lobs a ball your way doesn’t mean you have to catch it. I’m learning to turn away.
5. Life is too short to be afraid. Here’s the deal, cancer says, “You’re gonna die.” We all are, you know. Why waste any time on being afraid? Get up on that stage. Apply for that job. Send that letter. Try wearing red and purple. Admit that you like Taylor Swift. Honestly, I’ve made so many decisions based on fear of failure or embarrassment. This blog is my reminder to keep putting it out there. I took a chance on doing this and I keep learning and trying and writing.
6. Life is too short to do everything because you “should.” I’ll admit that I’ve changed my behavior drastically since being diagnosed. I’ve given up smoking. Even though I still miss it, I’ve determined that I am a “nonsmoker.” I’ve greatly reduced processed food. If it’s ready made I avoid it like the plague. Yes, I’m that person. But, and this is a big “but,” I don’t let these changes rob me of enjoying life. I still have my vanilla latte. I eat the occasional “fun size” candy bar. I once told my support group, when they were talking about Cheetos, that nothing that color should go in your mouth. Yeah, well, why the hell not. Life is too damned short to give up Cheetos if they bring you the joy that a vanilla latte brings me.
7. Life is too short to not make that phone call. One of my close family members cut off all communication after learning about my diagnosis. He suddenly got back in touch about six months ago. I’ve never felt more hurt or more angry or more abandoned. So, I refused to take the calls. I just couldn’t. Over Christmas, though, I got the courage to call and to start a new conversation, to stand up for myself but to be open to mending the breach.
8. Life is too short to be “strong,” or “positive,” or “courageous” or “inspiring” because that’s what the world wants to hear. If you have cancer, you get to say how you’re feeling. You are not responsible for how others feel about how you’re feeling. Cancer hurts. We suffer. Breast cancer is not pink. Tears are not failure. Chemo is not inspiring. I don’t care what “they” want to hear. “They” need to listen. Going through cancer is not a time for you to take care of the world. I’ve learned a lot from the folks around me about the burden of being positive.
9. Life is too short for guilt. It’s taken me more than a year to give up already on my obsessive guilt about having been a smoker. For a while there, I kept wanting to go up to strangers and say, “You know I was a smoker and now I have cancer, could you hit me or humiliate me?” The other day at a new doctor’s office, the nurse was filling in paperwork and asked, “Are you a smoker or have you ever been one?” Instead of over-answering or lying, my previous way of responding, I simply said, “Yes.” Wow, that was easy.
10. Life is too short to give up on yourself or on the world. We’re all in this world together. We all fail. We all struggle. Last week when I was in a bathroom stall, two colleagues came in saying unpleasant things about me. They were burying that knife in my back. Instead of cowering inside, I flushed, left the stall, washed my hands and left. I took as much pleasure as I could in the look of shock on their faces. A friend told me, “You know I’ve been on both sides of that bathroom stall.” Yep. Me too. Success for me, in this situation, is moving on. I don’t need to defend myself internally or externally. I don’t need to nurture my anger and hurt. I just need to move on. People, including me, are nasty some times. Sun still rises tomorrow.
So, that’s my list. What would you put on yours?
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Filed under: Advice