No Fear!

Q & A, Survivor March 29, 2017

Debra
Chicago, IL
Breast Cancer Survivor

1. What was the darkest moment in your cancer journey?
Weeks after my diagnosis and surgeries, I fell apart. When the pain and danger were mostly behind me, I found myself in tears, uncertain about what it all meant. Dealing with the physical aspects of cancer was so straightforward – undergo your treatment regimen, follow the guidelines for recovery, and that’s that. Figuring out what it means to have had cancer, though – that was my struggle, my lowest point.

Several weeks after surgery to remove the cancer, I was cancer-free physically, but cancer-ridden emotionally. Coming to terms with having had cancer was my biggest challenge, my lowest point – but it also led me to discover more about myself and my loved ones, and to feel more at peace with myself, maybe even more than BC (Before Cancer).

2. If you could go back and talk to your pre-cancer self, what would you say?
Fortunately, I was one of those “lucky” ones. My cancer was slow growing and caught early. But I would tell my pre-cancer self (and have actually apologized to others affected by cancer before I knew better) – that there is nothing good about cancer. Nothing. There is no “good” cancer. I would be more compassionate with cancer patients and their families. I would be more patient, a better listener, and a more giving friend to anyone cancer impacts. I would understand that the fear of dying is only a small part of the cancer experience. I would understand that cancer affects both the patient and his or her loved ones. Forever.

3. How has cancer changed you?
Cancer has made me more patient, but also more impatient. I am clearer about what matters and what doesn’t. I don’t fret so much about silly stuff, but I also stand up for myself more. I am more generous with both time and money, but I don’t let others push me around so much. And I’m a bit more hypochondriacal – after all, I know that even healthy people with no risk factors sometimes get really sick. I’m also a lot clearer about what it means to be really sick. And so much less afraid of aging or dying.

I am very grateful that I see my loved ones more clearly now – and that has been both good and not so good. I have seen some friends’ limitations I’d rather not have seen – but others’ amazing and powerful warmth and strengths. I am more aware of how wonderful most people are. I know that most people want to be good, and do good. Most people try hard.

4. What has been your brightest moment in your 2nd Act?
My bright moment? I was the oldest person on Peru’s Mount Machu Picchu the day my husband and I climbed to the summit. It was physically and mentally challenging, and I didn’t want to continue at several points along the way, but we did it! And when we returned to the bottom, I was aware of how wonderful it was to have both the opportunity and the stamina to do it. I was grateful that my cancer days were, for now, at least, really over.

5. Where do you see yourself going from here?
I don’t know where I’m headed – I’m now 64, still working, pursuing some old dreams as well as new ones. I see myself taking more time out of my days to be creative and less time fulfilling other people’s needs, especially to my own detriment. But also I want to be more connected, more in the moment (cliché, I know, but clichés often come from universal truths). I want more time to read and travel, more time to push myself as well as enjoy myself and my loved ones.

6. What’s your favorite quote and how does it fit into your 2nd Act?
I discovered my favorite quote in a fortune cookie! I got it shortly before my cancer diagnosis, and it has helped me through many dark – and delightful – moments: “Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood.”

We will all go through tough times – so we may as well try to make sense of, rather than resist life’s challenges. This view of life takes less energy and makes any troubles or concerns seem so much more interesting, and less terrifying!