BC (Before Cancer) and AD (After Diagnosis)

I think I may have purchased an imaging department. My oncologist has ordered every possible scan for every part of my body…including my personality. Bone scan, CT scan, bone density scan, you name it.

Just when I think I’ve gotten a “green light” to race ahead with life worry-free, I’m pulled over and handed a ticket in the form of doctor’s orders for cancer screening.

I appreciate my physician’s cautious and thorough approach, but I’m not so wild about the continual reminder that as a survivor, I live with the possibility of its return. Apparently, there’s a name for this: “Damocles Syndrome” after the Greek legend who was unable to enjoy the abundance before him as a sword dangled precariously above his head. Isn’t this true for many of us survivors? We’re so fixated on recurrence that it distracts us from thriving in the present. Move onward we must…but how?

When treatment ends, you’re released from the day-to-day cancer realm--filled with doctors, appointments and medications…and, at the same time, the emotional support that goes along with it. You receive marching orders to go forth, but no instruction guide on how to live post-diagnosis. That’s for you to figure out on your own. What will your new world look like?       

The biggest impact for me was realizing the hourglass had been flipped over and time was running out. While the harsh reality of facing your mortality can be daunting, it’s ultimately a tremendous gift. Because you gain a perspective that can incite you to quit wasting time on the wrong things--the wrong purpose, the wrong priorities, the wrong mindset—and focus on what really matters.

After treatment, I began approaching each day with the knowledge that it was a precious--albeit temporary—gift, filled with countless treasures to experience and enjoy. I began appreciating simple, everyday things more deeply, rather than mindlessly rushing from one activity to another: the smell of coffee brewing in the morning, a harvest moon, an engrossing book. I referred less to my never-ending to-do list and invested more in lasting things: hanging out with a friend, checking on an elderly aunt, making space for relationships.

Now, I take nothing for granted. Because all these many little things add up to one big life... one that can be upended in an instant.

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