The Peer Pressure of a Cancer Diagnosis…Am I Doing This Wrong?


“My cancer diagnosis changed my life!”. 

I have read about and heard that kind of a statement for years….long before my own cancer diagnosis. But what if I don’t feel that it has changed my life. What if instead I just feel like perhaps I am “doing it wrong” because I haven’t yet had an epiphany?  Why am I being left out of this great moment that seems to come for many? 

I have now been priviledged to travel to Africa 3 times (Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda you are beautiful and inspiring countries to travel to…you have left me in awe with your beauty and humbled by your hard work and determination to overcome obstacles).  Again, it is the kind of thing that people say will change your life, but I don’t know that I feel it CHANGED mine. Have I done it wrong? 

Both cancer and travel have perhaps enhanced my apprecitation of things….my health in general and access to healthcare, access to education and clean water/easy and proper nutrition, and caring friends to share both experiences with, but I don’t feel I can say either one has been “life altering”. So am I doing this all wrong?

Or have I had the opportunity to learn my priorities in more subtle ways?

They say everyone has a gift, I believe mine has been the ability to see the blessings in most things (no matter how creative I someimes have to get to find them), and for that I am truly grateful. My parents were both widowed with children when they met, married, took on each others kids and had me at the ages of 42 and 45. My sibblings were 17, 16, 15, 10 and 6 when I came along; Dad had had a good scare with his heart and Mom smoked at a time when the ads were just really starting up that “smoking causes cancer, and of course cancer kills”. I started grade one and it felt like my sibblings were the same age as everyone else’s parents and Mom and Dad were the age of their grandparents…they were going to kick the bucket any day now. (I was blessed to have Dad until 2006 & truly blessed to still have my Mommie). These items, along with the fact that my sibblings had all lost a least one parent, gave me the fear/gift of knowing that having a parent (or someone you love) in your life for forever is not a given. I remember a conversation in grade 4 with a friend, sitting in the basement of her parents’ home, and making the statement that “I will have memories of my parents while I have them”. 

And that is why, I am sure in large part, I was close with them and focused on time together…..and why I have always been a bit of a mushy girl with my heart on my sleeve. It is important to me to be able to tell people that I care about them and what a difference they make in my life…..what if because of unforseen circumstances we miss out in that opportunity, not only to tell people that we love them but that we are proud of them? I was “lucky” when I lost my Dad, as heartbreaking as it was to watch this once strong man fade away with a brain tumour, I was given the gift if a goodbye knowing that we had had those important conversations, a gift that sudden loss doesn’t bring. And having had the fear from a young age of losing both parents gave me the gift of several similar conversations through the years.

As a teenager I remember going into Dad’s office, climbing over the arm of his office chair and giving him the choice “crib or yahtzee….what am I setting up for you to come and play with me?”. Mom admitted after Dad passed away that she was always a little concerned about which one of us would out-stubborn the other if we really were to get into it. I really didn’t have a hope in avoiding that trait…..she likes to forget that I got my “virtue of determination” (AKA Stubborn streak) quite honestly from both sides.

So did I just get my epiphany early or is there one yet to come? Why am I not suddenly passionate about something specific in life? And the pressure of “how are you spending your days” when suddenly you are “fighting for your life” (though again I am blessed to know this is just the final cleanout and not a life threatening battle because of the early finding of my cancer). Am I just wasting my life away? I haven’t achieved anything monumental….I am just an ordinary girl.

But this weekend I began to understand what affirms my life for me; what makes me feel like I have not wasted a day but instead celebrated life through it. It is one seemingly simple question. 

Did I make a difference today?

No, it doesn’t need to be a cure for disease, a life saving decision, a grand lovesong or life-altering book. It can be as simple as a kind smile, a phone call to a friend out of the blue, a walk with my dogs, or even (maybe especially) treating myself with love and kindness. I have been lucky enough to know that I have had opportunities to make an impact in people’s lives in other ways too and carry those in my heart with the knowledge that yes, I have made a difference in my world. 

So was that my epiphany? Am I the only one feeling the peer pressure to have cancer change my life? Or does it really have to? Perhaps, though it may alter my schedule and priorities for a little while, instead of changing my life it is okay for it to just confirm that I am on the right track for what is right for me.

And so my wish for you today is that you see the difference you make in your world and understand what a gift each small moment of the day can bring without the pressure of feeling you need to do something “big” or that a significant life event must bring an epiphany…it’s okay to just have a small confirmation that you are on the right track of your own journey!

With love, g.

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