Cancer is a great teacher of many valuable lessons.
Bonnie Annis is a breast cancer survivor, diagnosed in 2014 with stage 2b invasive ductal carcinoma with metastasis to the lymph nodes. She is an avid photographer, freelance writer/blogger, wife, mother and grandmother.
Cancer gave me the gift of time. It sounds ridiculous to say, because I imagine most people feel just the opposite. They probably consider cancer a time thief, and often it is, but please hear me out. Before I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I was always thinking ahead. I was always planning for the future. I set many goals. When one goal was completed, I was on to the next. I had a long list of items on my agenda. I was a clock-watcher. I always had places to go and people to see. My life was dictated by my calendar and my watch. I crammed as many things into my 24-hour day as I possibly could, and while my life was fulfilling, I often got tired of being so busy.
As I sat in the doctor’s office and heard the words, “You have cancer,” time immediately stood still. Not only did it stand still, it came to an abrupt halt. I thought I’d been handed a death sentence saying my life was over. The doctor kept on talking, but everything had shifted and the words were coming in slow motion. I couldn’t focus and just zoned out.
When I began treatment, my calendar immediately filled with one appointment after another. If I wasn’t seeing a doctor, I was having a test. My life revolved around medical offices. I have a type A personality, so I made sure to arrive at least 15 minutes early to each appointment. I kept my watch tightly secured to my wrist. It governed my life, my watch, my timekeeper.
On the day I completed my last round of radiation, I gingerly unfastened my watch. I dropped it in the trash can as I walked out of the oncology department. I made a conscious decision that day never to be a clock-watcher again. Cancer wasn’t going to run my life. I had more important things to think about.
Now my life is so much more laid back. No longer do I watch the clock. If I’m with someone, they have my undivided attention. If I’m doing something, I’m all in. I’m not checking to see where I have to be next. I’ve loved the art of learning to live in the moment. It’s amazing how much longer the days seem when I’m not focused on what time it is or where I need to be. Life before cancer was always so rushed, and now I am mindful about where I am and what I’m doing.
Cancer taught me the value of a moment. It’s so easy to take things for granted when all is well and life is good, but when you’re faced with death, things come into focus quickly. You learn to evaluate and prioritize.
The freedom I’ve experienced in not wearing a watch has been amazing. My schedule just happens. I eat when I’m hungry and sleep when I’m tired. So thank you, cancer, for teaching me to slow down and enjoy life. You’ve taught me many difficult and challenging lessons, but helping me understand each moment is precious was the most valuable lesson by far.