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Sparking Enthusiasm After Cancer

In our lives before cancer, we have several avenues for our energy including family, work, school, volunteer work and on and on. We were able to juggle it all. But after a diagnosis, we need to choose one or two passions and let the rest go.
PUBLISHED May 09, 2018
Jane has earned three advanced degrees and had several fulfilling careers as a librarian, rehabilitation counselor and college teacher. Presently she does freelance writing. Her articles include the subjects of hearing loss and deafness, service dogs and struggling with cancer. She has been a cancer survivor since 2010.

She has myelodysplastic syndrome, which is rare, and would love to communicate with others who have MDS.
I received my hearing ear service dog 10 years ago. I was visiting the gift shop at Circle Tail, where she was trained. I did not mind spending money there because I knew the profits went to a good cause.

A beautiful framed picture caught my eye. Three little yellow lab puppies were outside running and carrying a large branch longer than any of them. The quote on the picture hit me like a ton of bricks. “We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements in life when all we need to be really happy is something to be enthusiastic about.” (Charles Kingsley).

I brought the picture home and hung it. I truly believe this quote with all my heart. At the time I first hung the picture my “something to be enthusiastic about” included several activities, I was a part-time counselor, a part-time teacher and doing a lot of programs in the community. I also loved sports and travel and reading and … well you get the idea.

I purchased this picture before my cancer diagnosis, but after the shocking news, this quote has even more meaning for me. The little labs looked like how Sita, my service dog, probably acted as a puppy. She was around 3 years old when I got her, and her joy and enthusiasm inspire me every day. In her younger days, she was never happier than when running merrily outside chasing rabbits and squirrels with her ears flapping in the breeze.

Now she is 10 years older, but still loves lying down outside by the hour and sniffing each blade of grass. She will roll in the grass with the same enthusiasm as when she was younger, before her arthritis started. She does not need much to make her happy – just the wind ruffling her fur and sniffing the fragrant air.

After I was diagnosed with cancer, I was forced to give up one of my most important passions – counseling young children. I continued to teach, which I absolutely love, and I put tons of energy into it.

As I became increasingly fatigued from cumulative years of chemo, I was finally forced to give up teaching. Initially I was devastated, but I knew the combination of being exposed to so many germs (college campuses are full of bad microorganisms) and the exhaustion I felt that quitting was for the best.

My wise oncologist stepped in. I had written and shared a couple of articles with her, plus a picture book to my name. “Put your energy into writing,” she advised.

As I thought about this, it all made so much sense. Due to my myelodysplastic syndrome, all my white blood cells are compromised, and I have to be very careful about being around sick people. I also am unable to work every day and it is difficult to gauge my fatigue level, which varies with the chemo and cancer. But I can write when I feel like it and do this from home where I do not come into contact with germs. Writing became my passion and since then I have had a couple of books published!

Those of us with cancer need to choose our passions wisely. In our lives before cancer, we have several avenues for our energy including family, work, school, volunteer work and on and on. We were able to juggle it all. But after a diagnosis, we need to choose one or two passions and let the rest go. Depending on where we are in our lives our “something to be excited about” may be a job, grandchildren, family, travel or a hobby – but rarely can it be all of the above. Of course, we can give up one choice for another periodically. An example would be that I love to travel, but then stop my writing. I cannot do both at the same time!

This kind of decision making involves very hard choices. However, the little puppies are running with the branch and thinking of nothing else. So, choose your passion and know even with cancer that your life is happy because you have something to be enthusiastic about! And that is all you need.
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