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Living Big With Cancer

When I heard the expression "Leave it all on the floor," I decided to put those words to use.
PUBLISHED January 26, 2017
Martha lives in Illinois and was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in January 2015. She has a husband and three children, ranging in age from 12 to 18, a dog and a lizard.
As the mom of three teenagers, two girls and one boy, I have 20 years of experience encouraging them to take chances, to get up when they fall down and to always reach for more.

During the Olympics this past summer, one of the US gymnasts stated that philosophy for me in perfect, unforgettable words: “I want to leave it all out there on the floor.” In other words, if you’re going to do something, give it your all with no regrets.

So why is it so easy to put those words aside when faced with cancer?

There are days when cancer makes me feel as though the future is not mine. There are times when “leaving it all on the floor” could just as easily refer to curling up on the floor and giving up rather than seeking for more.

When I feel that way, I wish I had a constant, never-silent cheerleader for myself, someone urging me on the same way I urge on my kids. Yes, I do have those who encourage me but, like most women, I’ve been the cheerleader for others for so long that it’s hard sometimes to be one being cheered. So, while I wait for my husband and kids and friends to catch up to where I am, I cheer for myself. The phrase “Leave it all on the floor” has become my personal rallying cry.

There’s no reason to give up the dreams I’ve held for years and even to take on more. If, as the first (and only) technician to show me the shadows of cancer on my radiograph said, “Cancer is not a death sentence,” then why is it so tempting to turn it into one?

I know the statistics for metastatic breast cancer. I know that it or complications from it will, in all probability, be the thing that kills me one day. 

But instead of facing my death, there’s even more reason to face my life. I think many of us cancer patients feel the same way. Reaching for dreams and stretching into life takes on more meaning when you have learned the finish line may be closer than you always thought.

A friend once told me that we all live within the sight of death, but I don’t believe that—I rarely gave death a thought before I was diagnosed with metastatic cancer. I believed, even at 50 years old, that I had plenty of time ahead. I still hope for that time, but if I don’t have it, I don’t want to waste my days curled up in a ball thinking about the life I couldn’t have.

“Leave it all on the floor” will probably be the rallying cry I give to myself for the rest of my life. It resonates in my heart. I’ve got one life and, yes, cancer has given it a greater degree of loss than many of my friends can understand, but there’s hope for each of us to give more, love more, reach out more, dream more. Living an inspired life is not easy for someone worn down by the stress that comes with a cancer diagnosis and treatment, tired of the fear and the anger and the timid hope that rules our days. I want to live that way though, and I intend to leave it all out there on the floor every single chance I get. I hope you do, too.
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