One of the first thoughts I had after my mastectomy for breast cancer went something like this: “Oh, my God. I could actually die soon — much too soon.”
This appears to be a common reaction for many of us with a cancer diagnosis, and as far as I can tell, it’s a good thought to get processed and out of the way in the beginning. It's good to get out of the way, if, for no other reason, than just to allow some space for a little positivity to find its way into our game plan.
I didn’t want to simply dismiss this notion and get on with my uncertain life, however. Rather, I was determined to use this opportunity to look over my 65-plus years on Earth, and see what had worked or didn’t work, what had given me joy or dismay, pride or disappointment and what had presented me with a reason to be proud to be human and alive in this relatively short span of time called "life."
In the end, the biggest question about my own life that I was able to flush out was: Was I significant? Did I make a difference or even a mark in the universe? Did I matter? Would I be missed? Did I contribute in any way to the evolution of humankind, and if not, why not?
Most of all, though, I wondered: Is there still time for me to do any of this?
As I continue to find ways to live alongside my cancer, I am reminded of two things. Firstly, I am not in a battle with my disease. I am a conscientious objector. Cancer exists, and it may very well be present in my body, but I do not support it, either morally or spiritually. And secondly I am not in remission, I am in omission. No matter what the tests show, I categorically reject the notion of cancer diminishing my life experience.
I want to be quick to add: This isn’t a fantasy and I am not living in denial. I accept all that life has to deliver as complete perfection. Life operates on its own terms with rules and regulations that far outweigh my own preferences. I do not want to die at this time, but I believe in the intelligence of the cosmos with regard to birth and death and perhaps states of being that are beyond my ability to intellectualize or understand.
So as I have pondered the inevitable occurrence of my own passing, I have been lucky as an amateur science buff to be reminded of how my very presence on Earth has affected the universe in some measurable way. This is true for every one of us. Let me explain it through a little science lesson. Please note that what I’m about to share is not just a theory, it’s law.
The First Law of Thermal Dynamics
Science writer and performer Aaron Freeman recently talked about the science of life and death. He pointed out that since no energy is ever created in the universe and none is destroyed, we'll be around forever — just in a different form. The atoms that make up all of us will never vanish.
I have always found science to be a wonderful reminder of how remarkable it is to be alive today. Science, aside from answering questions that humankind has dreamed up for eons, allows us to marvel at all we cannot know.
Those lovely sunsets that so many of us watch and admire throughout our lives will one day sparkle in a new way because of you. No longer a mere observer on a small blue planet, you just may end up as that spectacular flash of green light at the end of a rather ordinary day.
Great article, thank you. When I was diagnosed with cancer in May of 2013, I went through some of those same feelings - especially the first you mention, Oh My GOD, I'm going to die. My cancer is not curable YET so it's so important to keep positive, which I do most of the time.
In the article you state, "Was I significant? Did I make a difference or even a mark in the universe? Did I matter? Would I be missed? Did I contribute in any way to the evolution of humankind, and if not, why not?
So, I'd like to share my favorite poem ever (authored by my father about 14 years ago.)
When all’s been said, and all’s been done, and when my
Final race is run,
What will those who stand for me, with muted tones
Describe the man? Describe the Life? Give meaning to
The joy – the strife?
No golden fortune was amassed, no monuments that
Touch the sky,
No bridges or cathedrals, no great machines that
Sail or fly.
What will the stoneman ‘grave for me, by way of
What can he say to give a worth to my short stay
Upon this Earth?
Well say you this, and say it clear, I did my good while
I was here.
I left the Earth a legacy, a gift to all, a gift
I made the world a better place. I’ve left it you,
My child of grace.
I hope you all enjoy as much as I did.
Spectacular poem and wonderful to connect with you. I was diagnosed in May of 2014. Had my first ever MRI yesterday and get results on Wednesday. I feel good about it. Thanks so much for the note. Keep in touch!
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