The holidays of December are upon us, and the dawning of a new year with cancer in my life is about to begin. Dates become milestones for many of us surviving a life-threatening disease. In my case, it’s male breast cancer.
Those of us with cancer can measure our lives by the weeks and months between mammograms, ultrasounds and CAT scans, and it is these intervals separating our procedures, those silent and unruffled times, which we all look forward to; they present us with the space and the tranquility we seek.
When I discovered that I had breast cancer in May of 2014, my list of appointments and schedules and future dates was instantly deleted. It felt like the virus in a computer had suddenly infested my life and replaced a fully active hard drive with blank pages.
With cancer as a way of life, we are forced to make changes in our schedules and plans, and it’s never easy for the uninitiated. My calendar has a lot of blank squares in it, though my long-term goals remain operational. Aside from having my routines and activities thrown off by my cancer, there have been some surprising upsides to my disease.
I no longer take for granted my opportunity to blog and write stories about my journey, or my walks in the stunning Arizona desert where I live. I no longer put off writing the songs that I hear in my head, or delay the occasion to play my banjo or watch a good video with my wife.
But more than anything, I have a new capacity to marvel at the world we live in and to sense my presence in a very big universe that holds secrets that I am incapable of understanding. I can stop for a few precious moments during the day and turn off my busy brain to almost hear the ringing of the cosmos, and actually feel the vibration of the hummingbirds who sip at our feeders outside in the yard.
Ultimately, these dates, such as the anniversary of my cancer diagnosis, are rendered meaningless as the invitation to experience every single day of my life becomes my New Year.
What is it about a disease or a trauma or a punch in the eye that can awaken this simple yet insightful glimpse into the realness of our life on Earth?
Stories of the human drive and spirit of people knocked down by unexpected turns in life, who rebound with newfound purpose or insight or dedication to pick themselves up and get moving once again are common. We have a kick and a fight in us that, in most cases, disallows defeat. It’s a remarkable force that, like the turning of Earth itself, has inertia and a significance that will not give in to failure.
I correspond with cancer survivors every day who are hurting, scared or disillusioned. And I’m no different. I have days like that.
But I have learned to ride the wave of worry until it crests and relaxes and rolls in to the shore, and it is there that I rest and recover in that space between; that place is serene where all is OK right now.
The truth is, I believe that this very moment is the beginning of our new year. It really isn’t Jan. 1 or the anniversary of our cancer diagnosis or any other symbolic or meaningful day of the year. It’s today. This minute. It is the very instant that you read these simple words, or the very act of taking your next breath. And it’s in this moment that our will to live with cancer as part of our history in our genes or in our bodies starts anew, and we are given yet another astonishing day to add to our calendar of life.
My wish for all who live with cancer in this New Year is that you may have a calendar filled with many open and inviting spaces, available to be filled with positive news, good results and endless possibilities for your health and healing.