My Movie Reel: Surviving Cancer Has Taught Me to Be Present

Cancer made me realize how much of life I let slip by while trying to be in control and achieve perfection. Surviving cancer has taught me there is peace and serenity in giving up the need to be in control.
BY Roberta Lombardi
PUBLISHED August 02, 2019
We have probably all heard how our lives flash before our eyes like a movie reel in the moments before we die. Going through intensive breast cancer treatment and being one of the lucky ones in remission has made me think about what my movie will look like when my time comes (hopefully long from now). While I know it will have both happy and sad snapshots, the question that plagues me most is: Will I recognize the happy moments as having “been present and appreciative” when they happened?

Prior to breast cancer I was “The Planner.” I planned elaborate dinners, I planned my family’s schedule, I planned parties for loved ones. I planned for my life – our life – to unfold a certain way. I thought I was in control of everything. And what drove me was the need to create wonderful memories and orchestrate what I thought was a perfect life for my family.

Cancer made me realize how much of life I let slip by while trying to be in control and achieve perfection. It is in the ordinary that we find the extraordinary, and my cancer journey gave me the clarity to see that some of the most significant memories I treasure come from moments in time I did not plan, did not orchestrate. It is only when I stopped trying to be in control that I have been able to live in the moment, be present, be mindful.

I was reminded of this yesterday, as my three daughters (ages 17, 16 and 13) and I went on a college tour. The campus was full of beauty, situated along the Hudson River. The day was warm with a slight breeze and as the end of our visit approached, the heavens opened up and a deluge of rain began. We had no umbrellas or raincoats as we walked across campus getting soaked to the skin. My head was down looking towards the ground in an effort to keep the rain off my face when I looked up and took in the sight of my three beautiful girls walking side by side ahead of me; their heads thrown back in laughter at the absurdity of the situation, their long wavy hair getting pelted by rain, their faces tilted toward each other. My breath caught. To anyone else it may seem insignificant, but to me it was like seeing fireworks for the first time. That moment lifted my heart and filled me with profound joy and pride. I was in the moment.

There would have been a time, before breast cancer, that I would have missed the moment I just described. I would have focused on how I should have anticipated for the weather instead of embracing the sheer loveliness and innocence of what happened. Surviving cancer has taught me there is peace and serenity in giving up the need to be in control. I have been immeasurably blessed in my life and now I take note of those blessings countless times every day.

I realize now my movie reel will have snapshots filled with beauty and others filled with sadness. But the happiest will be of moments for which I was truly present and appreciative. And with that, I feel peace.
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