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Life Isn't Lived In Reverse, Especially After Cancer


After a cancer diagnosis, some people choose to look at their lives as they once were. Instead of moving forward, they become stuck in the past. Learn how this survivor found a valuable cancer lesson while cutting the grass.

We have a huge yard! At almost two acres, it can be a chore to manage in the summertime. Recently, we've had an abundance of rain and that has led to a rapidly growing lawn. Yard work is usually my husband's job, but long hours at work have forced him to forego cutting grass during the week. This allowed the lawn maintenance to wait until weekends, which means we have some pretty tall fescue. It can quickly become hard to manage.

Being the dutiful wife, I decided to help out. Since our yard is very hilly in some areas, we need to use two types of lawnmowers to tackle our problems. We use both a self-propelled push mower and a very sturdy riding mower. The self-propelled mower is one I'm very familiar with and have no trouble starting — the riding mower is another story.

Early one morning, I decided to tackle the yard. I'd planned to do this as a gift to my husband. Instead of him coming home from a long day at work to face the yard needs, I'd planned for him to come home surprised it had already been done. Pulling on a straw hat, old jeans, boots and gloves, I headed outside to get busy.

After an hour, I'd managed to take care of the hilly parts of the yard with the push mower. It had been difficult in some areas, and I could feel my arms swelling. (Warm weather, strenuous exercise and lymphedema aren't a good mix!) Now it was time to take care of the rest of the yard with the riding mower.

We'd purchased a nice John Deere tractor several years ago. I'd never taken time to learn to use it because my husband always did the yard, and I figured it wasn't something I needed to know. Since I'd never paid attention when he cut the grass, I had to pull out the manual and read it before I could get busy cutting the lawn. The instructions seemed fairly easy and since I've always been mechanically inclined, I didn't think I'd have a problem.

Climbing upon the tractor seat, I took the steps one at a time. I inserted the key, pulled up the parking brake, engaged the choke and started it up. Within just a few seconds, I heard the gentle purring of the engine and smiled at my accomplishment. Placing my foot on the gas pedal, I released the parking brake and began to move forward.

It was a little nerve wracking as I headed down our long, steep driveway. I made sure not to travel too fast by keeping my foot close to the brake. When I reached the bottom half of the yard, I lowered the blade housing and engaged the cutting mechanism. Riding in a long path forward, I watched as the grass was clipped short. When I reached the end of my row, it was necessary to travel in the opposite direction, but I'd forgotten how to put the mower in reverse. Instead of stressing about it, I just drove in a large circle and moved forward until I managed to get where I wanted to be. Over and over again, I cut the grass this way enjoying my tractor ride.

About an hour later, I needed to run inside for a quick water and bathroom break. While there, I pulled out the instruction manual again and read about how to use the reverse feature on the tractor.

Going back outside, I was equipped with the knowledge I needed, or so I thought. When I first tried to put the mower in reverse, the engine died. I'd done everything exactly as the manual instructed and I didn't understand why I was having problems. Several more times I tried putting the mower in reverse and each time, the engine died. Feeling frustrated, I went back inside and read the manual again.

It seemed I'd forgotten to raise the blade housing and disengage the cutting mechanism before putting the engine in reserve. Each time I'd forgotten, the tractor had died as part of a safety feature that had come pre-installed on the mower. Finally, after many tries, I managed to get the tractor in reverse. Cutting the remainder of the yard was so much easier after I'd mastered shifting the gears.

As I rode along the yard, continuing this practical gift of love for my husband, I began to think — would it have been so bad if I'd continually kept the tractor in a forward motion? It wouldn't have really mattered if I'd been able to reverse. I could have just kept on making those wide sweeping moves and circling back to the next section of grass that needed attention. As I thought about it, I couldn't help but relate the tractor situation to my experience with cancer.

As I'd healed from breast cancer surgery and completed my treatments, my life had been in a constant state of moving forward. Occasionally, I'd find myself looking back at my life as it had once been, but I'd never been able to stay there. Things had drastically changed. Each and every day, I realized life wasn't meant to be lived in reverse. In order to get better and finally get to a point of thriving, I had to move forward day by day.

It took several hours to complete the yard and with each pass I made, I was feeling more and more proud of myself. Not only had I learned to master the riding mower, I'd learned how to put it in reverse.

One thing I did notice each time I put the tractor in reverse was the attention to detail required. If I failed to disengage the lever that controlled the mower housing, the tractor would cut off. Each time I wanted to go backward, it took some effort. Also, when I'd put the tractor in reverse, it would jerk hard and move quickly backward. This made me feel uncomfortable and out of control.

I noticed I felt the same way when I tried to think about my life before breast cancer. As I looked back, I felt like I was looking in at someone else's life. Although I missed what once was, I knew I could never regain all the days I'd experienced pre-cancer. Realizing that also made me feel uncomfortable and out of control.

Cutting the grass helped me realize life isn't meant to be lived in reverse. Though I managed to master the tractor's gears, I'm thankful I haven't tried hard to shift my own life backward. It's a whole lot easier to move forward. Do you ever find yourself wanting to look back at your pre-cancer days? If so, be sure not to get stuck in reverse! It's a whole lot easier to look forward instead of behind you, and you don't have to twist your neck to do it!

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