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A male breast cancer survivor discovers a challenge even bigger than his disease.
I can imagine that it's Jan. 1, 2019 and I'm standing in front of my bathroom mirror. "Hey Survivor (I say out loud). Yes you, the one-breasted guy looking back at me in the mirror. Guess what? You, my friend, have 12 months to live"
I've talked to myself in this manner on numerous occasions since finding out I had breast cancer in 2014. But it's always been a sort paternal chat: a "pep talk" that I imagine many of us have had with ourselves from time to time. But this time, I see the conversation as a serious directive — a dour announcement that my time really is running out.
Maybe, like me, you have cancer or another life-threatening disease. Perhaps you've lost a loved one or your health. Maybe you've lost your hope, or your dream…or your way. Cancer often finds the means to attack us beyond just the cellular level. It unabashedly cuts a deep wound in our spirit, our drive and our vitality.
And I sometimes wonder if it's here in those places closest to our hearts, the spots where our hope of recovery and survival dwell, that is most damaged by our cancer.
We'd like to think that there will always be time to finish up our lives, find our purpose, have a little more fun, get our affairs in order, rather than face the disturbing prospect that when our time comes to die, we may not have enough days left, feel well enough or have the interest or stamina to look at the big picture of our time on Earth and be satisfied that we've done well.
My wife and I have had this "end-of-life" conversation before and I've certainly written about it, but it's deceptively difficult to ponder the reality of these questions and even harder to make the changes that we've spent a life-time pinned down by with our habits, opinions, indulgences, addictions, behaviors, biases and beliefs. How can one repair a life that's an unfinished portrait in just a year?
The simple answer is: By starting. By making a commitment. And by NOT looking at the perceived difficulty of the task, nor looking for the end before we find the beginning. After all, the end is that you die. So, it's a good idea not to start there.
What would you do if you had exactly one year to live?
What would you change?
What would you give up?
Where would you go?
Who would you spend time with?
And so, I've made a firm commitment to spend all of 2019 living as though it's the last year of my life. I have a detailed list of the things I'll be doing, and I'll be checking it daily while putting into action those things I want to experience while I still can. It's a list that contains a lot of personal aspirations; finishing a novel I started 20 years ago for example, and getting my musical produced. I've got a heap of unwritten songs rattling around in my head that need to be set free. And then there are the issues with family and friends. Re-committing to my daily practice of Zen meditation, and really taking a good look at those parts of me that shaped the world in which I live.
My apologies to those I've hurt.
My gratitude for those who have enriched my life.
My relationship with my own body, both sick and well.
But there are lots of things I want to do that aren't about me: volunteering to work with kids in "cancer camps," donating magic shows to folks who just need a day of lightness, practicing "Laughter Yoga" with seniors and so on.
Because, cancer has the power to dash our dreams and sidetrack our future, I believe the time to start dismantling its invasive reach is now. I don't see this as a battle or as a difficult undertaking. Indeed, I expect this could be the easiest and most gratifying twelve months of my life. And what happens when my "last year" comes to an end?
I'll just take another long look in that mirror to find something to reflect on.