The "Breadth" of Breast Cancer


A wide-angle view of life with cancer.

A diagnosis of cancer, or any life-threatening disease for that matter, brings with it an open invitation to glance back upon our lives and derive from our own experiences a biographical view of just who and what we think we are. After all, everything we see in the world, from the cars on the road to the buildings on the street, from the clothes on our backs; even the pockets in our clothes and all that is or ever was in those pockets — everything we see and know was created by someone’s thought. Before anything was invented or manufactured it started as a tinkling of neurons in a human brain somewhere on Earth. That’s true about us as well. We have, over a period of many years called “a life,” created incalculable thoughts about ourselves, what we represent, what we believe, how we want to be seen and just who the heck we think we are.

None of this is bad. It’s just very, very human.

Cancer has given me a remarkable opportunity to examine the “theater” of life as I have created it in my own story, and to question which parts I want to keep and which parts I’d like to let go. For most of my years, my wish was to live a long life. That’s it. Naturally I wanted to be successful in my chosen career, find a magnificent spouse, be happy and have plenty of money. But mostly I wanted to have a long time to do all of this. I imagined myself in my 80s and 90s still running the marathons and 10K races I’ve loved for so many years, and waking up each day with the same vitality and eagerness that I’ve felt for so long now.

The truth is, with great reluctance, I think that I have probably run my last 10K race. My left knee has bone rubbing on bone and the right knee is stiff much of the time. My back aches at times in a way I never dreamed possible. I wear my prescription glasses around the clock now. I sometimes get sleepy in the afternoon.

This is life. This is exactly how we are supposed to experience our bodies aging.

I now have come to realize that it has never been the length of life that really matters. It is the breadth of life. The view from side to side is what really gives depth to our time on Earth. The endless perimeters and paths that have broadened my experiences are the most precious gifts I’ve been given. They are often subtle and sometimes challenging, like the cancer that was found in my body, but at the end of the day—indeed at the end of a life, these diverse moments widen our view of existence and give dimension to our every experience.

I have no idea how life will end in my case, but I would be pleased to spend some final moments outside, standing in an empty field with my arms outstretched, looking out and taking in the wide-angle view that surrounds me — a lifetime of vastness that never repeats or disappoints and is ever so much broader than it is long.

Khevin Barnes resizing his life

Khevin Barnes is a breast cancer survivor, speaker and stage

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