After cancer and becoming an empty nester, I thought I would be lost. But now, I'm finding purpose and following my dreams.
I loved being a mom. Packing lunches, sleepovers and playdates, shopping for all those school needs, living through teenage angst and being a chaperone. When that time was coming to an end, and my daughter was about to launch into her own home and career, I thought I would be lost. But instead, I thrived. I started to do things for myself: I earned two post-master’s degrees. I became a more serious runner. I loved my job and had no problem putting in work time at home. I had nice relationships with my work family. The time between becoming an empty-nester and the cancer diagnosis was probably my most productive. When I looked in the mirror, I saw an industrious and useful person.
All of that is no longer part of my cancer-patient life. As a result, I can’t help but see myself completely differently. Instead of college classes, I’ve taken other kinds of classes like pickleball or mahjong. Instead of putting so many hours into my job, I try my best as a child advocate volunteer, which is far less time-consuming, but still has purpose. Instead of running for medals, I try to find other ways to stay fit so that I can crush my pulmonary function tests — believing this will prolong my life. I had to leave my work family but have made new friends in different communities which I am now a part of.
Today, my main hopes and dreams are simply to stick around as long as possible, so that I am here for my family’s Big Moments. I imagine this is different for people who have fought cancer and beat it. But my stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer diagnosis makes that unlikely. When you live with a terminal illness, the person you see in the mirror is a changed person. Of course, I miss my former self. Building a life after a cancer diagnosis is never in anyone’s plans, but it is clearly not a choice. It does make me happy that, when I look in the mirror these days, I have learned to like and respect that person who stares back at me.
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