Kelly Irvin is a multi-published novelist and former newspaper reporter who worked in public relations for more than 20 years. She retired from her day job in 2016 after being diagnosed with primary lateral sclerosis, a degenerative motor neuron disease, and stage 4 ovarian cancer. She spends her days writing and loving her family.
Let's recognize time as the gift it is, and chart a course for making 2018 really count.
I’m so thankful to be here to see the beginning of a new year. I suspect most people are, but cancer survivors are a special breed because they fight so hard to be here. We treasure the time and recognize it for what it is—a gift. I don’t usually make New Year’s resolutions, but this year I want to suggest we set a course for making 2018 really count — as cancer fighters and as human beings. Here’s my top 10 list. What would you add?
#10 To exercise. I know that’s usually the number one resolution, but for people with cancer, it’s a different world. Exercise if you feel up to it and if your doctor approves. Do what you can. I have mobility limitations, so my exercises are a pale shadow of the high impact aerobics and Billy Blanks punch-kick Tae Bo I once did. But I have ridden the stationary bicycle, trudged on the treadmill, and stretched for at least an hour a day through two rounds of chemotherapy because it makes me feel better. That’s the goal here. We want to be as healthy as we can be, but we also want to feel as well as possible. I find that exercising, even when I had no desire to drag myself from the couch, increases my energy and reduced my anxiety. Do what works for you—walk, yoga, swimming, bicycling. Revel in movement and your own strength.
#9 To eat well. It goes hand in hand with number 10. With the cardboard taste buds thanks to our buddy chemo and his best friend nausea, this can be difficult. For us emotional eaters, it’s tempting to kick common sense to the curb and eat doughnuts, ice cream, whatever our hearts desire because after all, who knows how long we’ll be around. We know brightly colored fruits and vegetables help our bodies fight disease. I’m all for splurging, as long as I resolve to eat the good stuff too.
#8 To go someplace we’ve always wanted to go. Our resources often are tied up with our treatment, but we can still explore new places, even if it’s an Indian restaurant or the world’s biggest frying pan down the road. The object is to explore this world and be as excited as a child with its wonders.
#7 To watch less TV and spend more time with family and friends. Needs no explanation!
#6 To be nice. Even when you don’t feel like it. Some of you are probably saying you are always nice. I’m talking to the people like me who get caught in an insurance vicious cycle with no end in sight or sit in an icy waiting room for two hours because “the doctor is behind.” When you’re in cancer treatment, the scenarios that test your patience are endless. I resolve not to shoot the messenger. I resolve to say please and thank you and mean it.
#5 To get in touch with nature. Go barefoot in the grass. Lie on your back and name the shapes in the clouds. Plant flowers or vegetables. Get dirt under your nails. Anything that reminds us that we’re part of a big, beautiful earth. It’s a wonderful, natural way of reducing anxiety, stress, and depression.
#4 To learn something you didn’t know before. Italian. Sign language. Or to parallel park. Whatever excites you. The best weapon against chemobrain is using our brains, not letting it turn to mush. It also takes our mind off our worries.
#3 To live today. Let’s promise each other we won’t spend 2018 worrying about a future over which we have no control. Let’s lock scanxiety in a closet. Let’s do our best to enjoy every special occasion—every birthday, anniversary, and holiday—without wondering if it will be our last. Let’s put the kibosh on wondering how long we’ll be N.E.D. (no evidence of disease). Will it reoccur? When? It’s not humanly possible to not worry, so let’s agree to give ourselves a few minutes—whenever is best for you—to stew about the unfairness of it all. Then we pull up our big-girl (or big-boy) pants and move on. No wallowing.
#2 To count our blessings every day. It’s so easy to fall into the negativity that permeates our world. Instead, vow to replace negative thoughts with thanksgiving. I’m thankful for my oncologist, for her staff, for the nurses in the infusion room, for my husband and my family, for my church family, for my publishing house and my editor, for my writing colleagues, and so much more. It’s amazing how long the list is if we stop to think about it. You might want to write them down and stick them on your bathroom mirror or the refrigerator—wherever you’ll see them most often. I won’t go so far as to call them silver linings, but because of my chronic diseases, I was forced to retire from my job in public relations. Now I write fiction full-time, my lifelong dream fulfilled. What a blessing that is.
#1 To make a difference. Volunteer. Do what you can to make this world a better place. What this is for you only you can know. I write inspirational fiction in hopes that it will touch my readers, give them hope, and bolster their faith. For you, maybe it’s working in a soup kitchen, or fundraising for cancer research, Habitat for Humanity, Meals on Wheels, or building ramps in the homes of people who use wheelchairs. If every single one of us finds a way to reach out to others, to make a human connection, to make the world a kinder place, 2018 will be incredible.
Have a blessed new year!