"You get an A+," my doctor would always say after reviewing my labs and listening to my heart and lungs. Excellent! I was excelling in a course I never wanted to take. I was acing cancer.
It was the most arduous course I have ever taken, the most important course I have ever passed, and the knowledge I’ve gained from all the tests along the way is priceless.
But I can’t help but think that I haven’t been able to grasp one of the most important lessons. Over the course of treatment involving chemotherapy, radiation, and surgeries, as well as multiple integrative therapies, I was focused. I had one mission: to thrive beyond cancer. I didn’t want to just survive cancer. I wanted to return from my cancer journey stronger in mind, body, and spirit. I wanted to achieve balance in my life. I wanted perspective.
I have foggy memories from cancer treatment of pain and constant exhaustion, fear and hope, gratitude and grace. All of the things that had worried and upset me prior to hearing those three scary words "you have cancer" found their proper place in the order of importance. From the moment I was diagnosed with cancer, I was swept up in the disease and the treatment of the disease. It was an act of willful surrender. Feeling pain? Keep going…it’s just from cancer. Feeling exhausted? Keep going…it’s just from cancer. Feeling afraid? Keep going…it’s just from cancer. Had a bad day at work? Seriously? Who cares…it’s not cancer. I had perspective.
And then at long last, cancer treatment seemed to suddenly be over, and I returned to regular life. But I was not the same person trying to fit myself into my old space, and I found myself frustrated and sad and angry and confused. My life had utterly and completely changed while the rest of the world had not. I had discovered that life can be turned upside down in the blink of an eye, that I had to let go of some long cherished dreams, and that the only control I really had in life was in my response to events.
The rest of the world was over my cancer, but I was not. Though my body was recovering and my scars were healing and my energy was returning, surrender was no longer an option. It was time for action, time to thrive. Feelings of pain, exhaustion, fear…were no longer from cancer. Bad days at work…once again mattered far too much. I had lost perspective.
As I still maintain an A+ at my oncology check-ups, I cannot help but wish the metaphor could continue, that I could take the knowledge gained from this course and just move on, remembering the material that resonates with me and letting go of the rest. But this particular course doesn’t allow for that. This course work is life-altering and has far-reaching consequences.
But I really wish I could maintain perspective.