The Day My Life Changed

On this day, three years ago, my life changed–hopefully, forever. August 21, 2009, was the day I received my breast cancer diagnosis. I was immediately swept into the spinning vortex of doctors, tests, surgeries, drugs, and ever-shifting emotions. Most days I felt as if I was trying to walk on quicksand, never knowing when the ground would be swept from beneath my feet and I would be drowning in a sea of muddy thoughts and bleak outlooks.

Cancer. A tiny, six-letter word that conveys so much confusion, anger, fear and pain. Even to the uninitiated the mere mention of the word stirs up nightmare-like visions of hospital rooms, illness, tons of anguish…and often, death.

As I began this morning–three years later–I remembered those feelings of darkness, pain and fear. I’m sure it didn’t help the image by starting off this week with a raging virus that has left me physically drained…a feeling vaguely reminiscent of the chemo fatigue I lived with for so many months. And for a few minutes, I allowed the fears, the memories, the terror of that awful word to envelope me again. It swept through my mind and left me even more drained. I cried hot, bitter tears as I stood in the shower trying to allow the water to wash away the head cold, the emotions, the fears, the memories…and the deep, dark depression that was eagerly wrapping its tentacles around my heart.

And then, a song came on my radio. A song by Switchfoot. A song that became my mantra in the early days of my “new” life, after the surgeries, chemo, radiation. A song about one little word with six little letters…Thrive. A small word that conjures up everything that I most desire in this life. Everything that the diagnosis of that other six-letter word not only threatened to take away, but also reminded me to seek.

Because life isn’t about breathing. It isn’t about getting up, getting the job done, going to bed and beginning it all over again the next day. It’s about thriving–choosing to focus on each and every experience in each and every moment and choosing to live them fully. As Webster’s says: to prosper; be fortunate or successful; to grow or develop vigorously; flourish. Synonyms: advance, bear fruit, bloom, blossom, grow, prosper, radiate, shine.

When I received my cancer diagnosis, I realized that what was missing in my life was my LIVING it. I realized that I wanted to LIVE.  Really live…not just going through the motions, not just swimming slowly upstream to my death with the rest of the fish in the stream. I want to LIVE. I want to have fun. I want to have new experiences. I want to see old things in a new way. I want to experience each moment as if it were my last one. I want to get messy with life. Big sloppy wet kisses, mud pies, rolling in the autumn leaves, dancing in the rain…exciting, spontaneous, exhilarating…life. Every moment is to be savored, treasured, enjoyed to its fullest extent…the good, the bad, the in-between. This is life, this is how you thrive.

The head cold that makes my brain pound and my throat feel like I swallowed sandpaper is just another experience to be savored…if I choose to make it one. It’s not exactly pleasant, but with every ache and pain, sniffle and sneeze, it vibrantly reminds me that I am ALIVE. Blessedly, blissfully, wonderfully alive.

As I listened this morning to the words of Switchfoot’s song, my tears dried and I found myself croaking away to the song with a smile on my face, and joy filling my heart. Because I remembered not just the fear and confusion and pain of cancer–there will always be those things surrounding this diagnosis, there is no way to really prevent such a devastating disease from being the frightening reality it is. But I also remembered the overwhelming desire to LIVE, to blossom, to THRIVE in each moment that God graces me with.

Thus far, He has graced me with three years of moments since that day. Some of which I have chosen to fully engage in, chosen to savor and enjoy. Some of which I have allowed to blow past in a flurry of sensations that were never fully appreciated or thought about. But each of those moments in the past three years has been a gift, given by my Heavenly Father. My prayer on this third anniversary of my cancer diagnosis, is that I will forever remember the gift of life He has given me, and not squander it in petty and trivial complaints, but truly savor each experience as it comes…I truly want to THRIVE, not just survive. That day, three years ago, changed me…hopefully, forever.

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