When I first started working in the Cancer Clinic in Penticton I was surprised when a patient said to me that getting cancer had been a real blessing to her. What? How could that be? The patient (lets call her Ariel) went on to describe how getting her diagnosis had really focused her on the important things and people in her life.
Going through chemotherapy is an intense and challenging time for anyone. Amongst other challenges, it had left Ariel with very little time or energy to spend even with her family and closest friends. After reviewing her friendships she decided that she simply wouldn’t waste any of her precious energy on people that had never really been great friends anyway. We all know those friends. They are the ones who, when they leave, we breathe a sigh of relief because the visit has been draining, or tainted with negativity, or they have spent the entire time talking about themselves without once asking us about how we are.
Ariel also realized that some friendships had run their course but she had kept seeing the person out of feelings of obligation or shared history. Once she resolved to focus on only those people with whom she truly enjoyed spending time, her life became so much more joyful.
With regard to household chores and life’s general business, going through chemo gave Ariel pause for thought too. She realized that protecting her health and conserving her limited energy stores was far more important than exhausting herself trying to keep every surface spotless and dust free. As one famous home maker said, “I am happy to leave the dusting for another day, because it will always be there!” Sitting curled up with a book, or relaxing on her back deck in the spring sunshine became far more important to Ariel than having a Homes and Gardens-worthy house!
Since I first heard Ariel express that getting cancer was a blessing, I have heard it many times again from other patients, and it no longer surprises me. I now have a better understanding of why people say this. They are living a far happier and improved version of their previous lives. Gone are the obligations and pressures of trying to live up to unrealistic TV versions of a best life. Instead these have been replaced with thoughtful reflection of what actually matters to the patient, and those closest to them.
This can look very different for different people. For some, it may be selling up most of their worldly possessions once chemo is completed, and departing on that adventure holiday they have constantly been putting off “for one day”. For others, it might be deciding to retire early rather than holding on for a few more dollars in their pension cheques. Some people decide to move out of the Okanagan and back to the far colder place they came from, in order to spend more time with their children and grandchildren.
This reflection and review of life’s priorities is something we can and should all do on a regular basis. Freshen up your back yard and sit and enjoy your dinner outside on a balmy summer evening with good friends. Lower your standards a little bit on what your perfect house should look like and use some of that time to go for a dip in the lake instead. Spend more time doing things you love with people you love and less time on obligations. Have a walk on the KVR instead of watching mindless TV. Book that trip you have always longed for. Life really is made up of the little moments - make sure you enjoy them before they slip away!