Five years in.
November 9, was actually the five-year date of my original diagnosis, though it was the November 8 when I first heard the word Leukemia in relation to me and my low blood levels. And it was five years ago today that I started chemotherapy, the day before I turned 23! Here I am, five years later. Wild road to get here, as many of you know.
What do I think of the past five years? It has been the most challenging rewarding time of my life. I feel much the same way I did back then and I have some additions and subtractions as well. Not fighting with Leukemia anymore, I’ve embraced it, which I feel I did originally. Maybe I should clarify that I feel I embraced my challenge originally, but not the Leukemia. Second time out I’ve tried to embrace both. They both have been great gifts.
I’m five years into this new world, the cancer world that is, and I want to answer a question that I have been asked many times. I really want to write this message with a specific focus as I know that some people are really needing to hear the words I’m about to write.
There have been some wild, tough, and incredibly challenging times in the past five years. And that may be the biggest understatement of my life, depending on who you ask. “How did you keep from giving up?” That is the question I want to address.
It usually comes from someone who is presently facing a situation that I may have faced.
I see two parts to that answer. One is that I have given up. I have quit. I have stopped fighting Leukemia. There is no fight in me against Leukemia. Not of the kill and war variety anyway. If you want to call it fight and use my original hockey analogy, let’s bring it to the recreational level, or the very competitive level that still sees the competitors go out for a drink after the game is over. I prefer right now to leave the fight out of it, as I’m not fighting.
The other part of that answer is a little more involved. As the truth is I have definitely not lost my fighting spirit, my will to live is as strong as ever! I guess the main element why I never gave up is because I love this life. I love being here and I want to stay as long as I can. However I recognize that none of us know exactly how long we will be here so it’s really important to “make it count.”
A substantial part of my perspective on today, which is based partly on my “will to live”, is the belief that all the bad stuff in our lives actually has good stuff contained within it. I have written many times that it seems we often call life experiences that we don’t want “disaster, trauma, shit” but when things happen that we welcome we call them “opportunities.” Not I, not anymore. It’s all an opportunity for something. I believe that.
But I also know that it can be incredibly difficult to see that many times. When you are actively facing a big-time challenge it is often so hard to see past that obstacle that these words I’m writing appear to be some stupid idea I came up with in my head. In fact I have had people get mad and frustrated by these ideas. And that is understandable, because the things in life that we traditionally call “disaster, trauma, shit” can often be extremely difficult trying situations to handle. However I will suggest to you that the tougher an experience is to acknowledge, accept and address, the more significant are the opportunities and benefits contained within.
Another key part for me to communicate is that it’s ok to see things as “disaster, trauma, shit.” The reality is that many of life’s experiences can look like shit at first. Some will look like shit for a long time, and for some people those same experiences will look that way forever.
I want you to know, (and this is KEY to everything I believe) how long life looks like shit is your call. It’s everyone’s own individual choice.
If life is looking like shit right now, that’s ok, and maybe you need to sit with that for a while. That’s ok too. But my hope is that at some point in the future, when you feel ready inside, you will be able to make a transition and begin looking for the good stuff in your bad stuff.
When I really think about why I haven’t given up, a major reason why is because I have accepted and tried to embrace the challenge. All the pain and tough parts, well I had my days with those like anyone would, still do in fact. But I’m not giving up because I love being here and it is one of my goals to be here as long as I can. But when I’m ready to go, I’ll go. I prefer not to think of it as giving up, but more as moving on. There is no shame or defeat in doing that either, that’s how I feel. I don’t personally see much in living as long as possible, whether you are sick or well, if you no longer loving living. While getting to that 100-year mark would be great, I feel that in my 28 years, less a day, I have packed in as much as many of those who have already hit that 100-year point. That may be biased or judgmental, but what I simply mean is that I’ve tried to “make it count.” Whether our health fails and makes the choice for us, or perhaps due to failing health we make the choice for ourselves I don’t see defeat entering the picture.
When I really think about why I haven’t given up that is a major reason. It is because I haven’t looked at this as a fight, there’s nothing to give up on. When I die I’m not ceasing to exist, I’m moving on to another place–in my head I have it pictured as this tropical island with an unlimited supply of Bud Light (for those who have seen the commercial! Hehe)
There’s more I need to get out on this topic, not completely happy with the way it came out so you can count on hearing from me again soon.
Live life. Love life.