This past summer, we hosted an essay contest for our Club Amoena members – style-savvy women who are fans of Amoena products. We chose 2 winners — this is the submission from our 1st place winner, Terry Werth,, of New York. Look for her essay in your Spring 2013 issue of Amoena Life magazine, which mails out to subscribers next week!
Someone once suggested to me that one way to make use of life experiences – good or bad- is to ask yourself: What have I learned from this? With no suggestion of guilt or judgment, it is just a call for honest reflection that could make a difference down the road.
If you are a person who searches for “the meaning” of things, this is the question that can give meaning to the struggle or the miracle.
This is probably a good question for cancer survivors to ask themselves: What have I learned from this? I have read many articles that tip toe around this issue, perhaps because many cancer survivors feel like “victims.” They didn’t knowingly do anything to bring on cancer. It has negatively altered their health, their body and their spirit and so drawing lessons from it seems like too much to ask, if not just plain wrong!
But one answer I have often seen goes something like, “In some ways, cancer has been a gift.” I think I have said it myself. But upon closer examination, I have to say, REALLY? A gift? Come on!
What I meant, and what I think survivors mean when they say this, is that this experience of having cancer has presented unexpected opportunities to receive kindness, compassion, generosity and to reflect on one’s life from a new perspective. It invites me to take a hard look at reality and to become definite about what matters most and not at all. The lesson is that even something bad can produce something good.
So I asked myself the question and came up with five lessons that now define “the new me” and how I am living my life.
1. I use all of my senses. The cliché would be, “stop and smell the roses.” But I don’t want to just smell the roses. I want to see the roses, touch the roses, plant the roses, pick the roses. I want to hear the birds and the traffic sounds, hear and smell the crashing waves, feel the silky sand between my toes, notice the sound of children laughing, remember the strong hug you gave me and the way my favorite wine tastes. I don’t want to miss any of it but I can only take it in if I live intentionally.
2. I practice gratitude. My mother was a tyrant when it came to teaching her children to express gratitude for gifts. Writing thank you notes was never optional. They would be done well and in a timely manner. As odd as it seems, I do believe that is where I learned to practice gratitude for the big presents and the little niceties of life. Whether you thank a Higher Power, a stranger, a family member or service provider, you contribute to the kindness of our species and become more fully human in doing so,
3. I recognize what gives me joy. Since my cancer diagnosis, I have cultivated a new habit. Every night the last thought I have before I close my eyes is, “What brought me joy today?” I always have an answer because all day long I am looking for it. Most days there are so many examples I can’t remember them all. Some days I struggle but I find one. I have learned that not a day of my life is lacking joy if I will only take the time to recognize it.
4. I invest myself in making memories. Living intentionally requires living in the present tense when it may seem easier, more comfortable, to dwell on the past. That is as unproductive as worrying about the future over which I have little control. The logical, and sometimes more challenging choice, is to enjoy each day. Making memories with family and friends is a gift we give each other by sharing time and experiences. Lacking any guarantee about the number of days, months or years anyone has to make those precious memories, I am committed to investing my whole heart in making them every day.
5. I allow myself to grieve…briefly. Any serious illness translates into a sense of loss: loss of health, energy, peace of mind, loss of sound sleep, appetite, sex drive, loss of hair, breasts, dreams, loss of financial resources, strength, and innocence. To mourn these losses is appropriate and necessary. A stiff upper lip will not take away the very real pain I experience confronting the reality of these losses, and so I will allow myself a moment, here and there, to feel the loss, but even the pain lets me know that I am alive! “So much has been given to me,” said Helen Keller, “I have no time to ponder over that which has been denied.” And so I live. Refer to lesson number 1.