These past few weeks have brought home once again the reality that life can change in a moment. For those of us who have been diagnosed with cancer – that was the moment. Hearing the word ‘CANCER’ stops our thought process and puts us into shock. However, there are many moments in life that hit us with equal gravity when least expected.
Not all are life-threatening, but they are definitely life altering. Whatever was before this moment is no longer valid. All has irrevocably shifted – beliefs, trust, innocence, safety, immortality.
I still recall some major shifts in my life before cancer; times when I could have died; times and events that happened in a split second. One moment, life was ‘normal’, the next moment – a total mess – shock and disbelief.
The first time this happened I was on my way home after the evening performance at the theatre. I was working in London, England as a principle dancer in a West End musical. As I came out of the Marylebone Station and began to cross the street to my apartment, I was hit by a car running a red light, tossed in the air, and knocked unconscious.
There went my work and livelihood – and almost my life. Fortunately I survived but I had a concussion, many bruises and cuts, plus a broken arm. I was vulnerable – living away from home and family in Canada. My roommate was also away on vacation. And I now had no work, no income. Life was tenuous – and precious. It was six months before I would work again. I was fortunate. Life provided for me.
The second time was many years later. I was six months pregnant. My husband, son and I were cycling from our old home to our new home that we had just moved into when turning a corner, a sudden movement caused me to brake suddenly. I was riding a new 5-speed bike, not accustomed to the braking system. I went headlong over the handlebars and skidded face first into a construction culvert. Again, unconscious, much damage, but my baby was safe. We both survived. Again, this was a moment that shifted my life and could have been much worse.
So when cancer arrived, I guess I’d had practise in surviving life defying moments, knowing that I could have died before but must still be here for a reason. My survival skills kicked in.
As first mentioned, I’ve had reason lately to re-examine the shift life can take in the breadth of a moment. It has struck close to home. It – the situations – have made me realize again that life may not be perfect but it can be good. It’s how we react to life that makes the difference.
I recall reading ‘The Road Less Traveled’ by M. Scott Peck, M.D. a couple of years after my cancer diagnosis. The very first line states “Life is difficult.” Going forward into the book, one realizes that in acknowledging this fact, the rest is easy. Its thinking life should be perfect – our version of perfect -that is the fallacy; whereas recognizing that difficulties will come to us as lessons to be learned is the reality.
How can one deal with these life-altering moments? Here are some of my learning’s over the years.
1. The event or crisis is an opportunity to grow, learn and experience.
Some say this builds character and they have enough character, thank you very much! I’ve felt this way at times, especially in the moment. On reflection, when I’ve absorbed the shock, I can look past this kneejerk reaction to start assessing the situation. There are always options and choices – maybe not ones we really like, but they are there nevertheless.
2. Realization that life happens to everyone.
We are not singled out. We are not alone. As you reach out for help and/or support, you will hear many stories of people who have had life-altering experiences, learned from them, survived and moved forward to create meaningful lives.
3. Be grateful you are still alive.
You may not feel that way initially depending on the situation, but it certainly is better than the alternative. You most likely have obstacles to overcome, new challenges, new friends, new work – many avenues open up. If you’re open to change, can be flexible, there may be a whole new world open to you. There is a saying that ‘when one door closes, another one opens.’ It takes courage, trust, and faith to take that step. It’s worth it to step into the experience and see what lies beyond.
In moving forward, there were some major shifts in thinking that required me to re-evaluate my life:
|1.||I realized that a career based on the physical was precarious. It behooved me to consider some back up plans. Yes, I healed and was able to work as a dancer again. Others have not been so fortunate. This is common in sports where professional athletes sustain injuries that end their careers. Also the body ages and cannot always sustain a physical way of making a living. So, this was an early warning sign to make some plans.|
|2.||In the moment of impact for each accident, there was no pain, no anxiety. If I had died in either of these moments, it would have been painless and instant. The fear of dying rather lost its hold on me. I know one day, it will be my turn, but I now believe that the journey will be a return to home. Will I be ready? Maybe? Knowing me, I’ll still have more I want to do, but at least I’ve moved forward and made good use of the time I currently have.|
|3.||Be mindful of each moment and day. It could be your last. Make the best of it. In business, there has always been a focus on forward planning. I’m struggling with that right now. I see the need to plan projects and work flow, but the sense of future eludes me as I enjoy the now. It’s a fine balance. Another learning curve to stay present but work efficiently with purpose.|
As you move into and through your cancer journey, I hope you understand and can accept that this is a life journey. Many of the issues that create an environment for cancer to manifest are life lessons that are presented for learning. This certainly has been true for me – and still is. I will always be learning as each situation shows up and asks me to deal with it. Uncertainty and change are the rule, not the exception.
To learning life lessons,