There is little that is good about having cancer. Knowing you have a disease that could be fatal, or certainly shorten your life, is no fun. Going through chemo hell is certainly no fun. Having to always be aware of what you eat, take constant measure of your bodily functions, and having to assess how you feel every day, is no fun, and can sometimes make you crazy. But there is a silver lining. I have thought and thought about the silver lining over these months because it is real and is the upside, if you can say there is an upside, of having cancer.
When you have cancer you truly learn to live in the moment, to savor every minute of every day. In yoga, I have heard my teachers repeatedly talk about living in the moment. I have heard over and over that while we should learn from the past we should not dwell on it, and that we should not obsess or worry about the future, so that we miss living and appreciating the present. I heard the words. I thought I was pretty good at living them, but I did not really live this way fully and truly until I learned I had cancer. While the first week after my diagnosis was all about fearing and dreading the future and what it may bring, which meant I was not really living, since then I have mostly lived in the moment. I savor every minute. I enjoy the present as it is happening. I wake up and think today is a day I am alive, feeling good, surrounded by my family and friends and I am lucky. I enjoy the time. While I occasionally allow myself to feel sad or nostalgic that maybe this sweet life will end too soon and I do not want it to end, once I talk about it with my husband or my friends, I put myself back into appreciating, fully, the present. It truly is a blessing to appreciate where you are and who you are with and what you are doing day by day, minute by minute, to appreciate the loveliness surrounding me and not taking it for granted. Cancer almost puts me back to the days of childhood where everything is a wonder. As a child, you become excited by just the beauty and uniqueness around you. That is how I feel about every minute in my present. This is one silver lining of having cancer. I tell everyone I can, try hard to really live this way. It is an amazing way to appreciate what you have in life, to take nothing for granted and to savor its sweetness.
Another silver lining, which is so, so sweet to me, is the amazing amount of love and support I have received from my friends and family and even from people I barely know whose lives I did not even know I had touched. Alan mentioned to me that most people die and never hear the wonderful words and feelings that many people express about them at their funeral. That is certainly not true for me. The flood of love I have received is so moving to me. Of course, I knew my family would be there, at my back, and by my side. With this diagnosis, it has been more so. My kids check on me regularly every few days, come by just to talk and see and me, and, like me, they appreciate every moment. We do not waste time bickering. We have more meaningful discussions more regularly. I see and am told how much they appreciate me and want me around. My husband has always been by my side, and I will be posting about him soon, but he is my rock, my wall. My friends never stop wanting to be with me, to support me, reach out to check on me. Judy, Deb, Jackie I hear from every day. They are a constant presence and seem to know when I need to hear that they are thinking of me. I cannot even recount how much Deb has been by my side, how much Judy has too and has reached out- they are amazing, wonderful friends since law school. Jackie is as well (and my favorite travel companion and foodie), and she is there whenever I need her, plus how lucky I am that she knows what foods work with nausea because she has long had stomach issues. For more than 30 years they have been there and now more than ever. They are not the only ones – so many to discuss – many of whom I already talked about in an earlier post. They know who they are and every one of them must know their words, the comics they sent, the words that tell me how much they care about me, mean the world. This does not count all of my friends who offer, and mean it, time and again, to help. Today I talked to Lorraine (in California) and received a text from Kate and one from Kelly, telling me they are thinking of me, good luck on my chemo, and want to know what they can do. Therese is the reason I am now addicted to Jenis frozen yogurt (at least I need the calories). This is the tip of the iceberg.
A bit more surprising to me is that many people I do not regularly see reach out and write me wonderful words of encouragement. I have heard from so many people, some I know well and some I do not, telling me how I touched their lives, that they admire me, that they feel inspired by my attitude, that they remember me from years ago and then they tell me why and I cry reading their words. Out of the blue, I received the most lovely note with fingerless gloves and Eiffel Tower cards from someone whom I have not seen in some time, who told me she read this blog, talked about receiving a coloring from my daughter when she was young, and how much she enjoyed knowing me when I worked in our Detroit office. She read on this blog that I get cold sensitivity from one of my chemo drugs and that I missed my trip to Paris and so she sent me the gloves for the cold and the cards to remind me of Paris. I cried. Another note came with a Lakota made Dream catcher, so beautiful. The person who sent it told me that while on vacation with her family she thought of me and bought this for me. She hoped its healing powers would help. From Alaska a friend on a trip with his friend posted a Facebook photo of the two of them, their arms side by side, wearing the “We are Marilyn strong” bracelets that another friend had made and dropped off to my office. Today I received a book of Daily Meditations with a card from one of my partners who just left our Chicago office. I mentored him as an associate and took him to a Hilary Clinton fundraiser when he was an associate because we both loved to talk politics and shared political views. There is a picture in my office of us, with Clinton and other women Democratic senators. He wrote of that, and how much my mentoring and friendship meant to him and that even though he was in Chicago, ANYTHING I needed he would do, sending me all of his contact information. Again, I cried. I say to myself regularly how many people are lucky enough to know and hear what people think of them, to receive this sort of love and be told in words and actions that they are dear. This is the real silver lining of having cancer.
I do not want to have cancer. I wish I would wake up tomorrow and find it was all a bad dream. I wish I could have surgery and be done with it. That is not my path. But, I count myself lucky to know that there are so many people who are there for me, who feel moved enough to write me words that inspire me, move me to tears, and make me appreciate even more the sweetness of life. It is that very sweetness that sometimes brings on my sadness about maybe losing it too early. That is inevitable. It is also that very sweetness that makes me determined I will be around for a long time. I will continue to enjoy this life, every moment of it. Your light has touched my soul.