For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been go-go-go – obsessed with keeping a planner and making to do lists/goals. The more goals, experiences, and tasks I crammed into my days, the better. I’m such a trendsetter (not) that I had FOMO before it was even a thing. I became most focused on the concept of crossing something off as finished rather than enjoying the moment. I certainly lived a full life quantitatively speaking, but now I know it was not a purposeful one. When I got cancer, everything came to a screeching halt.
You never quite think about the little miracles your body creates for you every single day until that’s taken away from you. The hardest thing for me to adjust to during this cancer battle is the abrupt stop to my fast-paced lifestyle. After the first couple chemo rounds, I would still try and keep up to the previous me. I checked work emails (even though I took off time), I tried to do all the things I’ve been meaning to get to and literally made a list titled “Things to Accomplish During Chemo” (haha, I’m not intense, AT ALL). However, it quickly became apparent, my goal lists were going to need a drastic makeover. It became very frustrating when I would go from 90 to 0 in minutes, sometimes winded from literally standing up. My body was telling me to stand still, it couldn’t keep up. At first, I was upset by that but as you go through chemo, the culmination of all of the rounds start to take its toll. Everything aches and hurts and your life is just made up of days when you feel horrible or slightly less horrible. When that becomes the case you learn that the days you are forced to stand still become some of your most worthwhile. For when you are fighting cancer, what could be more important than resting and healing? Nothing. I no longer felt guilty about slowing down- turning off my phone completely for a couple days, Netflix binging or cocooning myself in bed. Through this, I’ve learned the joy of standing still.
Another example: I’ve been trying to see the Yayoi Kusama exhibit at the Hirshhorn in Washington, DC. I saw a journalist friend’s sneak peek viewing and was enamored with the whimsical and dreamy images she posted. Between my very limited moments of feeling ok and the fact that the 8,000 tickets they release every Monday disappear in mere seconds, it was a long shot. But as luck would have it, my journalist friend had a friend that happened to have two tickets this past Tuesday and I was actually having a “feeling less horrible” kind of day. It was the first showing so no one was in the exhibit yet and we didn’t have to deal with any extra waiting or too many people milling about. It was a glorious morning and by far the best art exhibit I’ve seen yet.Even though most of the exhibits were timed (between 20-40 seconds) I was able to focus fully on every second I was in each room. I noticed I’ve somehow learned to capture moments and soak them in in a way I’ve never been able to do before.
The thing about having cancer is it makes you so appreciative for the little things. You gain a sense and acceptance of your mortality like you’ve never had before, and I don’t mean it in a morbid way. You’re aware that you don’t know what tomorrow will bring, so you learn to really enjoy the moment. No one battles something like cancer and comes out unchanged. Your priorities are straight, colors are brighter, you love a lot harder, you care way less about what others think, you feel more purposeful and you get up every single day thankful for the breath you’ve just taken. You learn the real meaning of living in the moment, the joy of standing still. And if that stillness is 20 seconds of peace inside a Yayoi Kusama masterpiece, you learn to make the most of those seconds and not be annoyed by the overall shortage of time. That lesson applies to a multitude of scenarios.
Cancer has taught me the most purposeful lessons. Life is messy, wonderful, fragile, but most of all, it flies by if you don’t make an active effort to stand still. I’ve learned to put down the intense goal lists and full calendars and truly embrace each moment I’m given. There’s something really beautiful about crossing off basic goals like surviving through the day, eating solid food without having issues, putting on real pants, pushing through the aches and pain to see a beautiful exhibit or getting to lay around doing nothing with loved ones. Life isn’t a race to see who can accomplish more in the time we’re given. It’s about taking care of yourself, your people and the memories you make together. Everything else, is just icing. These are very different goals than I’ve known all my life, but accomplishing them makes me feel great all the same.
My 2017 Goal List:
When all’s said and done, I only have one goal this year. The least amount I have ever had at any time in my life. But if I can cross this off, that will be the proudest thing I have ever done in my life. Until then, I will stand still in each moment I’m given and embrace the lessons and joy entwined within.