Are any of you out there superstitious and think the number 13 is synonymous with bad luck? Well, I'm currently loving the number "13" and am feeling very lucky. Because, this month, I'm celebrating 13 years since I was diagnosed with cervical cancer. That's right -- it's my cancerversary!
Although I didn't always feel empowered or plan on becoming a cancer advocate, I found strength in following a few simple life rules I learned along the way. In honor of my cancerversary, I want to share with you 13 ways I now live my life with purpose after cancer:
1. No longer sweat the small stuff. I know just how short life can be. Therefore, I don't want to waste time on things (or people!) that really don't matter.
2. Cherish the people who really matter to you. Cancer taught me who my true friends were and my circle became much smaller. That annoying friend that you're always ducking... just cut them loose. That family member that makes you so uncomfortable...you may not be able to cut them loose, but you can cut them back... seriously, way back. Your time is precious. Choose to spend it with people who matter.
3. Love the skin you're in. For the longest time, I yearned for my life before cancer. The truth is that you are no longer that person. Embrace the new you. It just might surprise you!
4. Stop living in the past. Don't let your experience keep you from living. I have an acquaintance in the cancer community that I see on a regular basis and she is so afraid to live. She lives in fear, constantly, always waiting for cancer to reemerge. I get it. I really do. But those of us who are still here are blessed to be alive, no matter the physical or emotional limitations. So live... like never before.
5. Enjoy life. Prior to cancer, I hardly ever took vacations. Typically, I would take one in the summer and another at Christmas. I never thought I had enough time, money or a break in the workload. You have to rest and reset. All work and no play... you know the rest!
6. Dance (and sing!) like no one is watching. It's okay to be silly and happy. So just go ahead and do it. It's good for your soul.
7. Let go of what's holding you back. When you are faced with mortality, you start thinking of all the things that are left unaccomplished or need a do-over. You have to learn to let those things go. For me, it was finally realizing that a certain level of my career would never be obtained. I fought it for years, but the truth is that I'm so much more passionate about different things now. My priorities have completely changed. So, I let it go. I made a new, more up-to-date list of goals and I am going for it.
8. Enjoy every little morsel. I enjoy everything. Seriously. Every bite of food, drink, kiss from my hubby...everything! You don't know when it's going to be your last. So savor it.
9. Be adventurous. Do things that scare the crap out of you. Why? Because they remind you that you're still here. Since surviving cervical cancer, I've traveled around the world alone (I have a slight fear of long plane rides); I've take a toboggan down the Great Wall of China (I had to climb it first); I've learned how to swim (something that's very hard to do as an adult); I rode an African Elephant (it's very scary and unsteady up there); and I took a chance on love and all of its endless possibilities (yay, for love!)
10. It's OK to reflect. You can't truly appreciate how far you've come unless you look back on where you've been. But, remember it's just a reflection. Don't let it consume you.
11. Have a pity party. What happened to you was messed up. Doesn't matter whether it's Stage 0 or Stage 4 -- cancer is not fun. So, take time to be sad, to accept the blow you've been dealt. But remember - you have to move on and fight for your life, because it's going to take everything you've got -- mentally and physically.
12. Give back. Volunteer, give financially, get involved. There are so many amazing cancer organizations out there -- especially the smaller grassroots movements. Cancer centers are always looking for people. Think about what you needed while you were going through treatment. What would have made a difference to you? Go back to your cancer center and make it happen. Recruit friends and family.
13. Be happy. You are ALIVE! So go and be happy. When my mother was alive, she would often say to me, "You are always so happy. I hope you are always happy." So, I make it a point to be just that - happy! Don't get me wrong - I still am human. So, there are times when I find myself sad, angry or just plain unhappy. It is in those moments that I remember that I am still here and I don't want to waste a moment being unhappy.