Years ago, my husband Jim was diagnosed with stage IV non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. If you've never personally known a cancer diagnosis, whether for yourself or a loved one, imagine the worst news you've ever received, multiply it by a thousand, and then add in the greatest heartache you've ever experienced. That somewhat defines a flame in the all-consuming fire that cancer often becomes to patients and their families, destroying 'life as planned' and replacing it with something unfamiliar and strange.
It didn't help when the doctors told us that remission was not possible. There was nothing we could do to help fight the cancer either, they told us, and the oncology team could only make Jim comfortable while we waited with bated breath for the treatments to show signs of having an effect on Jim's cancer.
Perhaps one of the hardest realizations to swallow throughout the journey, however, revolved entirely around someone who didn't even exist: our future child. As we were leaving the hospital following the gut-wrenching diagnosis, the oncologist and his nurse approached us, inquiring as to whether we had any children. When we replied no, they suggested that we bank Jim's sperm, as his treatment would end any opportunity for us to conceive.
With how sick Jim was at the time and with the beginning of his treatment growing closer, family planning was something we couldn't wrap our heads around. With broken hearts and fallen spirits, we had to accept the painful truth that we would never have children.
Despite the doctor's insistence that there was nothing we could do if we got in the rink opposite cancer, Jim and I purposed to win this war, one battle at a time. With faith, food, and fitness as our allies, we committed ourselves to beating cancer. Our perseverance paid off. A year later, Jim was in remission. It has now been over 14 years, and he has remained cancer-free.
The story doesn't end there, though, because it seemed that one more miracle was in store for us, something neither of us could've ever anticipated: in May 2006, we discovered that we were expecting. Despite what we'd been told, we would have a family after all.
It has now been eight years and our son Matthew is thriving. I can't help but think about miracles every time I look at him, because he himself is a miracle -- like a kiss from God. So in celebration of Matthew's eighth birthday, which recently passed, I thought it only fitting to reflect on the eight lessons I've learned about miracles, how to welcome them into your life in abundance, and how to live a vibrant life full of peace, ease, and happiness.
After Jim went into remission, we were both still walking on eggshells where it concerned the cancer. This was largely in part due to the doctor's insistence that the cancer would inevitably return and that we weren't in the clear. As such, we lived in a state of paralysis, afraid to celebrate life post-cancer and afraid to move forward with our lives. A therapist helped us to see how fear was crippling us and the next morning while showering, the entire cancer journey fell on top of me like an avalanche. I fell to pieces. It felt like the first time I'd exhaled in a year and a half. Isn't it strange how we forget to breathe when we're stressed? But even just a few deep inhalations and exhalations can leave you feeling grounded, centered, and ready to face your day. And a good cleansing cry doesn't hurt either.
2. Cherish everything.
Anyone who's seen the face of death and then lives to tell the tale knows what it means to truly appreciate something. Jim and I no longer take anything for granted. We cherish each other, we cherish our son, and we cherish our loved ones and friends. We cherish our beautiful home, the memories that we make here, and even the small moments: the smell of a flower, the glow of a candle on a birthday cake, the laughter of a child. So often, we're in a rush. We've become such a busy society, moving at the speed of light and doing things as if we're checking off a checklist. Having our beautiful son has allowed us to see the importance of slowing down and savoring every moment of this precious life.
3. Focus on what you want.
During Jim's treatment, we initially put so much faith in the doctor's prognosis, as if it was Gospel. But we soon realized how faulty this was. Our thoughts become things, and so as long as we were focusing on the cancer, we were letting it rule our lives. So instead we started to focus on what we did want (health). We talked about it, read about it, envisioned it; it became so real in our minds. We also coupled our thoughts with actions, though, doing our part to bring what we wanted into reality.
4. Be grateful.
Words can never adequately express how grateful to God I am that Jim is free from cancer's clutches and that he and I were blessed to become parents in spite of the doomsday prognosis. My son is like a 'call to prayer.' In the same way that pilgrims visit holy sites and are called to light candles or take a knee in reverence, Matthew reminds me to be grateful and my heart whispers a love-filled 'thank you' in response.
5. Rely on each other.
Humans are social creatures. We're not meant to be alone. In the quiet moments, when my husband, my son, and I are enjoying each other's company, I think about the beauty of relationships. I take the time out now to meet up with someone I haven't seen in a long time, to place a quick call to let someone know I'm thinking about them, to send a greeting card in the mail just to bring some happiness into someone's day. We are vessels brimming with miracles, and every day, we can share some type of miracle with another human being, whether in the form of a smile, laugh, hug, or kind word.
6. Take care of yourself.
Health. Fortunately, it's something that's becoming increasingly popular with talk of organic foods, farmer's markets, going green, and diets centered around whole foods. Our bodies are such complex vehicles and what's surprising is that we don't take nearly as good care of them as we might our cars or electronics or other prized possessions. Yet your body is the only thing that you will have with you every single day of your life here on earth. With cancer behind us and with our son Matthew now a part of our lives, I'm dedicated and committed more than ever to making healthy decisions that will strengthen my body and fill me with the energy I need to enjoy life.
7. Pay it forward.
You've probably heard the saying that everything happens for a reason. I like to believe that it's incredibly true. Whatever we've been through, I think it's a part of the human experience that we share the lessons that we've learned with others. It adds to humanity's dialogue, but it also does something else. It encourages people; inspires them, uplifts them, and fills them with hope. It's a miracle to be able to touch someone's life in so beautiful a way. Doing so also allows us to feel purposeful, and when we feel purposeful, we feel happier. To honor this, I've gone on to speak and write and coach people about building healthier and happier lives post-cancer, and it's the most rewarding thing to pay it forward in this manner.
8. Remember how strong you are.
There are times I think about now, back during those oppressive cancer days, when I don't know how I rose to my feet in the morning or held back the tears. I know that what Jim went through was profoundly more challenging, but there's a unique kind of pain that comes from watching your soulmate and partner go through such suffering and knowing there's nothing you can do about it. Even so, day after day, as long as there was air in my lungs, I knew that I had the strength to make it another 24 hours.
Sometimes, all you can do is take your current battle one day at a time. Fortunately, strength isn't only measured by how strong you are until you break, but how strong you remain even after you've broken. Even more comforting is the fact that strength doesn't have to come from inside of you alone, but can come from those who love you most. With my husband and my son at my side, I know there may be challenges that arise on the path before us, but our combined strength will see us overcome each other, and be better for it.
Suzanne loves to interact with her readers and writes more about healthy living, life after cancer, and cancer prevention through food and fitness at her website.