How I Celebrate Life 15 Years After My First Cancer Diagnosis

October is here once again, and I'm reminded that it's Breast Cancer Awareness Month. To be aware of breast cancer means that you're mindful and conscious of the possibility of getting this disease, which affects one in eight women. While I agree that certain days of the year should be designated for various causes, I also believe it's important that we're aware and mindful of our health each and every day of the year. As a two-time cancer survivor, I practice what I preach, so I want to celebrate during the month of October by being grateful for my own good health, 15 years after my diagnosis of breast cancer.

I never want to take my health and recovery for granted. I want to honor it in the way it should be honored. My physician at the time uttered words I frequently repeat to myself: "If this experience doesn't rivet you, nothing will. You'll never look at life in the same way." He was so right. These past 15 years have led to an enormous transformation from a physical, spiritual, and emotional perspective, and this is natural when you're forced to come face-to-face with your own mortality.

Honestly, I cannot believe that so much time has elapsed since that phone call in March of 2001 informing me of my mammogram showing DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ), cancer in the mammary ducts. It's also hard to believe that I lay in my bed recovering from a mastectomy and reconstruction on 9/11. Over and over, I watched the Twin Towers fall to the ground. I felt as if I were being traumatized again and again.

It's easy to get wrapped up in the traumas of everyday life. Watching the news can make us feel as if the world is coming to an end. I was reminded of this last week when attending a concert by Wynton Marsalis, who played a wonderful song called "Armageddon." He dedicated it to the political climate of the times and the possibility of an end-of-the-world scenario. The concert was held on the night of the vice presidential debates, and he thought the song's title was appropriate. Just before starting to play, he said half-jokingly, "Please save us." The audience laughed.

But if the world came to an end tomorrow, I can truly say that I celebrated and loved life in the way it was presented to me -- with the challenges and triumphs that have painted the landscape of my world. There's no such thing as a bad experience -- there are just events that create the container for who we are and who we will become.

Writing about the experiences that made us who we are today is very important. Last week I taught a workshop called "Writing for Transformation." Everyone's favorite writing prompt was noting when in their lives they felt the most joy, and what they could do to bring happiness into their lives at this moment. I suggested that they do this prompt a few times each year as a reminder of all they have to be grateful for.

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