I wasn't a person who worried much about cancer. A plane crash, a freak accident or grisly crime, maybe, but cancer? It wasn't on my fear radar -- until I got it. Last spring, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and I'm currently completing several months of treatment. Cancer isn't the life adventure I would have chosen from a list of possibilities -- who would? -- but it is the one I got this time. And as it turns out, cancer had a lot to teach me.
1. This was the first thing I realized, and I hope to remember it: The list of things that seem vital but really aren't is so much longer than we think. In fact, most of the things that tend to bug me, and I'm guessing you too, really don't matter very much in the scheme of things.
2. Nothing is as vital as connections with others, friends and family, for sure, but really anyone we come into contact with. Love and kindness -- give and receive them. (I know, it sounds obvious, so let's make it a daily mantra!)
3. People are generally compassionate, vulnerable, complicated and, most of the time, trying to do the right thing. Give people (and yourself) a break.
4. One thing I have found over and over during the challenging time is that I am incredibly grateful for so many things! And gratitude is so powerful! Find and recognize something or someone you are grateful for each and every day.
5. With that, why wait until something difficult happens? Take time now to do something meaningful for someone, to say thanks for what you are grateful for, and to tell your friends and family what makes each of them special.
6. This might sound obvious, but it surprised me how true it is that every body is different and every illness has its own path. We can learn from statistics and data, but we can never know exactly what someone else is experiencing. When someone you know is sick, try not to assume but rather listen.
7. In the face of tragedy, no one thinks they know the right thing to say. And maybe we don't, but when it comes from the heart, pretty much everyone says something special and unique that can bring meaning. If you're the recipient, listen for what's helpful and let the rest go. (Remember #3?)
8. Yoga and meditation teach us to be present and to value the moment. I know this from more than 15 years of practice and yet never before have I seen with such clarity that each moment is new and precious. Relish now.
9. On that topic, staying present reveals "now" to be more fluid and changeable than I used to imagine -- presence doesn't stand still, it flows like a river and swirls like a breeze. Stick with it, and you will amazed and what may unfold.
10. In the beginning, when I wondered if the end was near (gratefully, that wasn't the case for me, not from this cancer) and my many, many projects and to-do lists remained incomplete, it made me really happy to know that I do what I love. Find a way to do what makes you happy, even if only for a little bit each day.
11. I don't think I really knew what rest was, or how great it felt, until I was in the midst of recuperating from various cancer treatments. Whether you take naps, hang out with friends, watch silly TV, or whatever it is that lets you turn things off and chill out, rest is, big surprise, rejuvenating! Rest rocks. Try it!
12. It's possible, but not necessary, to cram a whole lot of things into one day. (I know from experience, and likely you do too.) But what if we all did a little bit less, a little bit better, and enjoyed it all a whole lot more? I hope, for me, that this one will create space to remember and practice everything else on the list.