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What My Daughter's Cancer Diagnosis Taught Me About Life

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When my daughter was diagnosed with Leukemia at the age of 4 on December 7, 2011, my world and view of life drastically changed. As you would expect, such an event causes one to reevaluate many things and my outlook on life has been forever altered. Sure, I have endured a tremendous amount of stress from an unthinkable situation that no one should have to endure. However, I think a lot of what I have learned could benefit anyone. Below, I list a few of the lessons I wish I had learned earlier. It shouldn't take a traumatic event to do so.

1. Don't sweat the "small stuff." This is definitely much easier said than done. As I have watched my daughter literally fighting for her life over the past six and a half months, it has allowed me to reevaluate and put my own life into perspective. Things that would have put me into a full speed panic less than a year ago aren't such a big deal anymore. I have learned to save my emotional energy for the really big things, like worrying if my daughter's counts are high enough on a weekly basis so she can continue chemotherapy. Or preparing her for going to kindergarten next year and dealing with other kids commenting on the fact that she has no hair (even though she used to have golden locks of perfect ringlets cascading down to her waist). These are the issues I will allow myself to sweat about, not over whether so and so gave me a dirty look at the pool, or that I can't get my kids to eat any other vegetables aside from baby carrots.

2. Don't care so much about what other's think. I've become better at this the older I get, but I've witnessed people who can't get get away from this phenomenon and I now have a heightened awareness for what a ridiculous time suck it is. As long as we are in the confines of being socially acceptable, even if marginally so, why would anyone waste the precious moments of their life worrying excessively about what to wear or what others think of them? Yes, everyone likes to be accepted, but if someone doesn't "like" you because you are not wearing the right thing (in their book) or acting precisely as someone else would, to hell with them. Life is too short to feel any other way.

3. Don't get overly bogged down with every minute detail. You'll miss the big picture. As a mother, I feel an immense responsibility to document my childrens' lives. I save almost every art project they do, even down to the messages they leave for me on post-it notes. For the first seven years after having kids, I documented literally everything they did. I steadfastly kept up with the photo books and there literally wasn't anything they did that we can't remember by going back through the numerous books I've made. I've endured many comments from my husband about how I take too many pictures and I need to put the camera down. But I was scared to death to miss anything. But you know what? I was missing a lot because instead of living in the moment, I was watching behind my lens and missing so much of what was going on outside its bird's eye view. Don't get me wrong, I still take pictures all the time. Looking through those books is one of my kids' favorite things to do. But now I spend more time being in the moment with them, instead of just what amounts to hiding behind the camera.

4. Sometimes it's necessary to eliminate negativity from your life. Negativity can come from many different sources; people and their toxic personalities, being involved in unnecessary situations, the stress of having excess things, the list goes on. To be truly happy, I have found it helpful to examine where stressors come from and eliminate them to the best of my ability. We often have the power to do so and life is too short to endure "crap" that we don't need in order to lead a fulfilling life. Concentrate on positivity in the here and now. Not on the excess baggage that only pulls you and your family down, be it literally or figuratively.

5. Attempt to utilize moderation when necessary, but do live life. I'll admit I like to experience life and often engage in extreme tactics. For example, I enjoy being in top physical shape and often have resorted to extreme eating measures (eliminating entire food groups) or exercising excessively. While it's great to feel at the top of your game physically, you give up a lot of the small pleasures in life to do so. Since my daughter's diagnosis, I have come to realize it is much more important to eat ice cream with my kids than do 20 more minutes on the treadmill. While i still definitely believe in taking care of myself and realize that is part of what keeps me happy as an individual, I now understand that eating ice cream and laughing with my children will be a much more cherished memory than being bored to tears with extra cardio. Moderation and balance is key.

6. Children are warriors; don't underestimate them. When we first got the treatment plan to conquer my daughter's Leukemia and I saw how many invasive tests, massive amounts of medication and future weeks to months in the hospital she was in store for, I thought, "how is she ever going to get through this? How does anyone get through this?" Well, we are currently one quarter of the way through her 25-month treatment and it's definitely been excruciating, but her strength and tenacity is getting the entire family through. I never would have fathomed a child at 4 and 5 could exhibit such bravery. I am in awe of her every single day and I never will underestimate a child again.

7. Spend less time engaged in social media. I recently read an article that scared me to death. It was about this mother who realized that her child's childhood was over and she had missed most of it. Between Facebook, Twitter, e-mail and a plethora of other avenues to "connect" with others in the virtual world, many of us are glued to our phones and computers while our children are desperately trying to get our attention. I am definitely guilty of checking my phone far too often. We took the girls to Hershey Park last weekend and I told myself I would not look at my phone while we were in the park and it was actually liberating. I didn't feel tied to my phone and I could fully pay attention to what was going on and answer my girls' questions the first time they asked. I'm making a point of doing this more often. As I've unfortunately learned, who knows what the future holds and I don't want to miss one more unnecessary moment of either of my children's lives. Undoubtedly, I won't be perfect in this area, but I am making the decision to make a vast improvement.

Even though some days may feel like an eternity, life really is very fleeting. Most of us are so busy and wrapped up in the day-to-day craziness of life that we don't take the time to appreicate the fact that it is whizzing right by us. I know it took a terrible life event to make me slow down and gain some perspective. Make the time to take stock and notice of what's going on in your own life. Don't require a monumental event to make you realize what's truly important.