THE BLOG
05/12/2014 08:06 am ET | Updated Jul 12, 2014

What Cancer Taught Me About Appreciating Life

I've never worried about aging. Maybe it's because I'm used to the stiffness and aching joints, thanks to the rheumatoid arthritis I've lived with for more than 40 years. My body has always felt old.

So getting older didn't bother me a bit. Until I got cancer.

Then, I worried that it might not happen. That I might not get any older.

Nothing like a scary illness to remind us that nothing matters about getting older as long as you get to do it.

I know the body and brain change as we age. Some of that is for the better. I already feel a letting go of sorts. I no longer worry a whole lot and I appreciate people and the little things in life more.

But, I get that there is the undeniable physical decline that comes with aging that isn't all that dreamy. Incontinence, don't want to do that. Loss of independence. Memory loss. Would rather not, but mostly, today, right now, I'm just hoping for the chance to get older.

The cancer has been gone for years and I'm grateful. But, to worry now about what might happen to me when I'm in my 70s, or 80s or even 90s seems a little snarky, a little ungrateful. Not everybody gets that kind of time. To let the time I do have be filled with anything other than gratitude for the hair I still have, (hey, I even have a bonus one on my chin) or the people I am still able to love, the beauty I can still see -- just feels a little narrow.

I am not who I was when I was 20. Certainly not in body. I've gained weight. I have wrinkles and stiffer joints, glasses, and my hair is most definitely going gray now -- though it's not quite the Cruella De Vil, my daughter would have you believe.

My mental, emotional, and spiritual states have changed too. Insert gratitude for that.

No, I am not who I was in my 20s and 30s. Thank goodness.

Now, I am older and I am also more alive. I am engaged in my life. I live with a greater awareness and compassion. I don't take it all personally. I've stopped trying to impress and focused more on showing up and doing my best. I'm courageous enough now, to laugh at myself, admit my messiness and mistakes. Heck, I don't have this life thing figured out. There are days (Read: years) that I don't do it very well. I am triggered to anger and anxiety. I've gotten a little too good at nagging.

But, I'm brave enough to apologize, now. I no longer lose my identity in my mistakes nor am I defined by my achievements.

I'm willing to try and fail because I know I can handle it now. I have so many times before. I've fallen on my face literally (hello, movie theater parking lot) and figuratively, and I've learned to get back up and start again. I'm able to ask for help now, too. I don't have to do it all alone. Not always. Sometimes I'm afraid. Sometimes I'm weak. But I am more resilient and stronger than ever. Age has taught me that it's okay to be all of that.

The Biggest Gift

But here's the biggest thing, the biggest gift I've gained from getting older: I say "I love you," more often. I say it out loud. I say it by text. And I go on and on in greeting cards. I mean it. I'm no longer afraid to say it.

I used to be. To say "I love you" seemed so touchy-feely and that is so not me. I was always worried that others may be uncomfortable, or perhaps the phrase felt too intimate. Or maybe they wouldn't feel the same. I felt vulnerable and feared rejection. Now I don't care. Now, I say it when I feel it. No matter. I don't need to hear it in return.

I am all of this now, because I have lived long enough to learn how to be all of this. I've learned to be myself. To be authentic. Life has smacked me around a bit -- like it has you. But, it has also taught me to be more of myself. I'm going to use the time I have here to do that.

Sometimes who I am is intense (er, my husband describes this a bit differently, I prefer the word passionate) and messy and inconvenient and noisy and naggy. Sometimes.

Sometimes my days feel disappointing and hard and scary and sad. Sometimes.

But other times -- most times -- this life is so warm, and inspiring and awesome that I have no words (which sucks for a writer). On these days my physical body can't contain all of the good feeling so it seeps into and out of my soul and uplifts my spirit.

This is what I've gained by getting older. Aging has colored me gray. It has stiffened me up and broken me down. It's also opened me up.

There is peace in that and freedom too.

Yes, I am getting older by the day, by the minute. And, I am so hoping that trend continues.

Because if this is what aging is, I'm in. Sign me up for another day, please. Or another year. I promise I'll say I love you out loud.

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

5 Biggest Myths About Aging