02/01/2013 03:38 pm ET Updated Apr 03, 2013

Don't Bother Me If You Stub Your Toe

This body of mine had to put up with quite a lot this past year. I thought having two C-sections (14 and 17 years ago) were good enough. Thankfully, I've never broken any bones. Had the flu maybe twice. But after chemotherapy, a lumpectomy, a mastectomy and reconstruction, I (like many other fighting "sisters") have earned some bonus points in the "wait 'til you hear my story" department.

I would much rather have gone to Italy.

As I went through the various steps, the obstacle course, the maze, the twists and turns, the complicated road that saved my life, I learned something new. I was in the cancer bubble, in a land of uncertainty and unknowns.

When the word "cancer" hovers over a conversation in the real world, I believe it is out of kindness that most people are reluctant to divulge a problem in their life, thinking it may somehow seem irrelevant.

But we all face varying degrees of tough times that help us learn to adapt to the next challenge. I remember losing a $5 bill in the snow when I was a young child. I was so upset. I searched and searched. It was gone. To this day, I still picture the snow and my search for that $5 bill. It was probably the first time I had lost money -- a learning moment.

Little hardships and the lessons that follow (snow swallows money?), or the big lessons (I'm actually human), all count toward our own personal learning curve (and the pain-in-the-ass things that happen along the way). In conversation, we can take turns. I'll tell you how I'm doing with this cancer thing, and you can share with me that your washing machine is broken. It's really okay. (I'd be annoyed if my washing machine was broken, too.)

Just because I had to suffer a little more (okay, a lot more) than some people does not mean the stuff of life is diminished in importance. Yes, my perspective has changed after my recent adventure. But I would still have compassion for someone upset about something, or evaluating a career move, or concerned that their child has a cold, even while I was being treated for cancer. You know -- the important stuff that life is about. The thoughts, decisions, and problem-solving that make us who we are each day, who we become, and who we want to be.

I'm still absorbing the impact and distilling the multitude of details that became the focus of last year. I'm still growing my eyelashes back (nature is funny like that), and there are a couple of fun-filled appointments with my plastic surgeon in the near future. It has been a great honor to receive care from the UCLA Medical Group. They are spectacular people.

Behind the curtain no one wants to see, there are brilliant doctors, nurses and staff helping patients through the challenges. The conversations are guided with the utmost respect. If I was concerned about a side effect (which they had likely seen many times in other patients) like a funny rash, or constantly tearing eyes, I was treated as a real human being, experiencing this weird thing for the first time.

Of course now, a year later, it is easier to understand the learning curve back in the distance. I suppose I'm stronger (and wiser?) today. Most of all, I'm so very grateful that the cancer bubble is beginning to lift far up enough into the atmosphere to not intrude on every waking moment.

Just don't come complaining to me if you should happen to stub your toe. You'll be A-OK. I promise.

For more by Alicia Garey, click here.

For more on breast cancer, click here.

For more on wisdom, click here.