We often don't appreciate the value of what we have until we lose it. I only realized the value of my life when I nearly lost it to cancer in February 2006. Since healing from cancer, I have been sharing my experience with the hope that my story can inspire others to make the most of every minute of their lives. By far the greatest gift I have received in my life has been that of getting a second chance to live when only death seemed imminent, and it is something that I know I will be eternally grateful for.
In February of 2006, I had end stage Hodgkin's Lymphoma. The cancer had spread throughout my body, my organs were failing, and I was in a comatose state, being kept barely alive with piped nutrition and oxygen. The doctors had told my family that this was the end, and that I only had a few more hours to live. What followed can only be described as a miracle for which I will be eternally grateful. No one knows exactly how to explain what caused my health to turn around in just a number of days, leading to a total recovery of my health within weeks, with no trace of cancer cells to be found in my body, and no permanent damage to organs. Needless to say, that experience caused me to completely change how I view life and reality, as well as how I live my own life.
Prior to almost dying from cancer, I had spent my life believing that my role, or purpose, was to be subservient, or of service, to those I believed were in some way superior to me. As a woman of Asian culture I was brought up to be submissive, and was rewarded for being so. There tends to be a level of negative judgment directed towards women who are overly assertive, aggressive, or high achievers in my culture. That is because the primary role of a woman is to be a supportive wife and mother, always putting her needs last before husband and children... as well as others. So I used to tow the line, stay small, invisible and deferential towards everyone until I completely lost myself in the expectations of others.
I also believed that "spirituality" is something that needs to be attained and that we need to spend our lives working at becoming more and more spiritual in order to create the most perfect afterlife, perhaps through meditation and service, and by transcending the ego and becoming detached from the material world. No matter how much I worked at trying to be more "spiritual," I still always felt I never made the mark, because my human desires and ego would always get in the way, so I was constantly judging and criticizing my inability to detach from the dramas of this world, and transcend my ego. I truly believed that that was the only way to enlightenment.
However, after nearly losing my own life, I realized that at least for me, nothing could be further from the truth. We transcend our ego and the material world when we die and leave our bodies, but as long as we are alive, breathing, and expressing through a physical body, the best thing we can do for ourselves and for those around us is to engage in life fully and express ourselves authentically. That is why we are here! To me, being spiritual, and being ourselves is one and the same thing!
I believe that our purpose is to be who we came here to be and to live life to the fullest. Most of us take "spirituality" too seriously and try to make it something separate from our life here. Life would be so much more fun if we lightened up and realized we are not flawed, that we don't need spiritual improvement! We are beautiful, magnificent spiritual beings. We don't have to work at being spiritual. We are already spiritual, whether we realize it or not. Nearly dying has taught me to follow my heart, and become much more fearless about being who I am in expressing my authentic self.
As we enter the holiday season, what I am most thankful for is that nearly dying taught me how to live!