12 Things I've Learned Living 12 Years With Cancer

04/24/2017 12:16 pm ET Updated Apr 24, 2017

I was diagnosed with cancer 12 years ago today. And I still remember that day with vivid technicolor. It was a weekend and the boys and I were at home alone. My daughter was away at a volleyball tournament in Minnesota. By all measures, it could have become yet one more weekend that blended into the blurry scrapbook of my memory bank.

But my life – and my family’s life – was rearranged that weekend. It all started with a telephone call from my doctor. Before I could even put the telephone receiver back in its place – I remember processing the age of each of my children at the moment.

Drew was 9. Wallis was 13. And Kevin, 15.

And I remember thinking through a variety of scenarios as I catastrophized a fate matching my mother’s, my father’s and my brother’s – all who died of cancer. Our family was very familiar with the wrath of cancer. Then I started processing timelines – and negotiations with God.

“Give me at least a year.”

“Five.”

“Let me see my kids through high school.”

It was a mental dance – of sorts – that many go through, I’m sure

And here I am, today, having seen all those scenarios play out in real life. And then some.

Ironically – the mental dance continues. In the privacy of conversations with myself – I still sometimes play out what the future may bring. The anxiety returns every few months when it’s time for regular labwork to see if dormant cancer cells have decided to waken. I still gag twice daily as I shove handfuls of medications and supplements down my throat to stack the deck in my favor – and hold back the chance of recurrence.

But mostly, I’m full of gratitude. Certainly to God, kids, and my doctors and nurses. But I’m also grateful for coming to better understand a few things.

1.  The past is the past. We cannot rewrite the storyline of our history nor the facts surrounding it.

2. The present is all we have – for certain. Investing in the here and now has huge pay-offs.

3. Everyone lives with adversity – if not always – at least at some points in their life.

4. Making it a practice to ask the Starbuck’s barista (or any other service provider), “How is your day going?” – and really mean it – just might change the trajectory of their day.

5. When a total stranger asks you to take a photo of their family – that’s a beautiful thing.

6. It’s pretty awesome to be someone’s “go-to” person. Especially when that person is your son or daughter.

7. Make your bed every morning. It gets your day off to a good start.

8. Forget New Year’s Resolutions. If you need to make a change or have a new goal – start it today.

9. Reinvent yourself with regularity. Learn to play a musical instrument. Take a new class. You’re never too old for anything.

10. Remind the people in your life that you not only love them – but that their life has true value to you and others. We all need that reminder.

11. Envision the eulogy you want your children to give you. Then live that life.

12. Even when you hate the photo of yourself in a family picture – deal with it. Someday you will cherish the reminder of that time in your life.

My family. Not my favorite photo of me. But someday it probably will be!
Jim Higley
My family. Not my favorite photo of me. But someday it probably will be!
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