Today Called And Asked Where You Were

Cancer patients worry so much about the future that they miss the present

Posted Dec 19, 2013

Cancer has its own lessons, bless its evil little heart.  The biggest is that, yes, we are in fact going to die and it could be from this.  Before, it had been theoretical.  Now it is real.  The other lesson is that we really have to appreciate what we have right now.  Yet we are narrowly focused on a series of tomorrows—after our next treatment, after treatment is over, after the next test.

And then treatment or the test or the whatever is over and we're left to figure out what our life is all about.  

Time to throw ourselves back into the job, focus on the kids, cook healthier meals, jump on the treadmill, and finish our thank-you notes. Good heavens. That sort of makes my head hurt even as I write it.

Yet, we cancer patients are often like that. We have one guiding principle: We want to ensure that our future does not include cancer. But that goal is sometimes clouded by everything else we want to do— everything we stewed about missing while we were sitting in the radiologist’s office…or the oncologist’s office…or the chemo ward: Why didn’t I travel more? Or less? Why have I missed so many of the kids’ soccer games? I want to learn to make a great bearnaise sauce. And learn French. And go to France.

When people tell us to put one foot in front of the other as we move through and beyond cancer treatment, we start with one, then a second, then a third. And, given that we don’t have three feet, we get frustrated, overwhelmed and, occasionally, defeated.

And the fact is we often don’t even know where that first foot should go. We’re a little afraid it’s going to go right into a cow pie or a mole hole.

Cancer has taken up so much of our world that we don’t know what to do now beyond it, even when we reach that blessed after-treatment phase.  No matter where we are or what we are doing or how much we try to duck it, we have the Big C hanging over our heads.

I often get emails from women who have recently been diagnosed with breast cancer, expressing envy that I am so far from a diagnosis that my chances of recurrence have decreased to almost nothing. Many tell me that when they finally are in my shoes, they can relax and begin really living again.

I understand this type of thinking—in a few years, I can enjoy life again without all this worry. Thinking like that, though, is not a good way to get through the day. In fact, it’s a good way to miss the day completely.

Yet, after a cancer diagnosis, many of us revert to our childhood game of counting the days until we reach the important milestones: when we can finally date, drive a car, finish school, drink beer legally. Remember that? How we couldn’t wait to grow up. And now, looking back on it, don’t you wish you had just enjoyed playing in the kiddy pool with your cousins and left the growing up stuff to Mom and Dad?

Planning to start living in the future keeps us from enjoying the very real gift of today—the kiddy pool of our current lives. We have today to live, today to appreciate, today to enjoy, today as a blessing. Today as a celebration. Really, today is all anybody can really plan on, so why not make the most of it?

Go outside and breathe in some fresh air; find a park to walk in and watch children play; head to a botanical garden and just go through it slowly, looking at the delicate flowers; go to the zoo and watch monkeys be silly; turn on your favorite CD and just sit back and listen, or get up and dance.

The beauty of life remains—we just have to pay attention. Slow down, look at it, take it in, and celebrate the tiny moments. That’s all life is, you know: a series of tiny moments.

So don’t try to look at the future as a giant whole to conquer and stew about. Look at this moment, right now.  This tiny bit of life you can celebrate.

You have it.

It is yours.