On April 15th, 1997 I found out I had Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Age 37, with a four-year-old and nine-year-old to raise, I was forced to acknowledge words like motherless, and widower when thinking of my family’s future. What should have been a gut-punch, an unbelievable turn of events, the ultimate “why me” moment, became instead a life affirming period of time. The earth was spring green and impossibly fresh—in bright counterpoint to the depressing appointments and clinical, astringent-tinged rooms associated with cancer. During the period between deciding treatment protocols and possible outcomes, I resided in a strange interim space of gratitude, a heightened awareness for all the undeniable beauty in my world, our world … this world. My senses seemed amplified to the full ranges of color, scent, touch, and sound and I delighted in the details of every moment as if each was the last ever. I survived and soon our daily lives returned to some semblance of normal. My children continued to be mothered; my husband still had his wife. But I would never be the same and that is the gift of facing death. I got a do-over.
My type of cancer has ties to stress, both environmental and emotional. A hard and difficult look at my need to please, my search for perfection, and my inability to shake things off, impressed upon me the idea of letting go of many of my control demons. Not easy, as these ways of being in the world are hard-wired in my personality. Slowly, over time, even years, I began to believe in putting myself first. Not in a selfish way, but in ways that opened me to knowing that what I felt needed to be noted and dealt with—not buried or hushed. I found my voice, I used it, and worked at gratitude each and everyday. I still work at gratitude, but now it is second nature. Just today, an email from a smart and beautiful soul, followed by a wet-nosed nuzzle from my dog; then a steaming mug of coffee made by my husband; the impressive fall splendor riots outside my windows; and my grown children, both productive and most important, happy, are coming for dinner. While I no longer see the world through the heightened, high definition lens I once marveled at—I do see a world rich with possibilities and hope. Being grateful is a choice … a really good choice that pays back in dividends.