When I was 19, during the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college, I took a day trip to New Orleans with a group of friends from high school. We went to the French Market and strolled around, and then we went to the French Quarter. We ate beignets at Cafe du Monde, and we visited Jackson Square where the other girl in the group and I spent $5 each for our palms to be read by a fortune teller. It was a spontaneous decision on our parts and seemed like a funny thing to do on a day filled with laughter and joy.
When she read my palm, the fortune teller told me I’d already met the man I would marry. That I would date one more person, and then I would begin dating my future husband. She said I would have 3 children, with one being different from the other 2. I was shocked, first of all because I only wanted one child, and secondly because how exactly would one be different from the other two, so I asked her. She said, “Maybe you have 2 girls and a boy. Or maybe you will marry a man who already has children.” Say what?! I thought. No way.
She also told me I’d only be married once and that I’d live a long life and that I’d outlive my spouse, spending my last years on Earth alone.
It seemed like a waste of $5, but at least I had fun, I thought. I didn’t think much more about it until a couple of years later, when I came across photos from that day in New Orleans. I couldn’t believe it – I had indeed dated a guy for a few months before that relationship ended and I began dating my now-husband with his 3 daughters, two of whom I have raised as my own. Could it really be a coincidence?!
I shared the story with my husband and joked that I was in for a long life. After all, the fortune teller had been right about everything else. I couldn’t have known then that 8 years later, I’d have a doctor tell me that there were no guarantees when I asked if I’d survive cancer.
At 19, my life was just beginning.
At 21, the world was my oyster.
At 28, I was begging my husband not to remind me I was about to turn 29. I felt I had accomplished so little and was on the cusp of 30. I was depressed about the end of my 20s.
At 29, I was lying on a hospital bed talking to my nurse as she prepped me for my biopsy. She was a few years younger than me, and I warned her not to fear the end of her 20s. Just a few weeks before, I had been dreading turning 29, and now all I wanted was to live to see my 30th birthday.
When you are diagnosed with cancer, it is a stark reminder to you and your loved ones that you have absolutely no control over your life. Just as the ER Doctor told me, there are no guarantees. What may have worked for your friend’s cousin’s husband’s brother’s boss may not work for you. People will tell you “You’re going to be fine!” because the idea of you not being fine is just as terrifying to them as it is to you. To admit that you don’t have control over the situation is scary, upsetting and heartwrenching.
But you do have some control. You can choose to live out your days in sadness and depression, shaking your fist at the world and the heavens being angry for what has been done to you. Or you can choose to accept your situation and spend what time you have with those you love doing things that make you happy. Taking it one day at a time, and being grateful for each day. Spending time talking to a pastor or therapist (or both!) about your fears and learning ways to overcome them, to find healthy ways to deal with your anger, emotion and anxiety.
It doesn’t mean fear, anxiety and anger have no place. It just means discovering the right way to deal with them, the way that will give you peace.
The doctor was right about more than just my diagnosis. The truth is even before I was diagnosed, there were no guarantees. I could just as easily get hit by a bus tomorrow before cancer ever takes me. None of us are given the promise of tomorrow, or of the privilege of growing old. Rather than dwelling on our mortality, why not take pleasure in the here and now, doing what we can to bless our loved ones and others around us? I choose to stand firm, to do what I can to be a blessing to those I love, and to not let fear overcome me. I won’t let cancer rob me of my life, of happiness and peace.