“So, what next?”

find-more-time     As a teenager, I would long to be older, always wishing I could do all the things I was too young to do. I wanted to turn eighteen, leave high school behind, head to college and finally get away from the constant, watchful eyes of my parents. Then, after I turned eighteen, I couldn’t wait to turn twenty-one so I could finally walk into a bar and freely enjoy a beer. Once I was a senior in college, the focus became graduating and going onto law school. In my last year of law school, I constantly stressed over getting a job and beginning my career.

As I came closer to thirty, it was all about getting married. I worried if my then-boyfriend (now husband) would propose, and whether we would have enough time to have children before I was thirty-five. After deciding to continue our lives together, I worried whether we would have enough money in the coming years to buy a house, to support our family, and so on. Beyond that, I constantly questioned where I would be in my career in five, ten years from now?

These self-imposed timelines completely hindered my ability to live in the moment, to just sit back and enjoy all of the wonderful things in my life. I was always looking to that next milestone and worrying whether my life would fit into some neat little box of expectations I created for myself. It was like I was living my whole life waiting for the next month, year.. the next step.

 Since my diagnosis, everything has changed. At thirty-four years old, having literally come close to death, I now relish every minute of my life. I no longer worry about that next step. I just take things as they come.

Despite battling for my life and facing my own mortality as a young adult, it has truly been the best of times, and the worst of times.

 I have never been so frightened as when I was being wheeled into that operating room. I did not know if I would survive. Maybe even worse, I feared I would wake up a different person, or debilitated and unable to function as I had before. This disease had quite literally invaded my brain, the strongest part of my body, and taken it hostage.

After surviving brain surgery, I was hit with the news, “The tumor was malignant and a very rare, very aggressive type with a high rate of recurrence.”  How could this even be happening? What about all of those timelines for the future? Would I even make it to see thirty-five, forty?  And then I asked, “Okay.  So, what next?”

Then, a whole new set of timelines entered my life… the time period before radiation would begin; the amount of treatments and length of radiation; the time between my follow-up scans; the months between my oncology appointments; and most importantly, the time before I could say, “I’m in remission.” All of those previous, self-imposed milestones suddenly felt so trivial.

Yet, in facing the worst time of my life, I began to see the incredible beauty of my life. I recognized how strong I was mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. I also came to see how others had always recognized my strength, even if I hadn’t seen it. I heard so often, “If anyone can get through this, you can.” Also, while I was always very close with my family, I truly realized how much I was loved. I cannot put into words the feeling of hearing my mother say, “It should have been me. Why wasn’t it me and not you? I wish I could take your place and make your pain go away.” Even before cancer, my husband has been my best friend and “my partner in crime.” Now, having gone through all of this in less than two years of marriage, I can without a doubt say he is my soul mate. As for my friends, they have become like family. I truly never recognized how much they cared until this experience. In so many ways, I am so lucky.

I would not wish cancer on my worst enemy, but it has brought such a deeper meaning to my life. I hope and pray that the worst times are behind me now. Regardless, I have learned to appreciate the good times, the best of times, so much more. No matter what life throws my way going forward, I will continue to appreciate every moment. And for that, I am thankful.

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