Since restrictions have eased, I’ve been out more and have had the opportunity to meet some new people. When they learn about my cancer, several of these individuals have told me how sorry or awful they feel for me. Many of them were even fighting back tears as they said it. The thing is, I don’t feel sorry for myself. This statement usually surprises them.
Don’t get me wrong; when I say I don’t feel sorry for myself, it’s not to say I don’t feel anything or am numb to what I’m going through. I have simply have come to terms with my diagnosis and prognosis. As a result, I have chosen to live life as if it was my last day on this earth. It truly is a choice. I could choose to let it consume me, or I can choose to take advantage of every single day I have left. I have chosen the latter, and I live this out using three key approaches to life.
- I’ve said goodbye to living in the past
Instead of focusing on the things I used to be able to do, I focus on the ones I can still do, have modified how I do it or new things I have learned to do.
I also process information differently than I used to. I take information and split it out the things within my control from those out of my control. For those out of my control, I simply “park” the information and move on. If it is something I can control, then I focus on what I can do about it. Many people get “scanxiety”. This is a phenomenon where individuals have very high anxiety and stress in the period of time (typically one to two weeks) after the scans are completed and when they meet with their oncologist gives them their results. Since I know there is nothing I can do in that time that would change the result of the scans, I simply keep myself busy and occupy my mind.
- I set short-term and flexible goals for the short term
I’m a strategist and a planner. That was what I did for a living. So this is probably the hardest aspect of my philosophy for me to live by. I used to set annual goals for myself personally and professionally. Unfortunately planning is difficult with stage 4 cancer. The past 2.5 years has taught me is that I need to be cautious about planning too far into the future. Like many cancer patients, I live “scan-to-scan”. I therefore focus on setting myself goals for the upcoming 3 months.
Something I do to make me feel like I have some control over the cancer is to help fundraise or advocate for cancer patients through various organizations. As a Terry Fox Ambassador, I do guest appearances at schools to for the annual Terry Fox runs. It helps raise funds and educate children about cancer research. I have also been profiled as a patient in Alberta Cancer Foundation’s campaigns to highlight some of their programs I’ve benefited from to help them raise funds to maintain and grow their cancer programs. More recently, I’ve been talking with Dense Breasts Canada about what can be done to help women obtain earlier screening. There is more to come on this in a few months. Even though I can’t take the cancer out of me, I feel like I am able to find ways to contribute in other ways.
My biggest goal is focus on identifying memories I want to make with my children and boyfriend and focus my day-to-day life around those. For example, this winter, there wasn’t a way that my boyfriend and I could even contemplate taking a vacation together. There were too many challenges preventing us from it: COVID-19, parenting schedules, work, etc. thinking outside “the box”, we planned a weekend where we “brought the vacation to us”. We picked a weekend, selected four beach-themed movies to watch over the course of the Saturday, cooked tropical foods such as Jamaican jerk chicken, prepared a selection of “resort beverages” and listened to reggae and Latin-American music. We also cranked the heat up in the house, wore our bathing suits and lied on beach towels while watching TV. I even put on a bit of sunscreen to add scents to the experience. We had a blast on our “imaginary vacation”. While it definitely wasn’t the same as going away to the tropics, it allowed us to have fun while creating an unforgettable, fun and playful memory.
Who doesn’t have a bucket list these days? Mine might look a bit different than others in the sense that the one I have created has less “big ticket” items that require long lead times. I only add items that are realistic and feasible given my late-stage cancer and I don’t attach any timelines to any of the items. I love adding new ideas to my list and love being able to tick items off as opportunities arise. And that brings me to the third way I focus on living my life.
- I live in the moment
I also look for ways to make things fun and feasible, even when circumstances are less than ideal. I think back to the day on which I had reservations to go to the Calaway Park (our local amusement park) earlier this season. It was a wet and miserable day, but my kids were eager to go and had been talking about it for a week. Instead of rebooking, we decided to make the best of it. We got fully decked out in rain gear for the occasion: rain pants, rain coats with hoods and rain boots. My son even took a pair of water goggles so he that he “wouldn’t miss anything”. We talked about all of the advantages on going on a rainy day: no line ups, no sweating, no need for sun screen, and best of all, we would not get wet on the “Timber Falls” log ride. This is by far my kids’ favourite ride. The kids and I had so much fun. They made a point of running through the splash park. I’m pretty sure the attendant was in disbelief when the kids asked if he could turn the water park on in the rain. We all ran through it fully clothed, screaming and laughing. Then we made it to Timber Falls. 2021 will definitely be the year etched in our minds as the year we did the ride 16 times. No, that isn’t a typo. We did the ride once when we got there and another 15 times in a row at the end of the day. And why not? There was no line up and my kids kept asking me to do it again. I sincerely hope they always remember me as the best mom ever for doing the ride 16 times with them in one day. And that is what I mean by being present. I only have one life, and I know that it will likely be shorter than most. It’s up to me to make the most of what I have left to live.
Living in the moment means I don’t let opportunities pass me by. When my boyfriend found out The Reklaws were playing in town, we didn’t hesitate to buy tickets for the show. It was on my “bucket list” and was a memory I wanted to create with him. So we jumped at the opportunity.
Looping back to the beginning, I mentioned that I made people’s eyes tear up when telling people my story. My boyfriend was there for one of those encounters. A few days later, we were talking about the reaction the people we met had and how strong they thought I was for having the outlook on life that I have. My boyfriend loves country music so told me to listen to Tim McGraw’s song “Live like you were dying” as he said that it encapsulates my vision of life. Tim’s McGraw’s song perfectly encapsulates how I am approaching my life living with stage 4, incurable breast cancer.
I hope this blog explains why I don’t want people to feel sorry for me. Instead, I’m hoping I can inspire people to appreciate life every single day, whether you are sick or not.
Despite my cancer, my life is full. I am happy, and I can sincerely tell you that I always find something special in every day that I live. I know that when I die, I will have lived life to the best of my ability, created memories with those who are the most important in my life and hopefully inspired others along the way.