Traveling with cancer presents its challenges but on this day, I tried to see the opportunity. It was Day One of CancerRoadTrip, one year ago. My first stop was…
How Do You Face Your Mortality – Or Do You?
Most of us live as though we’ll go on forever. I know I did at one time. The idea of being mortal was a concept, one I knew but had no real meaning on a personal level for me. I just envisioned that life would carry on and I would be entitled to a long healthy life. How simple and naive!!!
When cancer came along, it blew my innocence and belief system. Cancer was my wake up call. Yes, there had been times in my life when I knew I could have been gone in an instant. Being hit by a car crossing the road was one. However, I figured I had survived and the lesson was realizing how fragile my working life was as a dancer. When your body is broken, it’s pretty hard to carry on physically. It took a few months to get myself back into working shape again. I think I thought about death. I’m sure I did, but vaguely. What I do remember was the realization that if I had died in that moment of impact, it would have been painless. That was a revelation.
A cancer diagnosis was very different. For the first time in my life, I had to face the fact that just maybe I wasn’t going to live a long healthy life. Maybe my time had run out and this was all I got.
Obviously that wasn’t the case because I’m still here many years later; however, my belief system changed. I live life differently than I did before cancer. I’m very aware of how fragile life is – that each day is a gift.
In the wake of the cancer diagnosis and the reality of my mortality, I decided to find out what I really thought about life after death. Growing up, I went to church. I knew in my head that there was a God and that there was eternal life after death. However, that ‘in my head’ thought hadn’t really penetrated to my inner being. So I embarked on a path of discovering what all this meant to me on a personal level. I did go back to a church, but mostly to find answers that had eluded me.
This brings up the difference between religion and spirituality. For me, at least, spirituality became my personal belief about what happens after death. Was there really an afterlife? How would I know? What were the signs? I was fortunate to have a pastor who understood this difference clearly. We had long discussions which helped me find my way.
During my healing path from cancer, there were many instances of happenings that I had heard about from others experiences but didn’t give much credence. These were out of body experiences, messages coming in the form of dreams, the definite awareness of spirits walking with me, synchronicities that couldn’t be otherwise explained. As time went on, I have experienced more of what I had formally thought of a ‘supernatural’. Well, it wasn’t supernatural anymore when these experiences started happening to me. They were real.
We are definitely governed in our life by something extremely powerful outside of our realm of reality. Knowing this, it makes me aware that our lives here on earth have meaning. There is a reason we are here. What we do and say matters more than we’ll ever know.
I’m not sure all of you will follow my thread of reasoning. Belief systems are very personal and we all have to come to these beliefs in our own way and time.
Personally, I find all of these experiences comforting. It makes me feel as though I really am not alone. When life got tough, which it did, there was some power, some other being, looking out for me. I could call on this power or God to me, to listen and help me through when there wasn’t anyone around in my real world to be there. This still applies. I know that many times, I am guided to where I need to be. Circumstances and opportunities appear that I could never in a million years have orchestrated. They just happen – and they work. They certainly don’t happen by anything I do.
It also makes me aware that our lives matter after we are gone. What we say and do within our circle of influence lives on as our legacy. It can be as simple as something we say to someone, some kindness or help we extended, or simply just being there for our family and friends. We never know what our actions mean to someone else.
It encourages me to be authentic and open to whatever or whoever shows up in my life. I would hope that my legacy when I’m gone is one of helping to make the world a better place. Also to give hope to others that life can be awesome even if it is challenging. Life was never meant to be easy. It’s during the challenges that we learn about our mettle by how we handle the situation.
Will I go willingly when my time comes? Probably not! I will still be thinking there are more things I want to accomplish or try in my life. However, if I’ve given everything I do my best shot, then I really can’t complain. Who knows, maybe I’ll get a second chance or another go-around to get the rest of my To Do list accomplished. I’m pretty sure I’ve been here before anyway. So, maybe we get recycled and opportunities to finish what we have started and maybe didn’t complete in another life. It’s all conjecture. We will never know for sure in this life.
Cancer does open up the window to seeing life from a different lens. I am grateful for this opening. It has enriched my life beyond measure and helped me reach out for life in ways I may not have done before. We only get so long on this earth. We might as well make the best of it and give it a good shot. In the doing, we can leave our mark.
What kind of mark or legacy would you like to leave? We really do have a choice. It’s up to us to decide. Even if life is cut short, our time here still has great meaning. Although this may not have been what we wanted to happen, it is what it is. We still have choice on how we want to live and be for as long as we have.
Reprinted with permission of author.
Barbara Cunnings-Versaevel is a long term breast cancer survivor who has learned over the years since her diagnosis in 1990 to be mindful of what it takes to be well and healthy after cancer. This journey has led her to share her knowledge with others going through cancer.
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