Sirens are always a stark, solemn reminder that life can change drastically in an instant. Every time I hear them I’m reminded of the morning I woke up to paramedics wheeling my Nana past the bedroom while my mother was crying on the phone. Nana never woke up. I remember the night a man rang our doorbell in the middle of the night because his car had left the road and hit a tree and my dad went out with a blanket I loved, and stayed with him until the ambulance arrived. I remember laying on the softball field, feeling my kneecap grossly out of place on the side of my leg. And the morning I ran out to my car while my son was in the house alone in his highchair and I felt both my ankles snap. All moments in time that altered my life or made me realize how quickly things can change.
My cancer diagnosis wasn’t one of those siren moments. Some people describe their diagnosis like life is very much divided right then and there. But for me, it felt more gray. Like there was a time that it just didn’t sink in. I wasn’t depressed, or anxious…I just didn’t fully grasp the totality of how serious it was and how incredibly different my life would become moving forward.
I think the instant for me came the day I came home from the hospital after my surgery. Reality hit SO HARD. Who am I now? How do I do these basic tasks? Constant pain and healing and holyshitwhatishappening?! The punching of the mirror…the mirror that showed me who I wasn’t anymore. That was my moment. Picking up those pieces of glass was just as much a literal job as it would become metaphorical over the following several months.
What instant changed you? Or instants? What made you realize life is so incredibly short? That the plans we so delicately and deliberately build can all fall to pieces without warning, leaving us lost and unsure of where to go next. What made you learn how to pick up those shattered pieces and move forward?
Or are you still standing there, wondering what happened to your beautiful mirror you had so perfectly constructed? Angrily shouting at no one in particular “why me?! Why now?! Why?!”
If there’s one thing this whole cancer thing has taught me, it’s that I can’t control what happens to me, but I can very much control how I respond. I could still be that woman holding broken glass and crying and being angry that this happened to me. And it’s fine that I was her for a bit, that I let her have her moment to acknowledge those feelings. But I’m glad I asked her to step aside so I could throw away that shattered glass and rebuild my image with self-love, joy, and compassion.
My ideal new life certainly didn’t involve a pandemic just as the warmer weather was approaching here. It didn’t involve learning to teach my son first grade via computer assignments at home or the inability to see friends and family. But it did include the idea that I can control my response to anything, and it’s the only thing in this entire life that I can control. So even when the circumstances make me feel overwhelmed or bitter or scared, I can choose to acknowledge those feelings and then release them in favor of feelings that serve to help me move forward. Life is so incredibly short and so amazingly precious. I want to live as much of it as possible feeling at peace and full of love, and I think that’s really the most any of us can hope for.