A call has gone out to a few of us who blog about our lives as cancer patients and recovering from the above to all post on the same topic. This is the second such challenge by the assertive patient. I didn't participate in the first on meltdowns, but I have been invited to the second one on health and happiness. The topic seems somewhat timely to me as I am mentally preparing myself to stop being a fulltime patient and start getting back to work and my old life. So here goes...
It is not really surprising that people always wish for health and happiness as though the two are integrally linked, but are they? If I was supposed to magically stop being the happy person that I have always been the day I lost my naïve ability to say no to every question on a medical history, well then I didn’t get the memo. Yep, that memo was lost. Don’t get me wrong; I will never say that the 7 months since my diagnosis (8 since my first surgery) have been a happy, fun- filled escapade. However, you will equally never hear me say that they were unabashedly terrible. The day after I got my diagnosis, I asked my friends to throw me a birthday party, because I refused to allow myself or anyone I cared about have a pity party. For the next several months, I learned first hand what it meant to be a patient and to be dependent, and I hated it. I refused to get out of bed every day until I could smile. Most days it wasn’t that hard, some it took hours, some I finally gave up on my edict as I had given it to myself anyway, but usually I succeeded. Why smile all day? Because if you are smiling and laughing, you can’t feel sorry for yourself. My PT always makes fun of my laughter, but really the alternative is something I can’t and won’t accept. Now for those of you who have been reading and been around me you know that I have had my really bad days too. I won't deny that.
During all this time, I have tried to search for meaning in my illness. Is it supposed to make me a better doctor? Wasn’t I good at my job before? Am I supposed to learn to ask for help when I need it? Am I supposed to remember the rocks in my life? - Maybe. The story where everyone agrees the jar filled with large rocks is full until gravel is added, yep full again. Then sand is added, yep full. Then you add water and now it really is full. In this tale the rocks represent what is really important- family, friends, faith, health etc. The gravel is important stuff like your job, house, etc. Sand is the small stuff. Water is the beauty of the world around you and the minimal extra time it takes to appreciate it. The point is, if you don't add and care for those ingredients in that order then the rocks lose. (Those who have known me for years are now shaking your head, but you see this is what happened when I entered Dante’s 9th level of hell (the one of immobility) and was stuck on a couch for more or less 6 months. I've gottten philosophical.) For me I think I feel everything deeper now. I am more aware of the beautiful sunsets, the smell of the roses, the gift of my friends and family. I have learned to ask for help when I need it. I have reconnected with friends I’d lost due to time and distance. In essence, I have refilled my “jar” with rocks, so now my job can be the gravel again. Therefore, anyone who would try to convince that I should be sad because I lost a couple of rocks that were there for health might have a tough argument with me.
Don’t get me wrong, none of this means I don’t mourn the loss of my strong ankle, the ability to wear cute shoes, go hiking, sit in the sun, be unscarred. (At least the snow was bad this year so I didn’t miss much this ski season.) I mourn all of that and more. I would love to never have known the fear of having tests done and waiting for results that might rock your world. Still I have smiled most of the days of the past several months. I have appreciated slowing my life down. I have made changes that I believe will stick when I start working again. In some ways, I feel more genuine to the girl I used to be. So, does getting a really scary diagnosis equal the loss of happiness? To me- not really.
Here are the links to the others posts:
Health and Happiness
Cancer and happiness