This morning, I head to the infusion center for my final chemotherapy infusion. Unlike so many endings in life, this one is not bittersweet. (In fact, since I gave up sugar entirely during chemotherapy, but brought a box of lemon Pocky back from Japan to enjoy when it was over, I can tell you the end of chemo will be very sweet indeed.)
That said, I don’t regret my decision to undergo chemotherapy after my breast cancer diagnosis, even though my stage (1a) made it my choice rather than something I “had” to do.
My cancer was “triple negative,” meaning it wasn’t fueled by the three most common hormone receptors: estrogen, progesterone, or the HER-2/neu gene. Two days ago, I also learned that my genetic test came back negative for 31 different genetic mutations that make some people more prone to various cancers.
My cancer didn’t have a genetic explanation, and it was highly aggressive – two good reasons to opt for chemo. While no one can guarantee cancer won’t ever come back, chemo also allows me to move forward with my life, confident that I’ve done everything physically possible to prevent a recurrence.
Those reasons aside, I’m glad I underwent chemo for another reason, too.
It has given me great empathy for people who endure this difficult process, and taught me to value every day of my own life, whether or not I “feel like” enjoying the day. Now that I know how it feels to be so sick you’re forced to choose joy (and believe me, during parts of chemo, joy is a conscious decision, not something that happens on its own), I’ve made the decision to find some joy–and appreciate my blessings–every day, for as long as I live.
That decision may not be easy, and the temptation to fall back into old patterns may grow stronger the farther I get from this experience with cancer and chemotherapy, but my commitment to it is just as strong as my choice to maintain the healthier eating and exercise patterns I started two years ago and adhered to even more closely during the chemo process.
In other words: it’s a choice I’ll keep making every day, even when I don’t “feel it” naturally.
It’s strange to say that chemotherapy taught me to be an even more joyful person, but it did. The old saying that “you don’t know what you have until it’s gone” is true–and I’m grateful that the health, and life, that cancer threatened weren’t permanently gone.
Now that I’m going to get them back, I won’t take them for granted any more.
What blessing have you taken for granted? Will you join me in the decision to find more joy in life, whenever you can?