The other shoe has dropped. The worst-case scenario has happened. The bad news has been shared. The truth has come down.
On paper, you’re dying.
Not necessarily today, or tomorrow, but all the evidence shows that some ugly little entity inside your body is trying as hard as it can to kill you.
It’s the kind of news that can stop you in your tracks and cause you to fall into the depths of despair. Understandably so. All the blissful ignorance that most people in this world have surrounding their own mortality has been stolen from you.
As a society, we stress about a lot — work, family responsibilities, financial concerns, overwhelming schedules. The one thing many people forget to worry about is health.
Except I didn’t. I was always sort of a hypochondriac, starting at a very young age. Every headache was a brain tumor, every new pain was cancer (which it wasn’t … until it was).
I lived every area of my life with that same intensity. Every situation was worst-case. The smallest worries were mountains more than mole hills. I lived in a constant state of overwhelm, stress, and fear. And man, I complained — a lot!
Then I found myself facing the real-deal worst-case scenario. My early-stage, aggressive-but-curable breast cancer, had become terminal. I was devastated.
The Google statistics say that my odds of surviving for five years is a measly 11 percent, which means my kids would be 9 and 12 at the time of my death. With these odds, I would not see my children reach high school, let alone graduate, and I wouldn’t make it long enough to see my husband retire from the NYPD.
You’d think I would have utterly fallen apart. But a strange thing happened. Having a real, serious problem for the first time in my life wiped the rest of my seemingly “world-ending” problems away, like a damp rag on a whiteboard.
When I realized that things had become serious, more serious than ever, it relieved me of taking anything else too seriously. I cried more, but I also laughed more. I got angry, but I also let a lot more slide.
The spiritual teacher, psychologist, and author Ram Dass teaches that human beings have an uncanny ability to exist on two levels of consciousness at once. For example, you can be sad about your situation and also happy to be alive today.
Beyond that, you decide where to put your intensity, passion, and effort.
I felt the shift. You choose the good, soul-serving side once … and it feels right. Easier. So you choose it again. And again. And when you start to choose to see the good, the good becomes easier to find. Positive stories, those who beat the odds. Miracles. Joy.
But as much as it’s nice to live in that good space all the time, it’s not realistic. I’ll be honest. It’s hard to always be positive with a terminal diagnosis. Or, to cast the net a little wider, it's hard to always be positive when you're facing the loss of a family member, a layoff from work, or financial hardships.
Whatever your “hard” looks like, there will be days that are dark, awful, raw, and guttural. Anxiety will creep up, negativity will infiltrate. Your eyes will burn with the lack of tears left, your cheeks will be stained with the ones that fell, and your throat will be sore from the screams and swears that exploded out for hours.
In short, I have good days and bad days.
My awesome therapist, Kristen, tells me that this is necessary for growth. For acceptance. That what I’m feeling is a stage of anticipatory grief.
Yep, you heard that right: I’m grieving my own death and how it, and the time leading up to it, will affect my family, friends, and me.
I need to honor and validate these feelings, but I can’t live in this space for too long. Sometimes I have to let the dark side in, let it crumble my whole “Rah, rah, I am fine and life is a peach, cancer be damned” attitude into a million little broken pieces. Then I can take a breath and glue those pieces back together.
If you’ve seen the movie Encanto (which I have at least 45 times since it was released on Disney+ #momlife), you know that the build-back doesn’t have to be perfect to be authentically beautiful and even better than the original. Like the phoenix, we rise, and we start our mission again — to look for the good, the positive. Sometimes you have to squint. And even then, it can be nearly impossible to find. Sometimes you have to give it a leg up.
And that, my friends, has become my sweet spot.
When there is no good to be found, it is up to us to create it. When the darkness becomes just too much to bear, take your own damn light and shine it up. Life is too short to keep any source of light or words of joy inside.
Take this information as you will. Like everything else in life, the blessing and the curse of it all is that you get to choose.
Let me repeat that: You. Get. To. Choose.
So choose wisely.
It shouldn’t take a terminal cancer diagnosis or a life-threatening tragedy to remind you how precious and fragile life is. Life, itself, is terminal. None of us get out alive. So, while we are living, and seemingly well, we deserve to allow ourselves to find the good, be the good, share the good. Before you know it, you’ll realize that what you seek is one thousand percent what you will find.