Within 12 hours of being diagnosed with cancer on July 25, 2006, I began creating a list of the good things about my diagnosis. That first day I was able to identify 5 good things. After another day, I had listed 10 good things. After another week I had found 18 good things. And after a month, my list had expanded to the 25 good things about my diagnosis.
For the first year following the diagnosis, I had no symptoms of multiple myeloma (cancer of the blood plasma) other than anemia and low immunity. Then very suddenly, in June 2007, I experienced a serious eruption of the myeloma, and my spine began to collapse. It was then -- in the midst of pain, grief, and inability to move and care for myself -- that I turned to my own list of the 25 good things about my diagnosis for inspiration.
What follows here is my list of "The 25 Good Things About My Diagnosis".
1) TREATMENT -- The most challenging part of recent months has been my low energy and low immunity. Being treated for the anemia could only happen with a cancer diagnosis, so for that I am grateful.
2) CLARITY -- With a diagnosis of cancer, it becomes clear that using time wisely is of highest priority. It becomes clear what to say yes to, what to say no to, and how to spend my time. It becomes clear to me that spending time with friends and family is of highest priority. And it becomes clear that taking care of myself is also of highest priority.
3) GRATITUDE -- Being so face to face with my mortality makes me very grateful for all the gifts in my life -- for family, for friends, for my beautiful gardens, for our golden retriever puppy Goldie, for all the support and caring that is coming my way, and for being alive on this beautiful day. For me, a continuous stance of gratitude brings with it an open-heartedness that is often accompanied by tears of overwhelm, and I am grateful to feel so full. [I am also grateful for gratitude.]
4) BEING PRESENT -- With no clear idea of what the future holds, I am guided to keep my attention focused in the present moment. It is impossible for me to know the course of this multiple myeloma in my body, so worry is futile. In the words of Benjamin Franklin, "Worrying about something that hasn't happened yet is like paying interest on a loan that you haven't taken out." Much better to live in the present.
5) HOPE -- Multiple myeloma treatments are getting better, and there are people who live more than 20 years after diagnosis -- so I am filled with hope.
6) CONNECTION -- I am more connected to family and friends with this new vulnerability, and I value that connection. I wouldn't have chosen this as the reason for connection, but since it is here, I accept the resulting connections as wonderful.
7) OPTIMISM and REFRAMING -- I am honing my skill at looking on the positive side of things! I have always been an optimistic person, so this skill isn't new, just the challenging situation I am applying my outlook to. When I walk into the garden and look at the beauty of my roses, I don't first look at the thorns. I know the thorns are there, but I look at and see the beauty of the flowers.
8) ACCEPTANCE -- Learning acceptance has been a challenge for me at times. This acceptance is allowing the present to be what it is, without needing to change it. Now, I find that acceptance of what my blood is doing is what I am called to do. In this acceptance, I also remember that it is important to take every action possibleto effect healing, but in this moment, I embrace all of me, including the cancer.
9) UNCONDITIONAL LOVE -- A diagnosis of cancer brings me face to face with the concept and expression of unconditional love. That love is expressed to me continuously by family and friends. I ask myself, "Can I love everything about myself, including the cancer? Can I offer myself truly unconditional love?" I'm working on it.
10) SLOWING DOWN -- The fatigue and anemia I have been experiencing has caused me to slow down over the past 6 months, and now taking care of myself -- remembering to drink at least 64 oz. of liquids each day (and keeping track of my fluid intake), remembering to take my vitamins, remembering to take my flax oil and flax seed -- all of this reinforces the notion of slowing down. I am not in a race, and I do love to stop and smell the flowers, to stop and watch the Sun set, or stop and watch the Moon rise, so slowing down is a gift that helps me enjoy the present moment.
11) SPIRITUALITY -- My spiritual practice (prayer, meditation, yoga, reading inspirational literature, and living mindfully) has been an important part of my life for the past 16 years. Now I find that this practice is no longer practice -- it provides a foundation for my way of being with my new reality. I am grateful for the time and the opportunity to seek even deeper wisdom and guidance that will help support me on my path.
12) COURAGE -- It is said that courage is not the absence of fear, but the ability to act in spite of fear. My cancer diagnosis has shown me a level of courage that I didn't know I had, to face and move through obstacles, and then to do the next right thing. To have found and experienced this well of courage within me has been a surprising gift.
13) POWER OF MIND TO HEAL -- It is well known that there is a strong connection between the mind and healing, and that there is enormous power in the mind to heal. After all, what is the placebo effect if not the mind engaged in healing the body when medical intervention has been in word only? I am thrilled to have this opportunity to explore the power of my mind to heal -- this exercise is in no way theoretical, because of both my interest in the subject and the importance of the outcome to me.
14) COMPASSION -- A diagnosis of cancer instills in me a deeper sense of compassion for human suffering and understanding of the human condition and human experience. This compassion stems not only from the intellectual realization of the universality of human frailty and illness, but from the experience as well.
15) EMPATHY -- Given my cancer diagnosis, I now have greater understanding of what it is to face cancer, and empathy for those who do.
16) SELF-REALIZATION is not to be put off.
17) SERVICE -- Being of service takes on new meaning when I can inspire others from the stance of being a cancer patient myself -- sharing wisdom, teaching the power of optimism and hope. I look forward to teaching meditation workshops for cancer patients and their families, and helping people create peace of spirit and ease of heart.
18) FREEDOM to do what is best for me, without guilt, is empowering.
19) MEDICAL LEAVE, with time off to take care of myself, is a great gift.
20) WILLINGNESS – I find that I am blessed with the strength and willingness to do what is needed to take care of myself. I am learning an enormous amount about the body and about nutrition, and I willingly apply what I learn to my own situation.
21) LIFE’S RICHNESS – To experience life’s richness is a gift beyond measure, including both the joys and the sorrows. The moments of my life are becoming deeper and richer, and even when the moment is one of sadness, I recognize that this is the stuff of life. I am grateful that my capacity to experience life’s richness is expanding.
22) PLAYFULNESS (and even a bit of REBELLIOUSNESS) – I find myself spending more time being playful, given that I have no idea what life has in store for me. I also feel a bit rebellious that I am finding so many good things about my diagnosis. As the saying goes, “Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.”
23) PEACEFULNESS surrounds me as I live with acceptance.
24) EMBRACING LIFE – Being able to live joyfully with what is -– now that is a very good thing.
25) CURIOSITY is leading me to search for more good things about my diagnosis, and I have faith that I will be able to figure out what they are.