That's right, it's our "looking back" episode, kids. Cue the music montage.
The very first post on this blog was June 14, 2005, when I'd only known my diagnosis for about 3 weeks. In honor of everything besides melanoma, I've decided to post a top 10 list of some of the most important things the last 2 years have taught me.
So here they are, in no particular order.
1. Normal is something we've all aspired to at some point in our lives (remember those teenage years?). But melanoma has taught me, at least, that normal is just a setting on the dryer. It's a silly term, a crazy concept, and, let's face it, a thing of the past. I spent the whole first year trying to appear normal after the diagnosis, trying not to make anyone feel uncomfortable. Then I spent the last year recovering from Interferon, just trying to get "back to normal." Slowly, I've come to realize that there is no normal anymore. Or, rather, there's a "new normal." Subtle differences and changes that I had to make have made a world of difference since my diagnosis, but, over time, I've learned not to fight it. The way I work, the way I play, the way I eat, the way I think, who I choose to be and who I choose to be around- everything has been touched and changed, and yet, there is no anger in the lack of normal. It's just a new life, sometimes more difficult, but always much more human and mortal and real.
2. Activism is real and powerful. I've been involved in it most of my life, but only after I became Ms. Melanoma did I realize what a difference it can make. I'm touched by so many people I've come in contact with that work hard to bring melanoma awareness to light, and they give unselfishly and lovingly to that greater cause. My advice to you: pass out some fliers, walk a 5k, answer some questions, change a life. You'll inadvertently change your own, too.
3. Friends can make a world of difference. This can go either direction- as in, people you barely know, people you've never met, and people who don't even know your real name can "show up" when it's necessary and make the tough times bearable. On the flip side, friends you thought were family may not be able to hang in there. This is the ebb and flow. Which leads me to #4.
4. Take the good with the bad. Nothing is all positive or all negative, believe it or not, and what we take from experiences defines who we are.
5. Asking for help is not being weak. Or maybe it is. But it doesn't matter. Either way, there will be a time you need to do it. Yes, it's humbling, and yes, it's sometimes demoralizing; I mean, no one wants to ask for help wiping their own hiney. But, in another way, it's a gift. It allows you to see what happens when you are vulnerable, and who will help you to rise above it. I've been lucky, or blessed, or both, but the people that have surrounded me through the toughest times make asking for help a safe and comforting experience. Which brings me to #6.
6. I have the greatest boyfriend on Earth.
7. On a grander scale, cancer has given me the ability to accept that my death is imminent. I've written about this a lot in this blog, because it is such a huge perception change. This last path report gives everyone, first and foremost me, but also my oncologist and doctors, lots of hope that this won't be happening anytime soon. Nonetheless, having this disease has been an eye opener as to the way we deal with our own mortality in this culture, (which, essentially, is by not dealing with it). Why don't we face the truth? We are frail and temporary beings. And it (as in cancer, accidents, disease) COULD happen to us. I'm not planning on checking out, but just knowing how close it can be, I think I live my life more fully.
8. I am more than my diagnosis. Even so, living with disease is harder than you think.
9. We all have an innate strength within us. I can't tell you how many times I've been told by people "You're so brave" or "you have such a great attitude." The truth is neither of those, though. People I know with cancer, friends who have lived with it or are living with it now, they outdo me in courage and attitude tenfold any day of the week. But the fact is, if it came down to it, we'd all be able to get through it, even if it wasn't with the grace and dignity that my friends exhibit. The Duke said it best when he said, "Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway."
10. Control, 99% of the time, is just an illusion. The only thing any of us can control is the way we react to a situation. That, perhaps, has been the most significant of all the lessons I've learned.
Thanks to all of you who have traveled this journey with me, and for all you've said and done. Oddly enough, it's been a good 2 years in many ways.
P.s. Please keep Shannon in your prayers