My Epiphany

My Epiphany

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Reader's Choice 20th Anniversary Edition

My Epiphany

With the past, I have nothing to do; nor with the future. I live now.

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

It seems that when something awful happens to me, my mind just shuts down. These things change the way I think for a period of time after they happen. Somehow, I find a way to keep it all together by reverting to my “one day at a time” motto, but really, inside, I’m freaking out. Sometimes I’m freaking out and I don’t even realize it yet. I’ve discovered lately that moving on from those difficult times really is a process.

These days, I am in the final stages of my long battle with osteosarcoma, a bone cancer, which made its appearance when I was fourteen years old, claimed one of my lower legs and a lung along the way, and recently spread to my brain. The doctors found three or four new tumors in my brain. This news was a terrible blow since it meant two huge things. It meant that one, along with the nodules that I already had in my single lung, the Thalidomide I have been trying isn’t doing a single thing for me. And secondly it officially marked me as terminal. The doctors told us that they thought I probably had less than a month to live.

It has now been longer than a month, and I am still here and still feeling well. Nothing has truly changed about my situation. I am still taking medication for the headaches, and sometimes my breathing is a lot more strained than it used to be. Although I do have a cold, which could be part of it, it’s most likely that the cancer is progressing. There is nothing in my situation that has changed. I know that I probably won’t make it, still. But there is something different now about the way I look at things. I feel different. I feel inspired! I feel invigorated! I don’t feel like I’m just sitting around waiting to die anymore. I feel infused with life. There’s a reason I have already beaten the odds. There’s a reason it’s not time yet.

I don’t know what came first — the changes to my daily routine, or the changes to my perspective. But somehow they’re working together to be just what I needed. During the past week or so we’ve been making small changes to my medications since I’ve been doing so well. The first thing we did was drop the nausea medicine I’d been taking on a schedule with the pain medication. It turns out that I don’t really need it at all, since I haven’t had any nausea since. We also started weaning me off the steroid I’d been taking to control swelling, which makes me eat everything in sight and makes me swell up like a balloon. Somehow, and the only thing I can think to attribute it to, is that by getting rid of those two medications, I am feeling a little more like myself. I haven’t had to take a nap in ages! My eyes, which had been blurry and unfocused, are doing so well that I finished a book that I was reading . . . on my Kindle! My computer screen no longer tries to flip letters around. But that’s not all — a few days ago Mom convinced me to put my prosthetic leg on for a while. It didn’t take too much cajoling, since it was something I’d been meaning to try since I have been feeling better. It doesn’t quite fit right because I haven’t worn it in a month. Right now because I haven’t been wearing it, I have no leg muscle to even hardly hold it up. But I can kind of walk on it, with my crutches, and I have hope and faith that before long I’ll be able to use it again for a short time.

I’m not sure where it came from, this sudden epiphany I’ve had. But something inside me has clicked. It reminds me of a story my pastor told me when he came by for a visit, about a man who was pronounced terminal. Another person asked him, “What are you doing right now?” And the man who was dying answered, “Well I’m terminal, I’m dying.” The first man either asked him again what he was doing right now or informed him somehow that he was wrong. The man who was terminal wasn’t dying just then, just at that moment he was living. And as long as he was breathing he would be living. That’s the epiphany I’ve had. Right now, regardless of the things to come, I’m living! I’m not sitting around waiting to die. My entire perspective has changed. I’m alive right now. I’m living.

So, today I leave you with this message, one that I can hardly believe that I went this far without. Cherish every single day. It is one of those things that is easier said than done. The way that something feels is all about perspective. Sometimes our hearts don’t need a miracle. Sometimes there just aren’t any miracles and the world around us feels like there can never be any happiness in it again. I know how that feels. I have had some dark days these last few months. I won’t lie. It’s difficult to know that eventually I won’t feel good. It’s hard to know that essentially I’m just sitting around waiting for the cancer to progress.

I can’t think like that anymore. I have to think about the things that I can do. The life that I can live. I may not be able to go on the ski trip this month, but I’m still doing better than expected. I’m still here. I’m still living. Life is precious, whether you have a straight road stretched before you as far as the eye can see, or whether, like most people, your road turns and bends into the undergrowth and you have no idea where it leads. Follow that bend, and your heart, no matter where it goes. Mine may go on, to places unmentionable, but everyone’s does, eventually. All roads lead to the same bend, and although we can’t see around the corner, I know there are people who have gone before me that will help me when I get there. But for now, I’m not there yet. Today I’m living, and my heart sings with joy for the days that follow.

For anyone going through a difficult time, I want to pass on the list of ten steps that I composed. These steps have helped me move forward in the past. I’m not a professional and I have no claim to fame, but these steps have helped me and I want to share them with other people. Here are my Ten Steps to Moving Forward:

1. Cry, Yell, and Grieve: The first step can make you feel like you are taking a few steps back, but it is necessary. I think when something happens that reroutes your entire life and the direction you were going previously, it is normal to grieve and be sad. Because I believe that whenever you go through a difficult time, it changes you. It changes the way you think and perceive things, and the first step to acceptance of the new reality, whatever it is, is to mourn the past and the person you used to be. So, let yourself grieve for as long as you need to, and when you’re able, you’ll find the next step.

2. Talk When You’re Ready: Sometimes you feel like talking things through and sometimes you don’t. When you’re ready to talk, find someone who you can talk to as an equal and whose opinion you value, and pour your heart out. Sometimes, just having someone who cares and who is there for you, no matter what, gives you the boost you need, to move on from the first step (even though you may feel still the need to grieve from time to time).

3. Escape When You Need To: but not too often. Sometimes life just takes a dump on you, and your heart and mind are too full to process things in a healthy way. In these moments, escape is essential; watch a TV show or movie, read a book, or veg out on the Internet. Take a break from the things that are weighing you down, and come back to them later with a fresh outlook. But I caution you on escaping too often, because escaping never makes your problems go away, and you always have to deal with them eventually.

4. Start Small: If the big things are too overwhelming at any given moment, start small. Instead of worrying about a huge appointment next week that you’re afraid might hold bad news (perhaps similar to where you just were) try to focus on smaller more attainable goals. Rather than brooding about the appointment, focus on your exercises, your chores, or even your homework assignments. You’ll get there in the same amount of time, whether or not you worry about it.

5. Find Your Muse: Your muse is the source of your inspiration. Find the thing, or things, that inspire you the most, and absorb them into your world. These could be anything. For some, it could be their children, others music or nature, and for people like me, poetry or literature.

6. Reach Out: Interaction is an important thing in any person’s life. Reaching out doesn’t necessarily mean telling everyone about your struggles, rather it means finding people you enjoy, and spending time with them. It can mean laughing and teasing each other, but it also means support. Maybe not support like that of step two, but support that lets you know that they care and that they’re thinking of you. This kind of support is a bulwark that can bolster you through any storm. These are the people who know how to cheer you on, when you’re going through a hard time.

7. Channel Your Nervous Energy: Often you may find yourself stressing out and worrying. The best way to prevent this is to throw yourself headlong into another project, albeit a more relaxing one. For me, this usually means writing, scrapbooking, or artwork of some kind. I actually find that some of my best poetry is written when I’m trying not to freak out.

8. Help Someone Else: Helping someone else is actually a great way to help you deal with tough things that are going on your own life. It may sound selfish, in an ironic way. But not only does helping someone through their problems distract you, it also fills you with a pleasant satisfaction. Plain and simple; it feels good to help someone else out.

9. Focus on the Good Things: If you go through life with a “woe is me” attitude, things can seem harder than they really are. Granted, I’m finding that optimism comes more easily to me than most, but I cannot help but feel that some optimism is imperative to dealing with any situation. By focusing on the good things in your life, you can muster up enough strength to hope. And I believe that hope is ultimately what allows you to move on.

10. Take One Day At a Time: We spend so much time worrying about things that are far in the future, that we miss the things that are happening in the moment. Even if the moment you are in seems difficult, and there are things on the horizon that seem even more difficult, it is important to focus on the moment you are in. We can’t worry about things that haven’t happened yet, or that may or may not happen. If you must worry, worry about the day you are in, and worry about tomorrow, well, tomorrow. But remember also, no matter what you’re going through, that you will get through. No matter how hard it seems in that moment, or how bleak the future looks, time will move you forward against your will. Eventually you’ll find that things don’t seem as hard, or hurt as bad, and life will take on a new routine. And you’ll be okay. Or . . . at least that’s the way it’s been for me.

~Angela Sayers

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