I Can’t Believe You

I Can’t Believe You

From Chicken Soup for the Breast Cancer Survivor's Soul

I Can’t Believe You

There is only one history of any importance, and it is the history of what you once believed in, and the history of what you came to believe in.

Kay Boyle

“I can’t believe you tell people your age,” my friend commented.

“Hey, I don’t mind. Really! In fact, I love my age, because every single birthday means more than just presents and chocolate cake.”

The day I heard the word “cancer” spoken by my doctor, life turned upside down.

“I have a test on Monday,” I said foolishly, thinking he’d postpone surgery so I could ace my humanities test. I didn’t realize I was preparing for the biggest test of my life.

Within hours, I discovered that I did have cancer. I learned at age thirty-two to face mortality—cancer had spread to my lymph nodes. Every time the doctors entered my room, they walked in with bad news and one more specialist. One white coat meant cancer. Two white coats meant chemo. Three meant radiation. Four meant detection of another possible tumor.

At one point, five doctors stood around my bed. It seemed fitting because the statistics had dropped to a 10 percent chance of surviving five years—one doctor for each year I might live.

There was a multitude of reasons to stick around—a husband of twelve years whom I loved a whole lot and three beautiful children who were clueless to the plight of their mom and dad, but who gave me daily strength in their innocent love and handmade gifts that hung on the hospital wall. To this day, I still have a crayon picture of me resting in bed, with a large head and larger lips and a thermometer sticking out of my mouth. The words “get well so u can com home” were my mantra.

I’m thankful for cancer in many ways. Does that sound crazy? I wouldn’t wish it on anyone and don’t want to go through it again, but it was a teacher. It helped me treasure every single day. It forced me to prioritize my life— things that were once important seemed foolish. It pushed me off the hamster wheel this society calls sacred and let me pursue the desires of my heart, instead of my wallet. It gave me the ability to see life as fragile, not one day promised. It allowed me to treasure my three beautiful children, who sometimes brought heartache along with joy as they grew up, who are all now in college and can now spell beautifully.

When I hit my fifth year of survival, I left my job to write full-time. I decided not to write one more word about anything that didn’t matter to me. It was a step of faith, but made perfect sense. Cancer taught me not to let the opportunities of your heart pass you by because none of us are promised “one day” or “someday.”

On my fortieth birthday, I rode go-carts with thirty of my closest friends to celebrate. The numbers 4-0 hanging across the wall were a beautiful sight. I celebrated my tenth year of survival on a boat in the Amazon in the rainforest of Brazil. I sat on the top level and watched the sun rise, and from somewhere deep inside, I thanked God for the opportunity to experience life through facing death.

You see, life has become a series of celebrations. Last month, I celebrated my thirteenth year of survival and embraced my forty-fourth birthday. Next month, Richard and I will celebrate our twenty-fourth anniversary. Leslie, our oldest, turned twenty-one last year, and our twins are twenty . . . young adults now—all running after their own dreams, which my bout with cancer taught them, too.

I look at my friend and answer her question. Do I mind telling my age? Absolutely not! I’ll shout it from the rooftops: I’m forty-four! I’m thankful for all ten gray hairs (though I will cover them with honey ash brown and romantic red highlights). When I look in the mirror and notice the small lines appearing around my mouth and eyes, I don’t call them wrinkles. I call them opportunities. Every line was placed there by a smile that creased my face—an experience, large or small, that came from living this gift called life.

T. Suzanne Eller

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