Today is my “Cancerversary.” It was two years ago today that I was diagnosed with Stage IV liver melanoma; December will be 10 years since I was diagnosed with ocular melanoma, which is where the cancer spread from. I don’t celebrate this day, but I do reflect on it, and I’d love to share with all of you what I’ve learned in the last two years:
1) Figure out how to be happy and then go after it with everything you’ve got. If I want to go down to Austin for a weekend to visit my best friend or dream of becoming a writer or last-minute hop on a train to attend a friend’s out-of-town bridal shower or take the day off of work to play, I do it. It’s not that I’ve completely gotten rid of the guilt that I feel around making myself a priority, spending money, or wondering what others will think, and you can look at these things as irresponsible or as a carpe diem kind of thing. I look at it as squeezing as much fun out of life as possible, as well as investing in myself. As long as I am devoted to my loved ones, what better investment is there?
2) Whether you have cancer or not, take a look around you. Who is by your side? Do you want them there? Do they treat you with respect, do they infuse more joy into your life, and do they “get you?” This may sound harsh and may be a buzz kill if you feel like you should just “take it and let people suck the energy out of you,” but it’s easier than you think to take stock of who adds and who depletes. Sure there are some in my life who are a little bit more draining than others, but I don’t necessarily kick them out of my life. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. I try to focus on just having fun with them or spending a limited amount of time with them so as to preserve my own sanity. For the most part, though, I have been lucky enough to have the most amazing people around me—family, friends, co-workers, and even acquaintances have all made my life better over the years. Team Lozier continues to expand and as it does, more and more love and support fills me up. Yes we must find happiness within ourselves first, but who we surround ourselves with will have a huge make or break on your attitude and the way in which you see the world and your own life.
3) Be able to detach yourself from the negativity and the fear of others. This one is so, so hard, at least for me, and I’m not sure that I’ll ever be able to fully do it, but I sure try. There was the friend who told me over email when I wrote about my diagnosis that she was “scared for me” with no follow-up of hope, and the woman at the Chopra Center who sucked air in through her teeth, shook her head, and told me that I “sure have a long road ahead of me.” Not helpful people. (This is where having a sense of humor is KEY! After she walked away M and I just shook our heads and laughed). But please don’t look at me like I’m going to drop dead as I’m talking to you. That crap just scares the shit out of me. It’s OK for you to be scared—believe me, I am too!—And I’m not trying to tell you to be inauthentic with me about your feelings, I’m just asking that you think about the best place and time to express that fear without making me feel like I’m doomed while we’re out buying our produce at the local farmer’s market.
4) Bookend your days with intention and gratitude. Not every day, but most, I try to set an intention for myself. I usually end up thinking about it on my way to work, after I’ve had my coffee and have woken up a little bit. Sometimes my intention is simply not to lose my temper at work; sometimes it’s to help others. Frequently it’s to find something during the day to love about myself or make sure that I connect in a spiritual or meaningful way with somebody that I cherish and just enjoy being with. Sometimes I set the intention to just find joy in as much as I can, even if I’m dragging my feet to work, and sometimes the intention is as simple as not letting stress drag me down. Do I always get it perfectly? Absolutely not. But I like the shape that it gives my day and it helps me to check in with myself to see if the intention that I set that morning is still feeling right for me. And at night I love to take a warm shower and that’s where I think the most about my gratitude for the day. Sometimes my gratitude takes my breath away; maybe something extraordinary has happened that day, or maybe I’m just grateful for that shower and a warm cozy bed to crawl into. I find that starting with mindfulness and ending with mindfulness brings me more into the present moment and is a great way to stay grounded (especially when my mind wanders to words like cancer… incurable… hard to treat…) and gives me a nice start and end to the day. It’s as if soaking up one day at a time for all of its goodness or harshness makes me feel alive.
5) Love Yourself. (Sounds so Stuart Smalley, right?! I’m good enough!). I’m still working hard on this one, but I try to put the effort into it because I believe that creating more self-compassion and appreciation for ourselves can only help with our overall health. I catch myself all of the time saying mean and nasty things to myself. Lately I’ve been trying to reframe those negative thoughts. There are always going to be things about ourselves that we’re unhappy with (the weird bump on my leg or the way that I can lose my temper), and being kind and paying compliments to myself still feels so weird. As Anita Moorjani says (Author of “Dying to be Me: My Journey from Cancer, to Near Death, to True Healing): “I can’t say this strongly enough, but our feelings about ourselves are actually the most important barometer for determining the condition of our lives!” I had the amazing pleasure of hearing her speak at the I Can Do It Conference in D.C. right after I was diagnosed. I think I was still too much in shock to really let everything that she has to teach soak in, but this quote really strikes a (good) chord with me.
HOPE is one of my all-time favorite words, as most of you know (the other word that I love is magical). This is what I’ve learned about hope over the last two years:
H—Helping Others. It’s really hard to think about my own problems when I’m helping somebody else, and that can be a good thing. For me personally, I feel like at least part of my “purpose” here on this earth is to help others. It’s a great way to take myself out of my “woe is me” Eeyore stuff (which definitely happens and who are we kidding, sometimes has a right to happen), and instead focus on giving to somebody else. In a way it’s selfish because it makes me feel so good. But really, it’s just a method to try to get out of your own head for a while, which sometimes makes it an easier place to be!
O—Odds; Beat ‘em! Statistics are statistics, but write your own story. I’ve said from the get-go that nobody else’s story is mine. Just saying this gives me power to write my own chapters. I don’t know what’s going to happen; nobody does. But I like to think that I’m not a statistic. I am my own person, my own story, my own unique blueprint. And the quote that my friend H wrote on my Team Lozier bulletin board by Mary Anne Radmacher helps me to take it easy on myself when I feel like I’ve had a bad day: “Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.” Amen.
P—Passion. I’m not necessarily talking about finding passion for your job/career, a hobby, or even anything tangible. I’m talking about just finding and feeling that passion for anything. I think BC (before cancer), I really only was aware and in touch with the “good stuff” when it was something obvious, like a vacation. Now I feel like I get excited (or passionate) about building sand castles with my nephew, having deep, raw, real hysterical conversations with my friends, or telling my story in the hopes of it having some kind of positive effect on somebody else that may steer the trajectory of their life in a different (i.e. more hopeful) path. Sometimes I just feel passionate about having fun. We can all be passionate about anything that we want; don’t let the word scare you.
E—Elicit your best self. Are you your best when you’re taking care of yourself? (Whatever that means to you). Are you your best self when you listen to your intuition, or when you make creativity a priority? Are you your best self when you’re with your child or partner or best friend? Are you your best self at work? What is your life philosophy? (And nobody else’s). What are your own unique values? Think about your own mission statement and how being mindful of these values can add such richness to your everyday life.
My mission statement continues to evolve as I continue to evolve, but today it is: To live with greater joy, ease, purpose (today it’s to write this post) passion (have fun!), and health. To love without holding back. To foam at the mouth when I need to (per Kris Carr’s suggestion that she gave me at the Chopra Center). To show others that by living with hope, you can change your life.
With hope, love, and gratitude,