The happiest people don’t have the best of everything—they make the best of everything.
“I joined your club today” my dad said.
“Yeah, the one no one wants to join…”
The cancer club. The club membership that instead of giving you a secret handshake, gives you scars and weight loss and a life you didn’t sign up for. The club whose members are, by and large, anxious, tired and afraid. But who are also gentle, vulnerable, understanding and kind and after they’ve been in the club for a while they become patient and grateful and humble.
The club that there is only one way to get out of.
Some of the best people I know are in My Club.
As I sit in the waiting room of my oncologist’s office, my hands are sweaty and my mouth is dry. She is running an hour late. I remind myself that though there are a thousand things that I would rather be doing right now—I am lucky to be here. To have access to care. To still be alive. And no, this is not the life I had wanted or planned. I didn’t want to be a cancer survivor. I didn’t want to be on a first name basis with the staff at an oncology office but it is far, far better than one very possible alternative.
I wanted to be a professional dancer and then I wanted to be a famous artist and then I wanted to travel the world and now, now I just want to love and be loved and be happy.
I still dance, just not five hours a day and I still paint, on occasion, and I travel—not as far as I planned but I have wonderful adventures. One of the requirements of any unplanned club membership is to simplify. Not to squelch dreams but to simplify and to create joy and contentment rather than seeking it.
So how do we find joy in a life that isn’t exactly what we planned? How do we find joy in the mundane? How we feel full and satisfied and happy? How to we create a rich, rewarding life? How do wonder and awe become our constant companions?
The answer is simple. Acceptance and gratitude.
If we accept the gifts that are given us with open arms, gratitude will follow. And everything is a gift.
I accept that I will spend the afternoon here feeling anxious. I straighten my back and I breathe. My shoes are off as I sit in the corner of the busy waiting room. I remind myself that anxiety is just a feeling, like being hungry or tired. It doesn’t really do anything. I focus on the stained glass hanging from the ceiling and I practice alternate nostril breathing. Seated cat/cow. A deep twist. Forward fold. Side bend. I love yoga. I may not have found yoga had I not had cancer. I am grateful.
I accept that it has now been two hours and I am sitting here in this stupid paper gown surrounded by posters about hereditary cancer, healthy eating and community resources. I have had an hour to write. Some days all I want is to sit in my robe in bed writing for 10 minutes and so far today I’ve had an hour. I am grateful.
I find myself thinking not of the things that are wrong in this life I didn’t plan on living but on the things that are right. Despite the paper robe, the dry mouth, the glaring lights and the now over two hour wait, I am actually feeling happy.
If my doctor walked in and said “I’m sorry to tell you that you have cancer again,” I would accept it. Not lay-down-roll-over-and-die accept it but get-up-and-work-my ass-off-getting-well accept it. I would be grateful for each and every moment and I would create happiness, loving and being loved.
Everything that happens to us and around us is an opportunity to practice acceptance and gratitude.
When I leave here today I might paint for a while or I might, for the sake of nostalgia, go try on a pair of pointe shoes. I might pirouette and arabesque a bit remembering how good blistered feet and cramping calves feel before neatly tucking the pink satin shoes back in their box and returning to my life.
This life. The one I have, not the one I planned long ago.
The life that is rich and full of love and joy and wonder and I will accept what is and I will be grateful and happy.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Public Domain