This morning I woke up in my new house next to my new boyfriend, his warm body wrapped around mine. The scratch of his beard against my face is becoming familiar to me now.
I got up and walked quietly into the kitchen to make my morning coffee which I took to the back deck. I watched as the night sky surrendered to the light, illuminating the tree tops and casting a radiant orange glow over my new town.
Had I known I’d survive, I would have missed this breathtaking view.
There is an internal shift that occurs when you’re told you’re going to die. I was 35 years old when I was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer and given 18 months to live.
I wrote letters to my then 15-year-old son to be given to him at major events in his future life. I had planned of giving that task to my sister, knowing she was the only one strong enough to handle such a thing.
I threw away things I didn’t want to be found after I was gone (who needs that many vibrators anyway) and made lists of who should get what when I passed. All shoes were to go to my fashionista niece, Emily; my fur coat to my PETA loving friend so she can fulfill her desire of tossing paint on it. I knew my hippie best friend would want my crystals to meditate with, so I wrote that down too. I pushed through each grueling treatment, hoping for just a little more time with this wonderful cast of characters.
It’s now five and a half years since my diagnosis and I’ve been cancer free for the last two.
While each clean scan brings feelings of euphoria, there is always a lingering doubt. Will it be the next scan that causes me to hand my body back over to my doctors, praying they can once again fix me? Learning to cope with that fear is a struggle, but it’s also been one of the most freeing experiences of my life.
It’s the fear of dying that helped me overcome my fear of living.
Cancer forced me to take a hard look at my life. With an acute awareness of time, I asked myself what truly brought me joy and what depleted my soul. It didn’t take too long for the cracks in my marriage to become glaringly apparent.
Had I known I’d survive I might have settled for the safety of a marriage that was just going through the motions. I would never have met the man that made me realize love at first sight exists. I’d have missed the awkwardness and excitement of “new naked,” the peculiarity of being called someone’s girlfriend at 40 and the absolute joy in being with someone not because we have a history but because we want to build a future.
Had I’d known I’d survive I may never have traveled the world. I would have been too worried about retirement and nest eggs and rainy days. I would have missed climbing to the Acropolis in Greece, the ice cold water spraying my face as I sailed the Norwegian fjords, and watching the sunrise after partying all night in Barcelona. I never would have had that argument with the German cab driver who supported Trump, stormed out of his cab, found the first bar and stayed there drinking beer until closing. I learned how to play the accordion that night from our Hilary supporting waiter, Wayne.
If I’d known I’d survive I may have continued being that helicopter parent instead of allowing my son to make mistakes. I wouldn’t have stopped to see that I was suffocating his growth. Not knowing how much time I had left to just enjoy being with him, I noticed how the hair I always complained was too long fell adorably over his eyes. With our guards down, he would allow me to brush it aside and let my hand linger on his cheek. I studied his face—the gold flecks in his eyes, the creaminess in his complexion from his father’s side. When you think you’re going to die, you know these moments are precious and you try to hold on to them with everything you have. You pray your memory is the last thing to go.
I moved into my new house in June of 2016. Having a child when I was so young, living alone was always something I felt I had missed out on. I’ve been asked if I’m afraid to live alone. What if something goes wrong? What happens if you get sick again? My answer is this: Right now, at this moment, I’m healthy. Right now, at this moment, I’m ridiculously happy. Right now, at this moment, I will walk in the direction of my dreams.
Had I known I’d survive, I may never have lived.
It’s never too late to live the life you want to live. You’re never “too” anything to start over. Start, mess up and then start again. Maybe next time you won’t mess up. Maybe next time will be glorious.
Author: Kathleen Emmets
Image: Author’s Own
Editor: Travis May