Dear Pat,

You asked me what I’ve learned from The Cancer, and it didn’t bother me in the least because after all we hadn’t seen each other in over 10 years, and if you hadn’t brought it up, The Cancer might have sat there in the booth casting its elephant shaped shadow over our conversation. It’s an interesting question, for which you may have expected a clichéd answer, but might have suspected that’s not really what you’d get from me. Sometimes people say that having The Cancer has made them appreciate life more. Well, I don’t think I had a lack of appreciation for life before, but I told you what I didn’t appreciate enough: nose hairs and eyelashes. It’s astounding how much stuff gets in your eyes without lashes to protect them, and it’s crazy how many random nasal drips you have when there are no nose hairs to keep them corralled.

I told you about being follicularly challenged, but our conversation moved on to other things, and later I didn’t really feel like I’d given you a good answer. Thinking about your question, I remembered that when I was in the middle of that summer of chemo, I was waiting at the orthodontist one day and decided to write down on tiny Post-its some things I had learned. I only found two of those, but the central theme was the same for all of them as I recall: Your life is now. Sounds strangely like a Mellencamp lyric, perhaps because it is.

At any rate, if there is one thing that I’ve learned—not from The Cancer, but from God, who allowed me to go through this process—it’s that we don’t get to pick our situation, only what we do with the moment. And there is value in every moment. I don’t mean that in a sappy “life is precious because The Cancer tried to kill me” sort of way, but in a “we need to make it count” sort of way. What I wrote on that first Post-it was this: Say the kind things you think, but don’t always communicate. Don’t waste an opportunity to show love to people.

We don’t have to do what the world considers to be something big with our lives. Sometimes the small things are really the big things. But we need to do those now, because we have no guarantee that we’ll have the opportunity or ability to do them at any other time. So, that’s the big lesson, according to me. I hope I’ve answered your question a little better this time. Thanks for making me think—I’m so glad you’re my friend.

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