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Counting the Ways Life Will Be Better after Cancer

Cancer may change your life for the better in more ways than you've ever imagined. Some of the changes are obvious early on; others may be subtle and take a while to develop. Some changes may present themselves as options — changes that you may decide to accept or reject.

Cancer goes away

One obvious change, and an outstanding one at that, is that after cancer, your doctors will tell you that for now — and maybe forever — you no longer have cancer. What a grand and glorious day that is! It's been a long journey, and a celebration is in order.

Treatments end

Though you see your doctors from time to time and undergo the occasional screening test, after cancer you no longer have to endure treatments or put up with their side effects. After cancer, life is all about slowly getting better every day, gaining back strength and energy, and feeling more like yourself as each day passes.

At one time, your calendar was filled with treatment dates and follow-up appointments. No more. Now, you can use your calendar for other things:

  • Pencil in lunch dates.
  • Schedule an appointment to tour a new fitness center near you.
  • Sign up to volunteer one morning a week at a local cancer education center.
  • Meet with a person planning to run for political office.
  • Sign up to accompany your grandchild's class field trip.

Fill other deliciously empty dates on the calendar with plans to spend time on yourself at the zoo, botanical garden, library, or day spa.

Fear recedes

After cancer, your fear of the disease lessens bit by bit. As the months go by, you think less and less often about the experience of having cancer. Whole days, and then weeks, go by when you don't think about it at all.

In years to come — and we have this on good authority, straight from longtime survivors — you may even forget, unless reminded, that you ever had cancer. Imagine that!

A sense of adventure grows

Just about the time your hair grows back, you may also grow a sense of daring, a wild side. You may head for Florida to ride on an airboat, make reservations at a really nice restaurant, buy two cashmere sweaters instead of just one, call up your high-school sweetheart just to say "hi," and start eating dessert first.

Life is too short to be subtle. Carry on!

Inner strength builds

You have been tested, and you have passed. Maybe it wasn't always pretty; maybe you didn't always get the highest grade. So what? At this point, after cancer, you are no stranger to adversity. You know what you can ask of yourself, and you know what you're made of.

Surviving cancer is no little accomplishment. The inner strength that you developed during the course of treatment will continue to grow.

People matter more

One day over lunch, a man was heard to confide that before he started treatments for cancer, eating lunch with a friend was no big deal — it was just a break in the middle of the workday. "Now," he said earnestly, "having lunch with someone whose company I enjoy feels like a privilege, a special occasion."

He was right. After cancer, close personal relationships take on extra meaning. Even unexpected conversations with people you don't know well somehow seem more significant, more interesting than before. You likely will seek out connections with others.

Forgiveness gains in importance

You say you used to be a pro at holding a grudge? Don't be surprised if that changes right along with your perspective on what matters in life. Maybe it never mattered before that you didn't get along with your in-laws or your sister's husband's daughter or your neighbor. Cancer has a way of making most people more mellow, more willing to look at the big picture, more willing to let bygones be bygones.

If you were compassionate before, now you may be more so. If, from time to time, you were thankful for all the good things in your life, now you may live in a continuous state of gratitude. If previously you looked for the good in people, now you will point out their sterling qualities to anyone who will listen.

Being grateful to be alive does not mean taking whatever others dole out, and it does not preclude sticking up for yourself when you are wronged. You need not have a full-blown tantrum, of course, but by all means point out the transgression — then move on.

Support comes naturally

During this period when you realize more acutely than ever that people who need people are the luckiest people in the world, you may find that you are eager to comfort a friend facing an illness, even if you have not been close friends before. When you get the e-mail at work that says a colleague has been diagnosed with cancer, you may find yourself jotting down the address and putting a card in the mail.

In a way, you speak a new language after cancer. More than ever, you know what words to say to encourage someone else. Even if you never felt comfortable saying them before, you'll say them now.

Time flies

One minute, you look in the mirror and decide your hair is long enough to go out without your wig, and the next, you clearly need to make an appointment to get your hair cut.

One month, you've saved enough to replace that old couch in the den where you used to nap during chemo, and in a few short years, your grandchildren have spilled so much juice and goodness-knows-what-else on the "new" couch that you realize you need slipcovers — or another new couch.

One year, you invite a half-dozen close friends, members of your support team, to join you for dinner as you mark the fifth anniversary of your cancer diagnosis. Dinner is barely over, or so it seems, when you're treating yourself to a trip to Italy to celebrate the ninth anniversary of that diagnosis.

What happened?

Time flies. It always has, but after cancer, you treasure the time you have and carefully make the most of it.

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