When Life "Gives You Cancer," Make Lemonade!
Ten years ago, I was twenty-five years old and thought I had the world figured out. I had been dating my college sweetheart for 4 years, I was living in beautiful Austin, TX, I was succeeding in my job, I had just purchased my first house, and I was saving up to buy an engagement ring. Then out of the blue, my life was turned upside down.
My girlfriend went to the doctor for a routine check-up, and they asked her “Have you been keeping an eye on this?” “An eye on what?” she replied.
“Well, you have a suspicious lump. Based on your age, I’m sure it’s nothing…but we would like to do a needle biopsy to make sure.”
As you may have guessed by the title of this article, it wasn’t “nothing.” My girlfriend was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 25, and in rapid succession she went through multiple surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation. For time’s sake, I will give you the Cliff’s Notes version of the story. After she completed her very aggressive treatment regimen, she was told she was in remission and we started to move on with our lives. We got engaged, and started making plans for the wedding and the honeymoon. Exactly one month before the wedding, our lives were once again turned upside down. She visited the doctor for a check-up and was told they needed to run some additional tests/scans due to some elevated tumor marker tests. After several hours of waiting, the doctor came in and told us the cancer had returned. She told us it was very aggressive, and that realistically, we were probably looking at 12-24 months. Needless to say, this is not the news you expect to hear at the age of 27 (especially not a month before your wedding).
There aren’t enough words to describe how amazing/inspiring she was over the next few years. She made a pledge to live life to the fullest, and inspired countless others to do the same. She made a bucket list, and started chipping away at it immediately: getting married, going on a honeymoon, going skydiving, taking multiple vacations, starting a charity event, etc. She always told me that she was happy she was diagnosed. She said it put things into perspective and made her appreciate what was truly important in life. She didn’t just say it, she meant it and lived her life that way.
She also did something that I am forever grateful for. She told me that if I sat around and felt sorry for myself after she was gone, she would come back and kick my @#$! She told me she wanted me to travel, to fall in love, to get married, to have kids and raise a family. She encouraged me to get outside of my comfort zone and to take risks.
She passed away over four years ago, and I hope that I have made her proud. Since her passing, I left my previous job and found my dream job. I have been on multiple road trips across the U.S., I have hiked in the Australian Outback, swam in the Great Barrier Reef, been on a photo safari in Africa, been to Hawaii, Rome, Venice, Florence, and the Greek Islands. I have spent more time with family and friends, and I try not to get bogged down by inconsequential things that would have stressed me out in the past. I have also helped to carry on her legacy by keeping the charity event that she started alive and growing. After our event this September, Bras for a Cause (www.brasforacausemichigan.com) will have raised over $500,000 for Gilda’s Club Metro Detroit. I also took her up on another piece of advice. I fell in love. I got married, and will get to meet my newborn son any day now (maybe even before you read this)!
I would encourage each and every one of you to learn from what we went through. Don’t wait for tragedy to befall you before you realize what is truly important in life. Make a list of things you want to accomplish in life, and start chipping away at it tomorrow. Live life to its fullest, and inspire those around you to do the same!
Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed.