Receiving the Right Results

While waiting to hear of the biopsy results from a non-cancer patient friend of mine, I am reminded about the anxiety of waiting. One thing patients learn very quickly in our cancer journey is that patience is mandatory and anxiety is a given. One of the main reasons for our anxiety is the patience required while waiting for results of tests.

In trying to help my friend sift through her anxiety and keep her patience during her wait, I explained to her that I was praying for the “right results,” which are not always the results we think we should receive.

I have said this often when asked about my personal “cancer shift,” that moment when my old reality was replaced by the acceptance and opening up to my new reality: I was never a bad person before cancer, but I am a better person because of it – my cancer shift.

We all hope for good test results, most of us pray for them either outwardly or in our own head, when we are faced with something that could ultimately change the trajectory we have come to rely on as normal. But with a shift in perspective some of us have come to understand that the right results may not be a good outcome of a test.

In my particular situation this was the case. I was diagnosed with an incurable form of lymphoma with a prognosis average of five years. To say that was not at all what I had hoped and prayed for from my test results, is an understatement. “Perhaps they are wrong,” I remember thinking and maybe even saying when I got my results. But they weren’t wrong, I had this horrible disease and I really was going to die from it.

So how then, could this possibly turn out to be the right result? It would take me quite some time, the amount I am not exactly sure, to come to terms with my diagnosis and prognosis but when I did, my world shifted and surprisingly, for the better.

I became intentional in everything I did. I made sure to reach out to people who mattered to me, not just once to check them off a list, but regularly to let them know the precious space they held in my heart and in my life. I really did the cliché things of make amends where I felt they were necessary and figure out if I needed to put anything on a bucket list, which I did not.

I did little things too, like put my phone away when I was outdoors so as to look people in the eye when we passed on the street. And I started saying, “hello” to strangers and “love your outfit” when I would see something I liked rather than keep my compliment to myself. As soon as I started being more intentional, kinder, more open to my own vulnerability as well as to the world around me, my life changed – for the better.

I have heard myself say many times, “I was never a bad person before being diagnosed, but I am a much better person now.” This statement could not be truer. I always played by the rules, colored within the lines and bit my tongue when necessary so as not to hurt someone. I had been a regular volunteer at several different places over the years, mostly attended church and had literally dozens and dozens of friends; in fact, I have never really met a stranger. And to top it off, I have never so much as had a speeding ticket! I chalked all this up to being a “good person” which I believe I was.

However, after receiving my diagnosis and grappling with its new reality my life became clear, purposeful and focused. This happened on a scale that is hard to quantify with mere words as so much of it happened inside me. I felt different after I was diagnosed, and I am not talking about the nausea, diarrhea or pain, I mean the way I truly felt at the core of my being.

I began looking up into the sun and relishing its warmth rather than hiding to cover myself from it, chuckling when rain hit my face when I was without an umbrella, wearing tennis shoes with skirts to traipse through downtown when I ran errands – no high heels needed for errands…why had I not figured that out years before? Life felt better inside me.

I became more aware of my world and the things and the people in it; my friends know I now think squirrels are one of the cutest animals and I love to watch them scurry around. I am able to find beauty in each person I pass, and it generally has nothing to do with their looks – I absolutely loved a fuchsia coat on a woman I passed recently and made sure to tell her. Some lady’s dyed purple hair caught my attention recently and I made it a point to tell her as I walked by, never stopping to hear her “thank you” which I assumed she would say – it wasn’t about that.

I have come to recognize I like the smell of Old Spice and pipe tobacco, they remind me of my grandpa, and when I see a man in a bright colored shirt I admire his courage to step out of the box. And I have come to be enraptured by food, and not necessarily good-for-me food. Since having treatment either my tastes have changed or my ability to eat foods I hadn’t been previously able to (I had cancer in several places, including my gut, which made eating unenjoyable). I now have a fondness for Doritos and a love for Milk Duds and vanilla Oreos – who invented those incredible morsels of heaven?!

Time also has new meaning now – I could care less about it! I have learned to sleep when I am tired, eat when I am hungry and basically live my life on life’s time rather than forcing my schedule onto it. It is surprising how less stressed I feel about my days now.

I have also learned a sense of freedom from some things that had been binding me to their rigidity or toxicity because I was supposed to do them or be a part of them. Church is now something I attend when I am drawn to it, not because I feel obligated to go. When I go now, I actually stay awake (I never really slept, but I now pay attention rather than drifting into my own thoughts), I volunteer on a less regular basis as I realize now I must “put my own oxygen mask on first before I can help others with theirs.” As for my friends, I still have many but have culled through the ones that I have come to realize were unhealthy, toxic or otherwise just no fun to be around – I am unsure why I stayed in relationship with them before.

I have learned from my friend that her test results came back and her results, which were right for her, were negative. There is a reason she did not receive bad news, perhaps she didn’t need it for her clarity or perspective, or perhaps she wasn’t in a space ready to accept anything other than good news. Whatever the case, she received her right results and they were perfect for her; I could not be happier.

My life is amazing, rich, and full of color and beauty with its sights and smells and tastes, and I really wouldn’t change it. I am grateful for my new found perspective, my cancer shift, and it took my right results to find it.