PHOTO CREDIT: Vanessa Bieler
To mark my 10 year anniversary of being cured of breast cancer, Shaney Jo of Keep A Breast Foundation and Non Toxic Revolution asked me to put on paper 10 things that have come into focus. Any experience can be a teacher and disease certainly provided that opportunity for me. No pink ribbons here. Just real talk.
I’m no braver than the women I knew who didn’t make it. I didn’t fight harder or want to live more. I was young and single. There were other women undergoing treatment at the same time, who had husbands and children who loved and needed them, but not all of them got to the other side. Those beautiful fighters are gone and I’m here. Why? I don’t know the answer. But I do not intend to waste this chance I have been given to have an extraordinary, full life. I owe it to those women.
There Are No Bad Days
Every day is a good day, even the days that are frustrating, disappointing or flat-out heartbreaking. It’s all better than the alternative, which is no days. This information can really cheer a girl up.
Western Medicine Isn’t Evil
The type of cancer I had was extremely aggressive. During my treatments, a drug became available that made my form of breast cancer – which had been one of the most fatal – into the most curable. I am all for yoga, green juice and shamanic healers. Shake a rattle at me and I’m on board. But I look to Western Medicine as both a vital diagnostic tool and an essential part of my healing.
It’s Not About You
Living for yourself is not a great recipe for happiness. It’s through loving and caring for others that life is imbued with meaning. My community came through for me in ways large and small. From handling grocery runs when I was too weak to walk a city block to shaving the stubble on my mostly bald head, I was held in love. I will spend the rest of my days trying to give to others what was given to me.
Fear Is Overrated
What is it that you really want to do? Go do it. As the poet Hafiz says “Fear is the cheapest room in the house / I would like to see you living in better conditions.” Once I did things that completely terrified me and I lived through them, I stopped being afraid to try new things out. I started looking at my life as a creative act. Fear became an interesting point of reference but not a deal-breaker. My life cracked open in the most beautiful ways (and continues to).
Go Outside and Play
One of the few factors within my control to limit the possibility of my cancer recurring post-treatment was to keep my body-fat ratio low. No more skinny-fat. It was time for me to get fit, to build strength. And I did. In the process this city girl realized how much she loved being active outdoors. It became my tonic, my church. Parts of me lit up and I’ve never looked back. I moved coasts, changed my professional life and prioritized what I know makes me happy and healthy: being outside in nature.
Don’t Get On the Bus
My doctors could tell me I had cancer but in order to determine at what stage they needed to perform surgery. Of course, there were several days to live through between these two events. The waiting was not comfortable, but it was profound. I saw a rabbi (and yelled at him). I looked at elderly people with envy. Would I have the opportunity to grow old? What I learned was this: don’t worry until you have to. I pictured my concerns arriving like express busses on 1st Avenue. I didn’t need to get on them and go rushing north towards conclusions that may not be true. I could opt to slow down, stay still and wait for information that was empirical. Whatever it was, I would deal with it as rationally as possible when it arrived. Data was my best friend.
Respect the Vessel
The complexity of our bodies is nothing short of miraculous. We have a whole universe inside of us. There is so much beauty in a heartbeat it should move us all to tears. I swore I would never again bemoan its perceived imperfections. I wish I could tell you that I don’t ever struggle with idealized cultural standards, but that wouldn’t be true. Nonetheless, I tell my body how much I appreciate it. I thank it regularly for working well, for being strong, for taking me to amazing places and for letting me know when it’s time to rest.
Fate shifts in a moment. Love fully. Be discerning then don’t hold back.
We don’t have many rituals left in our culture except for getting married and being buried. Honoring moments and creating a sense of ceremony around them slows down time, helps things come into focus. Whether it’s the first day of spring or your 10-year anniversary of being cured of cancer, celebrate. I certainly intend to throw one hell of a party.
Laura Rubin is the principal of Left Left Right, a communications consultancy, founder of blank notebook and analog experience company AllSwell, and is the Editor-at-Large of Whalebone Magazine. Most of the time she lives in a green bungalow in Venice, CA but she’s rumored to be bi-coastal. Follow her adventures in wellness and beyond at @lauralrubin.
PHOTO CREDIT: Vanessa Bieler