I think getting cancer is a lot like getting glasses.
Stay with me here.
When I was in the fifth grade, I started having some difficulty seeing the whiteboard in class. But I was like eleven years old, and I didn’t know a thing about anything, and I just thought that was kind of normal, to be sort of semi-blind and wander around through a world of blurry shapes and impressions without having any real idea what’s going on. Eventually, an adult realized that I couldn’t see jack, and the next thing I knew I was picking out a pair of frames in an optometrist’s office somewhere. I’m pretty sure I picked a pair that was pink, or had ponies on them, or something. I don’t really remember. But what I do remember is the clarity.
I walked out of that office – and I was just standing in a gross parking lot somewhere, it’s not like I was in the rainforest – but I looked up at this tree and it had leaves! And the grass, it had blades! What had been to me for months, maybe years, just an expanse of green shapelessness was now nature in all of its intricate and awe-inspiring detail, with little ladybugs and caterpillars that I could see.
Cancer gives me the same sort of clarity. Before cancer, my life was mostly an aimless walk, bogged down by worries about the stupidest things you can imagine, stupid even by twentysomething standards. And then somebody was like, “Hey, did you know you might be dying?” And I was like, “You mean, in the metaphysical way that we’re all dying?” And she was like, “No, I mean like you might actively be dying, right now, like a lot faster than you should be.” And I was like, “No, I did not know that, or even suspect it, and wow, that is not cool.”
It was just like that moment in the doctor’s office when they put the glasses on my face for the first time. Everything important snapped into focus, and I didn’t have to strain anymore to see the writing on the metaphorical whiteboard of life. It was very clear. Be happy. Be kind to one another. Don’t be an idiot who counts the calories in a box of See’s Candies. It’s See’s Candies, it has one million calories, and who cares? Eat the hell out of those raspberry truffles! (In moderation, obviously.) What’s more, I felt the same awe at the beauty of life after my diagnosis as I did after my glasses fitting. The same intense sense of wonder at the beautiful intricacy of everything, even a leaf, with its spindly veins and crisp green edges.
I don’t want people to think that cancer has given me some sort of higher level of transcendence, because it hasn’t. I still get mad when cute clothes look bad on me in the dressing room. I still spend my time worrying about stupid things like if I will EVER stop getting zits on my left cheek, and whose fault was it really that that one roommate and I didn’t get along? (Hers.) Basically, my life is like an episode of Girls, but with 100% more cancer.
But what cancer has given me, if not the ability to rise completely above worry, is the ability to let those worries slide. It has given me a feeling of deep appreciation for everything in life, even the bad things. I pretty much go through my days now like a B-list celebrity who gets nominated for an Academy Award they can never win because they’re up against Daniel Day Lewis or Stephen Spielberg or something: “It’s an honor just to be nominated. I’m just happy to be here.”
I am so happy to be here.