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.

26 thoughts on “Clarity

  1. Deb says:

    You continue to amaze me. I found out I had breast cancer just a few days before finding your blog. I just today bought my first real piece of clothing (bra) since my surgery. Felt verylike liberatrd. And as I sit in the shoe dept with son I read your blog. I want you to know you are quite an inspiration to this 40 year old mom of 3, 4 time cancer survivor. You rock and I too am so happy to be here!

    • Congrats on beating cancer FOUR TIMES! I hope you kick breast cancer’s ass, too. I was ecstatic when I got to buy some bras after the first part of my reconstruction…finally, something bigger than a 32A! 🙂

  2. Jenny says:

    I know from experience. It was totally her fault.

    Also-you continue to be amazing. I am SO happy to our paths crossed.

  3. xdanigirl says:

    This is amazing! You have such a positive outlook!

  4. You really are amazing. As a 40 something mom of two and about to visit my ocular oncologist for the second time you give me strength. I am waiting and watching to see if a nevus (freckle), in my eye changes. Knowing there are such strong people like you out there really helps. Thanks.

    • Stay strong and have faith. The universe is an amazing place, and (I used to want to punch people who said this to me, but I get it now, and now I’m saying it so here it goes:) things happen for a reason.

  5. Fire Penguin says:

    Literally, this is what I got here:


  6. Ann says:

    Continue to let those things slide, oh wise one.

    And never, never stop writing this stupendous blog.

  7. Courtney says:

    Reblogged this on The Other Courtney and commented:
    A fantastic post on “not sweating the small stuff.” Life is beautiful, we are so lucky to be experiencing it no matter what we’re dealing with. This girl’s perspective is inspiring and captivating!

  8. syrcatgrl says:

    Thank you for your beautiful insight. You’re a pretty amazing person. My mom just found out she has breast cancer for the second time and is now getting a double mastectomy. I’ll have to share your blog with her!

  9. What an amazing spirit you have! I have signed to follow you through your journey.

  10. Jessica T says:

    Not only do your experiences and observations reveal a compelling perspective, but–DAMN girl–you can write. It was such a pleasure to come across this post this morning and I appreciate the inspiration and clarity. Rock on xo.

    • Katherine says:

      I came here to say the same thing. I don’t know you, Michelle, but we have mutual friends at VCU which is how I found your blog. I just wanted you to know how beautiful and tragic and hilarious and amazing your writing is; it’s such a perfect blend of all the things you’re going through.

      As someone who’s never had cancer, but did get glasses in the 7th grade, I really enjoyed reading this, and I am thankful for the perspective it gave me. Best to you, you’re in my prayers… keep on truckin’! Oh, and go rams! 😉

  11. You’re so brave and cool for sharing this and inspiring people to appreciate life more. Thank you. 🙂

  12. Wow, I just found your blog bc Courtney re-blogged and love this post! Thanks for sharing your story 🙂

  13. My mom actually died from breast cancer two years ago today, so reading this meant a lot to me.

  14. lamont! thank goodness loco posted your blog on facebook and i found it to scour — you rock, girlfriend! proud to call you my (sorority) sister. i am so inspired by your attitude and the way you’re spreading the optimism to the world. axoxo

  15. rachelmeeks says:

    Loved this post, and really needed to read it today. Thanks

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