Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Words That Define Us

Remember when you go to a job interview and they ask you to describe yourself in three words?   I even used that question with a twist when I was pursuing online dating.   In a business interview, I would describe myself as a team player, innovative, & dedicated.  All the words that were appropriate for the situation, these words would all be true in the work environment, but in the other part of my life I had completely different words that others and I would use to describe myself.  My favorites are free spirit, smiley, lovable, sunny, care free, compassionate, care-taker, independent, confident, strong-willed, flower child, “yogurt or crunchy” and these are just to name a few.           
Then one day four years ago a new word was introduced into my vocabulary.   And with that word a new set of words or phrases somehow replaced all the others.   I went from being described with a multitude of adjectives to being a cancer patient, survivor, fighter or victim.   It didn’t really matter which word was used because the word that made the difference was Cancer.   It did not really happen overnight, but it seemed that cancer did take over my world.  

After two years of constant difficult treatment that seemed to not only make no difference to the cancer, but egg it on to take over my body, the doctors added another word to my descriptor – Terminal.   In a few short years, I went from the care-free hippie to the terminal cancer patient.  After a while I chose to refer to myself as an end-stage cancer survivor, but that is just semantics.

When the doctors told me treatment was not working and I had only a matter of months to live, life took on a whole new meaning and I was determined to live life to its fullest and for a while I did, but I was also preparing to die and to understand what that meant emotionally, physically, logistically and spiritually not only for me, but for my loved ones.  

An amazing thing happened though.  I did not die.  I am over two years past my “expiration date”.  There are really no concrete reasons for why I am still alive.   I was not miraculously healed.  I still have cancer and my body is a mess.  These days I look pretty good, but I joke that people should look under the hood.   As wonderful as it that I am still alive, it was not part of the plan.  I had accepted life’s terms that I would die way too young and I was trying to make sense of the loss and find the resolve to live life for each day.  However, while I was focusing on cherishing each day I was also waiting to die.

I’m not saying in the past two years that I did not have days that I truly felt alive, but they were the exception and not the norm.  Basically, I was coasting along in my unfulfilling life.

I wrote in my last post about an experience I had this summer that produced new adjectives that people have said about me that include:  risk taker, inspirational, strong, courageous, kind, empowering, determined.  The words that I choose to use to describe myself are: inspired, humbled, happy and optimistic and thriving.   If I have to have a word associated with having cancer, I choose cancer thrivor.

I think from time to time we should all look at the words that we use to describe us and decide if we like them.  One thing I have learned from this experience is that life changes every day.  It changes without our permission, but we also have the opportunity to craft and define the changes we want to make.   I realize that we cannot change everything.  I cannot change that I have cancer or the fact that I am suffering a major infection as a result of an oral surgery I had two months ago.  I may be looking at two more surgeries to correct it and at this point that is up to the effectiveness of the medication and the judgment of medical professionals.  What I can change is how I choose to let this affect me and what I intend to do about it.   I know the next few months are going to be difficult, but I am putting plans into action to make them easier and most importantly for the first time in years, I am looking at the future and making plans for next spring and summer. 

What are some of the words that you feel describe you?   What are the ones you want to change and if you can use any three words to describe yourself, what would they be?

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