I am lucky.
If cancer is the narrow spot in an hourglass and I am the sand, I have traveled from the top through the tight spot to the bottom – the same sand – only with a different arrangement.
A soft, non-painful lump turned out to be a 6-inch malignant mass. Successful treatment of my Soft Tissue Sarcoma, included the amputation of my dominant left hand and forearm. I was very fortunate to be given the opportunity to choose life by accepting something that was life-altering, disfiguring, potentially life saving, but with no lifetime guarantee.
Cancer has brought far more to my life than a new silhouette. I have had to learn and re-learn many things as a result of losing my hand and forearm. Most significantly, I have learned that life does go on – and that there are very few things I cannot accomplish with the right amount of patience, persistence and grace. My resilient response to change – a willingness to say, “Yes, this has happened. And now what?” – is due in part to a positive attitude, which I admit I come by somewhat naturally. My strong belief that self-care is not a selfish act is a result of paying attention to challenges and putting forth the effort to ask for help, to learn to manage things a new way, or sometimes to decide, gracefully, not to do something.
Out of a strong sense of gratitude, I went to my doctor nine years ago and asked how I could help him achieve his goals. Sadly, I did not have a million dollars to give him – but I had my voice. That is when I began speaking on behalf of the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota whenever I was asked. In 2010, I took it to the next level. As a speaker and author, I have the privilege of doing what I do for a good cause; sharing a meaningful message and raising funds on behalf of cancer research, education and advocacy.
Soon after my amputation, someone said, “You’re so lucky you didn’t do anything.” It was, I believe, intended as a positive comment, but with a rather back-handed slant. The person was correct. My life and livelihood did not depend on having two hands. However, I felt diminished in the contribution of my time, my talents and my resources. I no longer feel that way. I have found that it is a mistake and even counterproductive, to compare one person’s life journey with another’s – all are different and worthy, and one is not more important or profound than another. Adjustment, adaptation, acceptance and grace are keys to moving forward after any experience with cancer. Feelings of frustration and joy at being able to set priorities on when and how life’s activities will be put back into place are real. I understand the effort and determination it takes to feel independent, confident and “whole”. I am lucky. I am alive.