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Is It Time for a Shift

“Some moments in life take up a whole wall,” my friend said. “They’re like giant murals. They’re all we see, even if that moment happened a long time ago.”

My friend is a minister and one of those speakers who can be in front of a thousand people but still connect with each individual. At a church service, he shared his thoughts on perspective one spring morning more than a decade ago. I felt as if he was talking directly to me, and I still remember his exact words.

Painful experiences in my life sometimes feel like they’ve burned a hole in my soul, that they overpower everything. My early childhood was fraught with moments of excruciating cruelties, and only through determined effort have I managed to eclipse their bleak shadows. “What if, for a moment,” my friend challenged, “your mural shrunk. It became a picture window instead of the whole wall.”

At the time, I was willing to consider that possibility. I wanted to let my angst go. So, I visualized my pain shrinking in proportion to his analogy.

As the lesson went on, his mural kept getting smaller, from a picture window to a portrait. From a portrait to a post card. From a post card to a postage stamp. And I decided that a postage stamp is a manageable-sized square on the patchwork quilt that is my life.

Cancer can be like that mural, too, a monstrosity that hogs up all the space even though most of life doesn’t have anything to do with cancer.

When my husband found the lump in my breast, a rock-hard nugget that demanded all our attention, I guess it was natural for that moment to project itself into oversized status. Those early days, scrambling to find a doctor, wrestling with insurance companies, wrangling with new thoughts on mortality – all that falderal ballooned into a scene that dominated my view.

I learned I had cancer the day before a new nationwide healthcare policy kicked in, and that new law rendered our family’s insurance invalid. Our policy was deemed “noncompliant,” and a three digit code was attached to the policy number. Those three digits meant that no doctor would see me, but my disease – aggressive and life-threatening – demanded immediate care. We were screwed.

So, all of our attention — all of it — was focused on cancer.

It’s hard to change gears, but now that my active treatment is over, it’s time for a shift.

I listened to that memorable lecture on perspective a long time ago ago. Could I apply those lessons again, this time to my disease?

Triple negative breast cancer taunts its victims with the threat of coming back. Statistically, I’m at that moment when my cancer has the highest likelihood of returning, and in my case, if it does, my chances of survival are bleak. How do I co-exist with this reality and still enjoy my family? How do I look at my daughter’s preadolescent face and see a blossoming beauty instead of an orphan? How do I keep my postage stamp from morphing into a mural?

One of the points my friend made that day was that the perspective I chose to take is entirely up to me. Focusing on dire statistics doesn’t help or hinder my chances. It only makes my life less pleasant than it could be. Soaking in that reality, I woke up this morning and cooked a lovely breakfast. I took time to write and exercise. I celebrated with my husband when he got our car into the garage for the first time since we moved to our new desert home, a true miracle given the incredible amount of junk we’ve managed to accumulate while refurbishing this house.

Being mindful of these small blessings is all it took for me to shrink my mural. The postage stamp? I’m going to use it to send my angst where it belongs, to a universe more than capable of handling my every need.


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