“She needs to sort out her priorities.”
– Ron Weasley in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
At the start of last summer, I celebrated surviving my expiration date. I was suddenly the cancer girl that lived. I was off chemotherapy and I appeared to be thriving. But I was secretly scared that my apparent remission was just a fluke and I would start to slide into cancer decline.
I vowed to make summer 2017 one to remember. If this was going to be my last hurrah, I would give my son a summer full of memories. Alternatively, if I continued to thrive, well then, we had the makings of a beautiful photo album.
I always thought my last hurrah would be some fabulous trip to India or Thailand, but I found myself just craving sweet everyday moments. A private joke between the three of us, giggles under the moonlight, or the smell of the forest floor when we stepped on newly fallen pine needles.
Instead of putting our son in an all-day summer camp as I had every year before so I could work, I decided to do ‘mommy day camp’. Every day we chose a new local adventure: Parks, libraries, museums, zoos, backyard picnics, mud festivals, lakes, and beaches.
Instead of a planned trip, we packed up the station wagon with a tent, fishing poles, bikes, a couple guidebooks and set the GPS to Niagara Falls. We had no agenda, no road map, no itinerary, just 15 days to wake up every morning and decide which direction we would drive and what to see along the way.
A year earlier the idea of a 600-mile journey with no plan would have made my overachiever side itchy and twitchy. Which is precisely why I made myself do it. I forced myself to live in the moment and break away from the part of my ‘cancer personality’ that got me sick in the first place. The type-A, perfectionist, caregiver personality that gave so much to others and drove herself so hard that her body broke down.
Now solidly in remission, it’s a constant struggle to not fall back into this self-destructive pattern. This summer, I’m balancing starting a business with the top priority of my post-cancer life: Raising and loving my 11-year-old son. I have heard from many survivors, that we struggle during and after cancer to stay focused on our newfound priorities. We know what’s right, but have a lifetime of overachieving in our DNA.
This summer is the perfect time to re-calibrate our priorities if we need to. Here are a few suggestions, for anyone that finds themselves slipping back into overdrive.
1) Just stop.
Nothing makes us slow down more than hitting the brakes. When the mind is swirling and we’re getting overwhelmed, the best thing to do is literally just stop in our tracks. I chose to take a 20-minute meditation break or old-fashion nap. It resets the mind long enough to get back on track.
2) Shorten the to-do list.
True confession: I tried to give up the to-do list last summer and failed miserably. Instead, to combat the to-do list getting too long and boring, we established a ‘must’ and ‘want’ list for summer days. Every day, each of us declares one thing we must get done, for example: Write this blog, mow the lawn, do summer math homework. We balanced the ‘must’ with one thing we ‘want’ to do, for example: A family picnic, ride bikes, play Fortnite. This ensures each person has one thing that brings them joy in the day.
3) Just be.
Modern life pushes us in a lot of directions and our devices give us constant distraction. This combination only reinforces overachiever complex. To balance the brain drain, we all need to practice just being. For example, if it’s a gorgeous day, just stop and watch the clouds. Maybe even find animal shapes like we did when we were kids. If it’s raining, just watch a puddle. No we’re not ‘doing’ anything. We’re just enjoying the moment.
All of us have an expiration date…death is inevitable. But for some of us cancer patients, a doctor gives us a date sooner than we were ready to be taken off the shelf. We understand in a way no one else can that this summer needs to be enjoyed. So go enjoy it.
By Tracy White