Time for a Reflection
Updated: Mar 8
As I approach the 10th anniversary of my bout with ovarian cancer (and 20 years for breast cancer), I am compelled to hit pause and reflect on how I have stayed positive and focused on living my life.
I am often told that I have an unusual philosophy regarding my disease. I tend to be more casual about it than others expect - not engaging in too much brooding. I’m not sure how much of this is nature and what part is nurture, but I do consciously rehearse several affirmations when needed. I'll get to that in a minute.
A couple of very important conversations took place with each cancer diagnosis. The first took place 20 years ago just two months after my second husband proposed. After looking for love for over a decade, I could not believe cancer could have such bad timing. I was scared and discouraged. My husband suggested I speak to the rabbi. This was completely out of my comfort zone as I grew up in a home with an unusual blend of some Jewish tradition, but no actual religion. Expecting something religious in nature, I was stunned with the advice I received. In short, it was much like the serenity prayer with a practical twist. He said, "look for the cancer-related things you can control, like your will, your treatment decisions and any other tangible decisions and deal with all of those issues. Then put them away in your 'cancer box.' Close the box - that is all you can control regarding your disease, life and death. Then LIVE - work on yourself, your relationships, your job, interests and so forth, and make them what you want them to be. You won't have any time left to worry.” He was absolutely right! We married and had a happy, very enviable decade of life.
The second diagnosis, 10 years later, was much scarier. The disease (primary peritoneal from ovarian cancer) was not curable. I was at the cusp of grandparenthood and what I viewed as the harvest years of my life. I had worked hard at my career and had a great work/life balance. I thoroughly enjoyed my husband and family, not sweating the small stuff as I might have before listening to the rabbi's advice a decade earlier.
We were on the verge of purchasing a lake home that I had been fantasizing about since my childhood. I vividly remember sitting in the conference room at the hospital to hear the diagnosis. In my mind, I kept saying, 'you can handle this, you can handle this - you're tough' and then, I asked the surgeon my big question - should we buy the lake house? He looked down sadly at the table and I passed out.
Later that week, I saw my oncologist and he shared the most uplifting advice - just the words I needed to hear. He said, "What?! Of course, buy the house - LIVE, Jane! Your husband is a big boy, he can always sell the house later if needed. And who knows what will happen next." My chest finally filled with relief. We did buy the house and ironically, flipped it last summer, 9 years later, for an even nicer one. I worked for the following ten years before retiring, and now have six gorgeous grandchildren. We have been living out our bucket list and not putting important things off. I have definitely been blessed with a full, happy life.
So, is joy a choice? I'm not entirely sure. It is certainly easier to feel when one is surrounded by positive people. My oncologist and his staff have been right there for me - offering the most cutting edge new treatments with a sense of hope. Thankfully, my type of cancer has responded well and I keep getting another one of those proverbial nine lives. Cancer treatments have come such a long way since my initial diagnosis.
My husband and our big family have been there for me too - focused on life and family and not dwelling on my disease. This has enabled me to put my cancer fears away when I can and enjoy the preciousness of living and loving every day. And my affirmations - when I need some - are to follow my husband's advice, "Don't look down", my rabbi's, "Do what you can control and then put it away", and my physician's, "LIVE"!
Jane Rubin is the author of the memoir, Almost a Princess, My Life as a Two-Time Cancer Survivor available in most online bookstores. The royalties are donated to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund.