One of the experts in Beauty Pearls for Chemo Girls, massage therapist Gayle McDonald, provides this parting pearl of wisdom for the readers –
Throw out everything in your life that you don’t need and isn’t working. Draining friends, needing to have your house spotless, being president of the PTA – if it’s too much for you let it go and concentrate on what works for you and makes you calm and relaxed and happy.
It’s a great bit of advice that, over this past decade, I’ve come to embrace, realizing that we are not all each other’s cup of tea – and that it’s perfectly ok to acknowledge this, and act on it in ways that make life easier and more enjoyable.
Being an alumnus of 12 years of Catholic School, I grew up believing that it was uncharitable to not want to share the company of people who, for whatever reason, did not click with me. If invited to spend time with someone, I felt I had no choice to oblige, and be gracious and social. If asked to work on a project for which I had no time or interest, I thought it was my duty to accept. If plans were inconvenient, but included me, I never thought to decline, or bow out.
Cancer changed all that. Once I had to put myself, my treatment, my survival as my top priority, letting go of difficult relationships became much easier. I discovered that declining to tax myself beyond my capabilities was not selfish, it was smart. It focused my time and energy in ways that helped me get through the rigors of treatment. Once out of the cancer trenches, I realized that moving forward, I had every right and reason to continue to use the minutes of my life in ways that empowered without draining, and inspired without exhausting.
That’s not to say I took a wholesale approach to relationships and commitments. I refined them. So a person who may have been an enormous pull on my psyche was relegated to a less prominent place in my consciousness. I was able to make sure that my priorities did not take a back seat to someone else’s. The things that matter most to me, my health and my family, are now always center stage.
I find this all to be enormously freeing – it’s as if cancer gave me permission to put my needs first, and to either literally or figuratively walk away from people and situations I just don’t want to be around. I know there are already millions of people for whom this comes naturally but for me this was one of the best life lessons ever learned: that no matter how much time I’ve got left on earth, it’s up to me to make sure I use it in a way that makes a difference to me and those I love.
Anyone dealing with cancer discovers just how gutsy they really are. In my case, I found out that yes is a beautiful word, but that being able to say no – no, thank you, not today, not this time, or maybe not ever – is an equally empowering gift and one I’m grateful to have finally opened.