One of the anxieties I faced early on post stage IV diagnosis was about the mark I was going to leave on the world before I pass. I come from a family of doers and achievers and have never fit into that box myself. My biggest accomplishments were overcoming emotional hurdles or connecting deeply with others. My diagnosis made me feel like I had nothing to show for my 40 some odd years and perhaps I needed to race to validate my existence. I needed to do something big, win an award, be a “someone” to have mattered.
So I started making plans…I got a literary agent and am writing a book about cancer but also about body ownership, sex and how to feel alive in the face of a terminal diagnosis. My best friend and I are working on a fictionalized version of my story for a tv show that tackles some of the same issues, including the levity of sex coupled with the heaviness of cancer/death. And I was invited to walk in this year’s New York Fashion Week for a lingerie designer, who designs intimates for women affected by breast cancer.
I figured if any one of these things hit, I would feel more validated as a human, more relevant as someone who has been here.
The first endeavor that came to fruition was the fashion show. I was excited and used the event as a way to announce to friends and family what was going on with me, as previously I had hid my cancer diagnosis from most people. It was important for me to “come out” not as a patient but as an exceptional woman who was doing something.
But a funny thing happened in New York…I stepped out of my comfort zone, walked in fashion week. My picture was in Elle magazine among other places. Had I arrived?
The answer is no…After the event, I looked at the pictures and write ups. I shared a few links on Facebook but quickly moved on. I found there was no self-identity wrapped up in the show, no extra validation for having made a splash somewhere for a few minutes. In fact, it had just become a cool thing I did, nothing more.
Suddenly the concept of external measurable accomplishments legitimizing my being had fallen away.
So now while I am forging ahead with all of the same projects, I am entrenched in the process, not the goal. The process is moment based. It’s feeling. It’s a tap into life force with no expectations or dilution into a nebulous and uncertain future. Aligning myself with process is aligning myself with living rather than the permission to do so.
My life is no longer calling for definition and neither am I. I am already defined – defined by my kindness and empathy and the way I choose to live my life every day. My ability to navigate murky emotional waters and connect profoundly to other people, while may not win me an award or notoriety, is how I exist in this world. It’s how I have always been and how I will exit. And I am suddenly ok with that.