I have a confession to make. Since my cancer diagnosis, I have pretty much been living one day at a time, or at least CT scan to CT scan. I haven’t contemplated a long-term future. I haven’t contemplated retirement, I haven’t even really committed to a job. I’ve worked PRN…as needed. I make my work schedule out week to week. I work per diem jobs. I’ve lived tentatively for eight years, with no real long-term commitments.

Well, I’m changing that. I want to go back to college to pursue a graduate degree. I love to go to school, I love learning,and I love the college environment. The graduate degree I’ve been coveting for a long time is the degree of an Oncology Clinical Nurse Specialist, an advanced practice nursing degree. That degree is not offered many places, but it is offered at a private college in Chicago, near where I live. And an oncologist I love and respect wants to advance our local large onclolgy practice, to make it integrative…and he has already talked to his superiors, he wants me to be a part of the new practice. I would be so much more qualified to help him with the advanced degree.

It would mean committing to more than two years of education, to planning a future that would utilize that degree and to investing a lot of money in tuition, as the school I want to attend is an expensive one.

It would mean committing to a long term goal, something I’ve not really done since my cancer diagnosis. I think it would be a good thing for me, in many ways.

I did a campus visit in Chicago with my kids who were on break from college over the holidays. My youngest bought me the school lanyard, coffee mug and bumper sticker at their bookstore….she said that’s what I bought her when she first was accepted to her college (I reminded her I wasn’t accepted yet!). Over the past few years I’ve done college visits with my daughters, so they thought it was fun to do a college visit for their mom. They want me to achieve dreams too, as they have. They belive in me, as I belive in them.

I was just admitted today to a public university close to my home and registered for a pre-requisite class required for the graduate degree. I’m a college student again after 17 years! I need three letters of recommendation from nurses with a master’s degree or beyond to apply to the graduate program. Today I finally located and talked to three of my former nursing professors, who all remembered me after 17 years and who are thrilled to write my letters of recommendation. As it turns out, the three of them, after retiring have become best friends and see each other often. They were all people I admired greatly and who inspired me when I was in school. I also need to obtain an Illinois nursing license and to take GREs. Challenges…but welcome challenges. I so want to be challenged again.

Maybe after cancer (and after turning 50!) we need to push ourselves, challenge ourselves. We need to allow ourselves to dream dreams, to believe in a future.

I think of the patients I’ve know as a nurse, who’ve suddeny succumbed to a life-threatening disease or illness unexpectedly. I think of myself being very near the Twin Towers just a few days before they went down, just a few days before many whom I’m sure were healthy unexpectedly lost their lives. And I remember thinking then that none of us, with or withhout cancer, healthy or ill, is promised tomorrow. We with cancer are just more aware of our mortality. We are as vulnable as everyone else, only more aware of our vulnerability. We need to keep moving forward, in spite of cancer. We need to not let that awareness of vulnerability control our passions.

I feel I am in some sense reclaiming my life. Moving beyond cancer, not letting my diagnosis dictate my life and dreams. But I also recognize how lucky I am not to be dealing with a recurrence, to have been out of cancer treatment for so long. I know many are not as lucky as I have been. But hopefully furthering my education will help me to give more to those living in the cancer community.