I’m at a crossroad in my life. I recently turned 50, and I recently became an empty nester. When my first daughter left for college, I was kind of lost. I cried unexpectedly and often. My kids had been my life, my focus and my priority for years. My life had been all about them for almost two decades. It was hard to see the first one leave the nest.

When my second daughter left for college, I dealt with it better. I’d become accustomed to your kids leaving home as the norm. I still love and miss my kids, but we are close and communicate a lot. I am so glad I got to be here long enough for them to leave me, that I didn’t leave them when I was diagnosed and they were only 10 and 11 years old, when I was so central to their lives. Their leaving me, in the end, was a gift. I cherish now that they’ve left the nest and have become their own adults separate from me.

I now love seeing my kids become independent adults with lives that don’t revolve around me. They have their own hopes and ambitions and dreams, I am not central anymore. I kind of love being dispensable. If I died now, my kids would be okay, they have lots of dreams and lots to live for, they could move on. They love me, but they’d be able to manage without me now. I am grateful for that.

But in the end this time in my life has also opened new doors for me. I got to thinking…the first few decades of my life involved me growing up and becoming an independent adult. The next few decades were about being a wife and mom (and dealing with a cancer diagnosis and treatment). Raising my kids was my priority; my needs didn’t matter so much those decades.

Turning 50 as an empty nester, I have come to realize my remaining years, however many they are, can be mine. I’ve fulfilled obligations the first 5 decades of my life. Now I can focus on me! And it’s okay. If I am lucky enough to live to be 70, I have two more decades to grow, to realize dreams and to develop new relationships without so many other obligations. It’s kind of liberating. I suddenly want so much. I am willing to plan for a long-term future; even though I understand after cancer it is not guaranteed. I am back in school and loving it, I love learning, and I love growing. I love connecting with students and professors. I am looking towards a new career path. I am remodeling my kitchen. Redecorating my bathroom. Finding hope in looking towards a future. I know a future here maybe only an illusion, but I like the illusion.

I think it’s okay to plan a future and to reach for goals, even when you live with the uncertainty of a cancer diagnosis. Reaching for goals is hopeful on its own. And the cool thing is, cancer made me contemplate all future scenarios, in this life and beyond. So I know I have a future, even if it ends up not being here in this world, this reality. I am guaranteed a future regardless. Only location can change.

Maybe I am gifted in being able to finally contemplate a future. And maybe knowing my future is tenuous and not to be taken for granted will make me value it that much more, help me make that much more use of my time?

And as a side note, there are several benefits to being an empty nester, I’ve learned. My utility bills are about half of what they used to be, the grocery bill is way less, eating out is cheaper when it’s just two, the house STAYS clean and is quiet when you want to read a book, and my husband and I spend more quality time together. We’ve been having a lot of fun!

The crossroads in our lives (and there are many of them) can be initially painful, but they are always new opportunities for growth and happiness.