A cancer survivor friend was telling me today about the many stresses currently overwhelming her. They are very significant stressors. But then she said how great it was to be freaking about something other than potentially dying of cancer. I laughed. I’ve felt the same before…grateful for things that overwhelmed me that weren’t cancer. Stress after a cancer diagnosis was redefined, even sometimes enjoyed. What had once been stressors to be avoided had become greatly appreciated distractions.

Another newly diagnosed cancer patient told me this week how much she appreciates sleeping. She reminded me that sleep was my escape from cancer too, early on…even though falling asleep was difficult. I remember first waking up in the days after I was diagnosed and feeling great….for about 60 seconds. Then I’d remember that something was wrong, my life had changed. I’d remember that I had cancer. I just wanting my normal mornings back. To wake up without the dark curtain falling.

I also celebrated this year that at my family’s annual holiday gathering on Christmas Eve only ONE person took my picture!!! The first family Christmas get together after my diagnosis I noticed everyone pointing cameras and camcorders in my direction, I was very conscious of it. Everyone kept saying they were sure I was going to beat it, but they kept taking pictures and more pictures of me…just in case.

I now have a kind of annoying need to always be productive…it’s harder for me to just do mindless things, I always have a todo list. I feel badly if I don’t make good use of a day. I need my time to be spent in meaningful ways, I guess? I don’t relax as easily. I have a timer now to monitor my on-line use, I don’t want to spend too much time on the computer. Too easy to waste time you may not get back.

I’m also just less fearful in general. Old fears turned out to not have much substance in comparison to the cancer monster. I no longer have any fear of flying at all, bumpy flights and storms are fine. I even recently flew in a very old rickety small prop plane. Loud and interesting but not scary. I don’t mind being in small boats in large ocean waves. I don’t worry about bears when backpacking in bear country. I don’t worry about contaminated water. I totally disregard expiration dates on food.

But while I’m less fearful for myself, I am more fearful for my kids, I think. I’m probably more protective, which is tricky now that they are approaching adulthood and I need to respect their independence. I know personally that bad things can happen, that good and loving and deserving people aren’t immune, and that in an instant things can change. I know that we are all vulnerable. So I try harder to keep my kids safe and healthy. I put vitamin D supplements in their Christmas stockings this year after what I learned at my most recent cancer conference (more on that later).

Before cancer I also used to say I’d want to know ahead of time before I died…I think I’d wanted to organize my stuff and clean up my messes before I checked out, to not embarrass myself for posterity? Or maybe it was the control freak in me that didn’t want to be taken by surprise. Now I’d much more appreciate dying quickly without having to contemplate my demise ahead of time…a heart attack or a plane crash would be preferable, probably why I no longer have a fear of flying!

Life after a cancer diagnosis just changes things. Our perspectives are different, we are changed.