Another Year: Reflecting on 2013 and moving forward to 2014

Just like that another year has passed. My cancer experience was confined to 2011, and since then I kind of defined my time based on that – 2013 was 2 AC (after cancer). 2012 was a rebuilding year; I literally rebuilt my body and figuratively rebuilt a “normal” life after cancer. When 2013 started, I saw it as a year of bursting forward in spectacular new ways. I quit a job that I was starting to resent, I traveled on my own to a foreign country for a month, I applied and got into graduate school and I moved from DC back to Philadelphia, where I grew up, to attend said grad school. This past year, in a lot of ways, brought me closer to the path to happiness and fulfillment that I so desperately seek and that feels so much more urgent now that I’ve had cancer. 

Sometime in 2013 however, probably in the summer, I stopped thinking of time in terms of cancer. My hair was long enough to put into a ponytail, and I was making new friends who, absent of any context clues, had no idea that just a year and a half ago I sat in a cushy chair while adriamycin and other such pernicious drugs coursed through my veins. Now I struggle with whether or not to tell my grad school friends, and my bf and I say things to each other like, “Hey, remember when I had cancer? That was crazy.” 

In 2013 I was easily moved to tears many times. Fortunately, I think it is not because I watched many romantic comedies but instead because I let beautiful moments into myself so deeply. I was moved to tears by great pieces of music, well-written books, and natural wonders like a night sky full of stars or sunset over the Teton mountains. Considering I made a resolution in 2012 to stop and fully experience small moments, 2013 was a smashing success. 

But there is still a lot that I have to work on, so here are my “resolutions”, of sorts: 

  • One: I have to settle on a whether or not and how to tell new friends that I had cancer. It was a whole year of my life and left me with stories to tell, but it is often strange to start a sentence with “I had cancer and…” while at a bar surrounded by beer bottles or at a friend’s house enjoying a home-cooked meal. 
  • Two: I have to continue learning not to beat myself up over feelings like jealousy. As was written in the book I just read, A Map of the World, “…feelings are never wrong. Emotions in varying degrees exist, of course, and have to be acknowledged, but they in and of themselves… do not have moral weight and should never be judged.”
  • Three: I have to stop being timid when it comes to going for the things I want in life. I always seem to apply to jobs that are below my skill level because they are easier targets. I take unpaid internships because it’s easier than trying to find paying part-time work. For many years, I’ve said that I can’t make a living from singing because auditions are too hard. All of that needs to stop. I know it can’t all happen at once, but I want to acknowledge that I have this problem and work on it.

And that’s about it. Not sure how any of this relates to cancer, except that cancer lit a fire under my ass to get my life in order and realize what’s really important. 

Anyone else have resolutions they want to share? 


“Our Town Days”

“Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?—every, every minute?”
– Thornton Wilder, Our Town

I was in New York City the other night because a family friend of ours, who also happens to be a Broadway producer, invited me to see a preview of Ann, a play that hasn’t yet opened. She also got me tickets to Once, which was AMAZING. While we were walking through a crowded Times Square from one show to the other, my friend shared a profound observation that I want to preserve, about a journal she keeps to record what she’s coined as “Our Town Days.”

For anyone who hasn’t read Our Town, it’s a seemingly innocuous play about two families living in the sleepy (fictional) town of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire, at the turn of the 20th century. The families go through their normal routines – sending the kids off to school, tending to their gardens, choir practice at the church, a marriage between the daughter of one family, Emily, and the son of the other, George. In the third act, though, the play takes a dark turn as we watch Emily, who has died in childbirth, reminisce from the afterlife. She is given the opportunity to visit one day of her life, and she decides to travel back to her twelfth birthday, a particularly happy day for her.

But as she is reliving the day, she gets discouraged and wants to return to the afterlife, where she laments that people don’t really understand how precious life is while they’re living it.

One of the major points of the play is to observe life in it’s most normal state, because our instincts tell us to remember grandiose moments – the wonderful, the terrible, the horrifying, the profound – so much so that we lose track of the little joys that happen every day: waking up to the smell of coffee, watering a plant, eating spaghetti, taking a warm shower, getting in the car, visiting a friend, etc.

My friend’s “Our Town Days” journal reflects this idea. Her aim is to record events that are not monumental but normal, so that she doesn’t take those moments for granted.

I absolutely love this idea and hope that you do, too. I think it’s the one gift that cancer has given me that I don’t want to lose sight of: thankfulness for each moment that passes, not because something amazing has happened, but because it is simply amazing to be alive.

The view from my “home office”.

Today, as I sit at home battling a nasty cold, I’m thankful for time off from work, tissues, the fluffy clouds and blue sky that I can see out the window next to my computer, the hum and thud of the trash truck that’s hauling away our refuse, the melodic tapping of my fingers on the keyboard, and WordPress, for giving me a free blog where I can record these simple observations that make life worth living.