Though I’ve spoken about breast cancer for Susan G. Komen for the Cure (emphasizing the importance of early screening and detection), until a week ago I had never had a mammogram. In my training I’d been taught that mammograms weren’t that accurate or useful in women under 40 (our health system’s protocols reflect that), so I got regularly checked by my physician whenever I had a physical and otherwise was waiting until I was older to get testing. This year, because my mother had breast cancer in her 40’s, my physician recommended I get one.
So I went for my appointment (which wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought, I’ll spare you the pancake-y details), and then got a call from the radiology office.
“You need to come in for more views,” the voice told me.
“I’m a doctor – please read me the report,” I asked her. Clearly not used to doing so, she fumbled through the medical terminology but I understood clearly. A 4 mm heterogeneous nodule in the left breast, “possibly due to artefact”. As anyone who’s received one of these results knows, you hear the word “nodule” in giant capital letters, and the words “possibly artefact” as a slightly (not too) reassuring whisper.
That night I lay awake, gazing up into the night sky through the overhead skylight as sleep eluded me.
What if I had cancer? What if I only had, say, a year left? Unlikely, especially given the cure rates when breast cancer gets detected and treated early – but some people inevitably fall into the percentage of people who don’t make it, even if the odds are with them.
Life suddenly got clear, really clear. Being the mind-body medicine enthusiast that I am, I knew that I would immediately leap into action to remove all significant stressors, avoiding anything that would stimulate stress hormone release or generate free radicals.
I could imagine myself aggressively screening and fielding emails and phone calls. The other day, I wrote about how my friend, top-ranked Gen-Y blogger Jenny Blake (who’s also a manager at Google) and I have intense conversations about how to prioritize and create more room for what’s important. Suddenly, if I might only have 365 days left, those decisions wouldn’t be so difficult.
If you only had 365 days left and knew it, how would you spend them?
What would you immediately shave from your life? What would you urgently begin to make time for?
The irony here is that each of us actually does have a finite period of time here on this earth, we just don’t live like we do. You really might just have a year left, or two, or ten. None of us knows.
Years ago now, when I was passionately diving into dance, I felt like I had the rest of my life to study and enjoy it. The other day I realized that I possibly might have only ten years of really good, powerful dancing left. Hopefully I’d dance until the end (in my eighties? Or nineties?), but flamenco is extraordinarily physically demanding and I’m not guaranteed that my knees or hips will hold out, though I’d do everything possible to ensure that they do.
I heard a speech from Jim Rohn that warned against the sneaky passing of time and the way we deceive ourselves about it. He talked about how we might say “I’ve got twenty years left to enjoy my yearly golf vacation.” Twenty years sounds like a long time, right? Not so, if you frame it as Rohn does: “Twenty more years of a yearly golf trip means you have ONLY TWENTY MORE GOLF TRIPS left in your life.” Sounds a lot different that way, doesn’t it? Try applying that language to anything important that you have been putting off, and see if it wakes you up.
Wondering how I might spend my last year sure slapped me back into perspective – instantly. Who would I want to spend my time with? (that’s probably the most important question, other than making a decision about whether or not to believe in Jesus Christ, as a Christian I can rest assured that I have made the very most important lifetime decision already, thankfully)
Choices about how to spend my time that seem so agonizing now would suddenly be very simple – the only limiting factor would be money and trying to figure out how to balance all the things I really need to do.
Think about it, really. What would you do if you MIGHT only have 365 days left? I say might, because in this imaginary scenario, like with any illness, there’s a chance of cure – so you can’t go blowing all your money or gorging yourself into a 100 pound weight gain you’ll later regret. But if these really might be your last days, what would you allow into your life, and what would you finally have the strength and absolute clarity to say NO, NO, NO, to?
I’m being more picky about how I spend my time than ever. And here’s a bonus – if you spend as much of your time as possible doing what’s the very most meaningful, you’ll infuse your very cells with love and joy and likely dramatically increase the years that you actually get here (and improve your health, energy and quality of life in doing so).
As for my mammogram, the follow-up films were negative – free and clear! I was so overjoyed that I skipped out of the clinic’s waiting room still wearing my backless hospital gown top (until I realized what I’d done and ran back into the clinic, bright red and still giggling). I really didn’t care – I’d been given my life back, in more ways than one.