Serena's Story

This is the story I wrote over 15 years ago - while undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer:

As human beings, all of us know about dying. Mortality is a part of our existence. All of us have, at some point, dealt with watching someone; a friend, a relative, a public figure, deal with death. And it’s no surprise to any of us that we can’t live forever.

In August of 1994, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. At first, learning that I have a life-threatening illness was devistating. But then I realized that I need to look - not at how to deal with dying, but with how to deal with living.

Not the day-to-day existence we call life, but the fulfillment of that life. It occurred to me that cancer isn’t necessarily a death sentence…it can be a LIFE sentence… and a challenge to live! The question became, “What am I doing with TODAY?”

How many times a day do you let a kindness go undone because you’re busy and you don’t want to risk wasting time? There’s power in kindness!

How often do you not verbalize that loving and caring thought because you don’t know how it will be taken, and you don’t want to risk sounding corny? There’s power in loving!

How often to you abdicate your opportunity to enjoy and appreciate your own life sentence because you’re focusing your attention in the past or in the future… places that exist only in our minds? There’s power in the moment!

If I look at all the mistakes I made throughout my life, each one of them indicated a time I was willing to risk.

Things might not have worked out the way I wanted them to at the time, but I DID risk… and I learned, and the lessons added to the foundation of my life.

It takes courage to risk. It takes courage to choose to LIVE. And that courage is power!

Having cancer is an ironic way to get in touch with living. But it’s been effective for me. Everyday activities; time with my children and friends, my focus on my job, and my short-term goals have become more powerful for me.

The things I was going to do “someday” suddenly have a new meaning. If they’re really significant, how can I accomplish them now? And if they are not, why waste precious time thinking about them?

I reflect on my relationships with my children. I’m now willing to risk being more honest and open than ever… not because I might be dying… but because I am certainly LIVING! I want to share with them the reality of who I am today. Not their illusion of me, or who I wish I was.

I reflect on the other relationships in my life. What are the things I tend to overlook, to my own detriment, for the sake of relationships that aren’t healthy for me? What can I do NOW to change the way I relate to those individuals?

It’s not about making anyone wrong for being who they are, or for whatever happened in the past. It’s about looking at and choosing what I want to be happening in my present. And that is incredibly empowering!

I reflect on what I’m doing with my life; the things that make me feel valued and fulfilled. I’m very lucky. I have many enriching activities. Many people don’t have so much satisfaction in their lives. They’re the
ones who postpone their dreams until… And there may never be an “until…”

I reflect on my relationship with myself. Asking for help is a skill I never developed, yet I’ve learned to do just that. Getting in touch with my feelings and needs was a challenge.

Dramatic mood swings, depression and fatigue that came from the treatments were difficult for me.

I could go from elation to psychotic bitch from hell in 10 seconds… and as quickly dissolve into tears of anguish. And I learned to accept those responses to my life.

I reflect on the dramatic impact the disease had on my relationship with my own body; the anger, the frustration, the sadness…. I felt betrayed; that my body had let me down… and I thought that perhaps somehow, I’d let my body down.

These were things I was working on. And with “working on” things came risks. And with the risks comes power!

How many risks do you NOT take advantage of? How much of your power are you wasting?

Each and every one of us has a life-threatening condition. It’s called “Being Here”. Each and every one of us is dying - because that’s the only option at the end of our existence.

Since my diagnosis, I’m more open, spontaneous and alive than I ever was before. Yes, I’ve discovered new levels of anger, frustration and depression, but that’s the other side of the same coin. And the bottom line is this:

My diagnosis made me realize that I can choose how I want to spend that coin. I can choose what I want, and how I want to spend my LIFE sentence! And that realization holds risk, and excitement, and satisfaction beyond anything I’ve experienced before.

You have the opportunity to make those choices, with or without such a diagnosis. For some, the most frightening risk of all is the risk of being happy and successful. Are you willing to risk it? What are YOU doing with today?

Sharing My Story: Serena Reagan

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