Breast Cancer blog

A second chance... and a new chapter

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 September, 2013, 3:29pm
UPDATED : Monday, 09 September, 2013, 3:40pm

I’ve started a new chapter in my life - one where I am attempting to forge ahead fully. I’ve returned to the U.S. and moved to a new city to pursue the PhD marathon. I am excited about change - at times almost giddy and in semi disbelief that for the next few years I will have a second chance at being a student.

A few months ago I seriously wondered what my fate was, and was convinced that (pity me) I would need to put my life and future on hiatus, but it looks like I’ve been given the greenlight to move ahead. The words 'second chance' play in my mind like a revolving record. I feel like someone who has dodged a bullet.

That said, against the celebration is a full understanding that my health and wellness are now in my hands, and I am in the driver’s seat.

The life balance issue is a crucial one. On the one hand I know that the program I’ve signed up for is intense, on the other hand I know that I need to work hard to prevent myself from falling into the trap of reliving this past life, a life where I didn’t know my limits.

Since leaving Hong Kong good friends back at home have reminded me of the importance of steering far from the rat race. “Don’t ever overwork yourself,” one wrote. “Remember your health when studying and work only 40 hours,” another good friend cautioned. The father reminds me that in the grander scope of life it is better to be the tortoise than the hare. The irony is that the university where I’ve landed has a Terrapin as a mascot, a constant reminder that is it better to be slow and steady rather than treat life as if it is a sprint or tsunami.

I give myself an A for effort. I have changed my diet, it’s been four months since I’ve had a sip of Diet Coke and I have shifted from mindless grazer into a fruitarian and vegan. I am slowly shifting from Type-AAA to Type A personality; I have cut down on being a fitness fanatic; for a while I was sadistic and beat up on myself if I didn’t make the early bird workout. The old me worked on weekends. The new me says that it is ok to enjoy myself and head to a football game or jazz concert simply for the fun of it.

But often in reality it is one step forward two steps back. Amidst a beer with a colleague, my thoughts will shift into negative thinking. There’s so much to do, so many assignments, how will it all get done? But something pulls me back, a reminder that worry and negative thinking may throw me back into Cancerland. Before the cancer journey, life balance was a perennial item on the New Year’s resolution list, now it is a necessity.

In downtime I peruse the posts of the breast cancer groups on Facebook, there are countless cases of mastectomies, a story about a double mastectomy from a 27-year-old gal, tales of chemo along with its toxic side effects, exchanges of information about plastic surgeons. Every time I read these stories I pinch myself, exhale and glance at the scar, a reminder that I am lucky to be alive and have a second chance. At times this gift feels like an albatross, but it is also liberating. Indeed I look to the Terrapin for inspiration.