So today is the 10 year mark from the calendar date when I was diagnosed with cancer. What a day that was then, and what a day it is today, ten years later, when one of my closest friends called to tell me she was diagnosed with cancer. Even 10 years later, I can still remember how I felt and what I thought, and talking with this dear friend today broke my heart as I thought about what she’s feeling and facing. Let the record show that I hate cancer for so many reasons.
I ran across an Instagram post this year where a cancer survivor celebrated her birthday as a “bonus birthday.” I loved that idea and have thought about it often in reflecting on the past decade. Since seeing that post, I’ve started to think of all the time since my diagnosis as “bonus time,” or time I wasn’t guaranteed. If we want to go theologically deep, we could talk about how, given that God is sovereign, I don’t think these “bonus years” were a surprise or unplanned. If we want to go medically deep, we could talk about how my lymphoma was much more treatable than other types of cancer (though, if left untreated, I wouldn’t be here today). Still, the feeling that I’ve been given bonus time and lived a decade of that bonus time persists.
Life is not how I planned. I for sure never imagined I’d live in California. (I am a Texan, after all.) My North Dallas roots trained me to think that, by now, I’d be married with multiple kids and a stay-at-home-mom. We don’t even have to talk about how much that’s not my life today. There are definitely times when I grieve the life I thought I’d have, times when I’m tired and lonely and wondering, in the spirit of a certain animated character, “When will my life begin?”
But I had a moment this fall when I realized that, while my life is not what I thought it would be, I’m alive, and that wasn’t a guarantee (nor is it guaranteed on a daily basis, if we’re being real). Instead of thinking of all the things that haven’t happened in my life to this point, I started thinking of all the amazing things that have happened, and especially in the last decade since the “bonus time clock” started. This seeing-the-bright-side-of-things is big for me—others can play Pollyanna’s “Glad Game” much more naturally than my cynical, melancholic self.
So in honor of my decade of bonus time, I started chronicling a list of some of the things I would never have known or done without the gift of this past decade, a decade marked by more risk than the previous 21 years combined. Some of these things are small, and some are much more significant, but all remind me to think of all the things this time God has given me has allowed versus all the things that haven’t come to fruition.
In the spirit of Thanksgiving, here goes my list of things this decade has entailed, a partial and incomplete list at best.
Without this decade of bonus time, I never would have:
–lived in Hawaii
–found my favorite place on earth, Lanikai Beach
–eaten a Teddy’s burger
–climbed Stairway to Heaven
–met Tariya Enos or watched her become Tariya Mukai and then Mama Mukai
–known any of my HBA or Hawaii ohana
–owned 2 surfboards (neither of which is currently in my possession…?)
–gotten my Master’s Degree
–been to England, Germany, Italy, Austria, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, France, Turkey, Brazil, Israel, or Greece
–studied in the Holy Lands
–met Ellie, Emily, Lauren, Sarah, and all of the others on WIHL
–met Grace and Kevin Nielsen and their growing family
–grown to know Jesus more deeply as a result of grad school
–written a book
–started a non-profit
–met all those in the cancer community I’ve gotten to know
–met Aubrea, Krystal, Heather, Tonya, and other friends in San Diego
–met any of my Boosterthon Team/family
–stood by Melissa as she got married or watched her create multiple havens of hospitality while setting up a life in Atlanta
–discovered I actually love running (I thought I hated it)
–been a proud Disneyland Annual Passholder
–seen many of my friends marry and start families
–seen my extended family grow to the next generation
–seen my parents [break my heart first by leaving my childhood home and then] move to Hawaii
–met Patrick and gained a brother
–stood by my little sister as she married the love of her life
–watched my immediate family grow through trials to become even more amazing people of God
–understood God’s grace in a real way
–known the faithfulness of God in all seasons
These are just a start—there’s been so much that’s happened in the past decade that I can’t begin to capture everything. These things represent so many events and people that I never would have known if treatment and God’s provision hadn’t healed me. And when I think about that, I’m immensely grateful because what a loss it would be to have missed out on these friendships and events.
Granted, I wouldn’t have known loss in the way I do today because I wouldn’t have watched loved ones pass away from cancer or slowly realize long term friendships have run their course. Life is complex, and I know that today in a way 21-year-old-me never could have explained.
Life still has many unmet expectations and I know I will continue to be surprised by life in the future, but wow—what a gift these past 10 years of bonus time have been. When I think of all that I wouldn’t have witnessed, I’m humbled and also okay with all of the unmet expectations, all the things that haven’t happened in light of all of the great things God has done and blessed me with in this decade of bonus time.