Alive Day: A Reclamation of Life.
I’m sitting alone on a park bench in Sweden, part of me still not believing this trip has occurred. Denmark, Norway, Sweden. Ten days; three different countries.
It was in Norway that I honored my fifth Alive Day — the day I reclaimed as a celebration of my life.
On July 19, 2011, I was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer and told I had 18 months to live.
When cancer strikes, there is a real struggle in not making it the center of your world. It pervades every aspect of your existence. Your thoughts often fall into two categories: what to do with the time you have or how to say goodbye. When I found my thoughts drifting far too often to the latter, I knew I had to make some changes.
As one treatment rolled into the next, the lack of control over my own life made me restless. Undergoing chemotherapy means your time is scheduled by your team, and revolves around doctor appointments, infusions and scans. It is a commitment to a protocol that often leaves little wiggle room for deviation. It can be both exhausting and frustrating, especially for someone whose independent streak runs deep.
I decided if my prognosis was to be believed, I felt I needed to try and pack as much life into those 18 months as possible. My calendar filled with dinners, parties, concerts and Sunday brunches. When weeks turned to months, my body became stronger and I became bolder. I added traveling to the long list of activities I was determined to do. Packing my chemotherapy pills in my carry-on, I ventured to foreign lands.
I was hungry to soak in these experiences, never knowing if this trip would be my last.
Months turned to years, and I’m still here.
I’ve been all across the country and all around the globe. While traveling with friends in Greece, I’ve seen water so clear that I could count the floor rocks from 100 feet away. I’ve climbed snow-capped mountains in Oregon, and trekked through muddy farmlands in Spain to view breathtaking sunsets. I’ve sailed fjords in Norway, and floated in the salty beaches of Mykonos.
I sit here now in Sweden, a country filled with the most beautiful and utterly charming people. But even as I wonder at the amazing experience of being here, I miss my beautiful hearts back home.
When you’re so focused on living to the fullest, sometimes you lose sight of your life.
I find myself waiting for texts from my best friend. I miss our weekly catch-up dinners. I miss the lazy mornings when my son and I take our dog for walks on the beach. I miss the routines I’m enjoying with my new boyfriend. I love that I have so many people at home I don’t want to leave.
The fear of dying no longer cripples me on a daily basis. I’m slowly regaining my footing, and cautiously allowing myself to think in terms longer than the three months between scans. Traveling was a wonderful escape for me. The rush from new experiences was exhilarating. But creating a full life with people I love, and truly believing I will be around to enjoy it? I’ve come to realize that’s what it means to truly be alive.
Kathleen Emmets is an avid music lover and Yoga enthusiast. Her articles have appeared in Mantra Magazine, Positively Positive, MindBodyGreen, Do You Yoga, themanifeststation.net and Elephant Journal. She writes about her experience with cancer in Cancer Is My Guru. Kathleen lives in East Norwich, NY with her son, and dog, Dean Martin.