“He who has health has hope, and he who has hope has everything.” ~Proverb
August 3, 2001. I still remember it like it was yesterday. It was around six o'clock in the evening when she sat us down. Luther Vandross was singing in the background on the radio: “And it's so amazing and amazing, I can stay forever and forever. Here in love and no, leave you never.”
Quite ironic when you think about the news I would soon receive.
I had just finished summer school and my sister had just returned from an internship on the East Coast. My mother had such a pensive, yet positive look on her face when she asked us to come into the living room.
“This is hard for me to say, so I am just going to say it: I have cancer.”
Immediately, my sister and I broke into tears because, up until that point, every single relative or friend who had battled cancer lost. And in my shocked state, I thought it was perhaps time to start saying goodbye because I was already feeling quite defeated.
The person who had always been the anchor in our family would soon become lighter due to weekly radiation and chemotherapy appointments. Although she physically grew weaker, her actions taught me a few lessons I will never forget.
Today, I would like to share three of them with you:
Learn to Let Go
Impermanence. Everything fades away and nothing lasts forever.
My mom used to have long, beautiful black hair with a sheen that many envied.
Unfortunately, the type of chemotherapy she was being treated with slowly killed her hair cells. As for many women, this was very hard for her to accept because it was a part of her identity, her femininity, and it's generally what society deems to be beautiful.
But as the appointments stacked up and the strands dwindled away, she had to face a reality that was quite sobering: most of her hair was gone, and she needed to find the courage to ask my father to completely shave her head.
Then the day finally came.
As the remaining hair fell to the ground, Black Rapunzel was replaced by a cancer patient who learned to be grateful for what was instead of trying to hold on to something that no longer existed.
As Steve Maraboli wrote, “The truth is, unless you let go, unless you forgive yourself, unless you forgive the situation, unless you realize that the situation is over, you cannot move forward.”
My mother learned to let go and finally made the decision to move forward.
Inspire Yourself with Your Journey
“That it will never come again is what makes life so sweet” is something my mother would say. “So write it all down—the victories, the setbacks, the magical moments, the not so loving moments, and the moments of complete loneliness. Write it all down to serve as a reminder.”
Each day we awaken, we are given a pen with 86,400 seconds of ink to write with.
During her first week of treatments, my mother picked up a journal to write about her fight with the Big C and how she planned to defeat it, even though she was sometimes the one knocked down for a while. Nevertheless, she persisted.
Sure, she wrote about her hair loss, the pain at night, and the sadness she sometimes felt. But she also wrote about the joys of raising her children, the extra energy she could sometimes muster up to walk a bit further, and the faith and hope that was keeping her grounded.
She saw her journal as a way to inspire herself when she wanted to look back and see how far she had come on her journey thus far.
Love Well and Far
Cancer woke us up to the fact that nothing lasts forever, and words that go unsaid may never be spoken.
After my mother’s diagnosis, my close family got even closer as she expressed her desire for us to show more love to each other, and to be grateful not only for the fun, easy times, but also for the tougher times.
That's what it means to love well and far: loving unconditionally even when it's hard. Sharing your love even when it's difficult. Being there for the people you love when they need you the most.
So I ask you these three important questions: Is there anything in your life that you feel you need to let go of? Are you recording the magic moments from your life? Are you reaching far with your love?
I wanted to share these three lessons not only to pay tribute to my mother, who has been in remission for the past twelve years, but also to serve as a beacon of hope for those who may be dealing with something similar right now. It's hard and it hurts, but now is the time to be stronger and more loving than ever.
Now is the time to love well and far.