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How Cancer Helped Me Appreciate The Moment

“Do you think you’ll be different when this is over?”

That’s the question many people ask me. I have this pat answer I give, “I can’t imagine that anyone who experiences cancer can come out the same person.” I hear myself saying those words and lately I’ve been wondering what exactly I mean.

In the past six months I have felt hellish, gorgeous, reflective, terrified, ugly, tearful, joyous, and grateful. And that’s just on a given day. Ever since early May, when I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and started chemo treatments, I’ve experienced a deep swerving roller coaster of feelings that change from minute-to-minute.

But, what’s different, is that I’ve allowed myself to feel them all. I've had six months that haven’t been filled with busyness. Six months where I have spent extended amounts of time on couches and chairs, beds and outdoor furniture. Resting. Thinking. Looking at the sunflowers and watching the goldfinches.

Kathy Gunst, pictured this summer before losing her hair. (Courtesy the author)
Kathy Gunst, pictured this summer before losing her hair. (Courtesy the author)

I am present in a new way. Before, like the hummingbird, I was always flitting about from one activity to the next. How much nectar could I suck out of a day? How busy could this busy person be? Because, lets face it, in this society, if you’re not busy you’re not really living, right? Or so I thought.

Some days, lying around staring off into space, I’d feel damn sorry for myself. I imagined all the people out there riding bikes, riding waves, walking the beach. People filled with energy. Healthy people. People who brushed their hair. People who went out for ice cream.

In the past six months I have felt hellish, gorgeous, reflective, terrified, ugly, tearful, joyous, and grateful. And that’s just on a given day.

I recently finished my last chemo treatment. My life will return to something I used to call “normal.” But what will happen as I become busy and fill my days with work? What will happen as winter approaches? As my health returns and my hair grows back?

Will I look around with grateful eyes at the small touches of beauty out there for all of us to take in? Will I remember the way light shifts in the late afternoon on a patch of garden? Or the way the light catches the underside of the leaves, creating a whole new shade? Will I remember seeing day’s first light cast golden rays on the vegetables? Will I remember to grab the dog’s neck, petting that soft underside beneath her chin, and kiss the top of her soft, white head?

Will I take the time to remember?

This program aired on October 8, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.

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