“There are souls on this earth that just seem to shine a little brighter. It’s not because they’ve been left to burn in peace and quiet. I think it’s because they’ve been poked and prodded. The fire grows and glows because of the beautiful struggle they’re in. The flame gets a little hotter, the heart a little stronger, and the soul so very, very bright.” – Author Unknown

This is one of my most favourite quotes, I find it inspiring. When I read it, my heart becomes full. Full because I have so much good in my life, so many things to be grateful for. With all the happiness comes sadness too. I think this is normal, or maybe it’s my new normal. There is another one of those quips that cancer patients and cancer “people” use to describe what it’s like after living through or with cancer.

There is a newness to life. For me, perspectives changed on what is authentically important. What am I living for? Why did I get sick, why did I survive and not the person in the obituary? What did I do right, that she did not. The answer is nothing, it’s just the way it happens.

I think it is what you do with it, that makes a difference.

Back to my blog on self-compassion; I am going to discuss my achievements here. It’s not bragging, I don’t feel I am a braggart, but here goes. At 42, I got cancer. I had a mastectomy and immediate reconstruction from my own donor tissue (my ass…). I spent 6 weeks on my back recovering, I was horizontal for quite some time. After recovery, I started chemotherapy – 6 rounds of pure fun and enjoyment. Infections, emergency rooms, mild nausea, crippling bone pain, complete exhaustion (and don’t tell me your tired, cause you don’t know tired) and days sleeping and missing life.

Then I was allowed to recover from chemotherapy, so that they could zap me with 25 rounds of radiation. Good times, the full meal deal.

Still, I think about recurrence. I am in a trial that tested my recurrence rate – 8%. Really low, negligible. But I continue to worry about back pain (must be kidney cancer), constipation (must be colon cancer), persistent cough (must be FULL of cancer) – seriously, the new normal can go to hell.

I have a quote on my calendar that pops up every morning around 9 am. It says – I can do hard things.

I can do hard things. I have done hard things and I continue to do hard things. There is no “easy” button. That is life, normal or not, that’s the way it goes.

What did I do with all this? I wrote a book and self-published it. I call it therapy, people actually buy it! That always makes me feel embarrassed, but why does it make me feel that way? I should be proud of myself – my name is on a book, that I wrote. It is even in stores that are credible. People ask me to sign it when they buy it, that always throws me off. I should be honoured. I am humbled.

After going back to work, I realized I could not do it anymore. I could not watch people I had known for a good length of time change before my eyes. They became focused on advancement and title. They forgot the important part, where they came from, and who they once had been. I could not do it, and I certainly did not want any part of it. It is horrifying to leave a job that you know, people you have become friends with, a guaranteed pay, benefits and all that other corporate assurance. But I did it, because I can do hard things.

The Unexpected Gift is my heart, it is the light growing and glowing because I am poked and prodded. It is the gift that cancer gave me, the desire to be there for others who win the cancer lottery. A safe place where people can come and be who they are – that person with cancer and no one gives a care. They can do hard things.

I know this to be true, because I see it. Some have smiles, there are tears, vulnerability in their eyes, but they are doing it. I am honoured when someone cries in the store, it means they feel safe and that is what I want to provide. A safe atmosphere for people going through cancer. They apologize when there are tears, I pass tissue and at times, cry with them. It’s all good and so very normal.

I also know this to be true because a friend said to me – I am always surprised at the attitude of the people that come into the Unexpected Gift. When I questioned what she meant, she said that she is surprised at how positive and happy the customers are. That they are faced with cancer, yet they have a spirit about them that is confident. I agree. I believe as a group we are strong people, faced with uncertainty. Some of the strongest women and men I have met have been up against a cancer diagnosis. They are tough, resilient and have a let’s just get this out of me and move on attitude. Warrior strong.

When you need a safe place, the flame at the unexpected gift is always glowing. It glows in the face of cancer, brighter and stronger with each visit.