I feel led to share some thoughts with you. Some of these thoughts are a little premature since you recently received your diagnosis and it will probably take you a while to get over the shock. Perhaps you can keep this letter and refer back to it should you choose. This is a journey and the journey is different for each of us.

When I was first diagnosed with malignant melanoma, every morning when I awakened, tears came into my eyes. It wasn’t so much of a “why me” but the real thought that I could die soon. I was also facing a major operation, having all the lymph nodes removed from my left thigh—and I was afraid. I never did get over my apprehension of the operation. The morning I had the surgery, I just gave myself over to God. I had no other choice. But they have come so far with surgery–you go to sleep and before you know it, you wake up in the recovery room.

We don’t know what we are supposed to feel in the early stages. But I eventually learned that all the crying and worrying in the world was not going to help. I learned that I would cry and then move on and cry again soon. Another challenge is all the uncertainty about what’s going to happen, what kind of treatment I will have, and what each day is going to hold for me.

It has been almost three years since I got my diagnosis. Following are some things I’ve learned:

  • I don’t think a lot about my situation because it does not do any good and I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen.
  • I make the most of every day. We suddenly see life in a way other people cannot see. The really important things in life become crystal clear.
  • I use my new knowledge to discover the true richness of life that many people never see. I don’t have time for trivial things.
  • Other people really feel for us, but they are not where we are so they can’t truly understand. They are human and doing the best they can, but we are “in” the experience.
  • When I hear the word cancer as I live out my life, I don’t feel sorry for myself or let it bother me. I embrace what life has given me and I move on.
  • I have learned that the experience is a journey–some days are okay and other days not so much.
  • I do not truly know what God has in store for me on earth, so I try my best to encourage people, brighten their day, and plant positive seeds in their lives. I do this with more enthusiasm than I ever have in my life.
  • I realize that it does not really matter why this happened to me. It’s a situation that I have limited control over.
  • This is the greatest opportunity ever to truly embrace what God wants to do through us and to become what God wants to make us into. For example, I am releasing a new book in a few months and I am practicing to play guitar and sing in nursing homes.
  • The truth: Wonderful progress has been made with cancer treatment in the last 4 or 5 years and there are promising treatments right around the corner. I am on a clinical trial at Vanderbilt.
  • We must have hope–hope is everything.
  • One way to make the journey more interesting is to create “life moments.” In these moments, we or others become teary-eyed or tremble because we see the true beauty of life right before our eyes, through either noble actions or words spoken eloquently. The meaning of life is opened up to us in all its glory and these are moments we never forget. We capture this majesty when we realize how beautifully things work together. A dying child’s fondest desire to meet his favorite star if fulfilled. A young girl finds a beautiful dress and she feels pretty at the prom. Someone’s surgery is successful or she is cured of a disease. Someone is saved from certain death because of the compassion of a stranger. A group of children are encouraged to believe in themselves. When we live with compassion, we create special times.
  • It is fulfilling to think about what our legacy will be. What masterpiece will we leave with the world? A song, a poem, a book, a great thought, a kind deed? What do we want to accomplish before we depart? What will we pass on to the present and future generations?

Sometimes I feel happier than I ever have in my life because I am able to see the urgency to celebrate every day. Each day is a gift filled with the potential to change someone’s life. Our legacy is created by our daily thoughts and actions. If we embrace the life we have been given, we can find more joy and happiness than we ever dreamed possible.

Photo by Sergey Zolkin

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