12 Things I Learned From Having Cancer…Twice

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When I was 14 years old I was diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia, a blood cancer. When I was 16, after I had gone into remission, the leukemia manifested once again. My treatment the second time was much different, not only because the treatment was more difficult, but mainly because I saw the faces of young children and their family members suffering…suffering immensely.

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I wanted to write this not explaining what I went through, for that would take much more than this blog, but I wanted to briefly share my experiences with you and what I learned from not only the experiences I had, but what I learned from witnessing the experiences of those around me who were dealing with similar circumstances.

So, with no further adieu, here are 12 things I learned from having cancer…twice:

  1. Take each moment as a blessing; you never know when your number will be called. You see, this moment right here, right now, is a gift. Each and every one of us is blessed to have the opportunity to be breathing, to be reading this, to be able to walk, to be able to smile. Right here, right now, is all we have, it is all we’ll ever have. Throughout our lives will will have trillions of moments called Now, but that is all they will ever be, right here, right now. Knowing that we can begin to live! To truly look at each new moment with fresh eyes, with fresh ears, with a fresh heart, and give thanks that this moment we can live and experience the beauty of the world around us. One day, we will make our transitions from these bodies to that unknown place, it is a fact of this reality, and yet we still tend to forget we are alive, breathing, living. Not many can experience our Now moments, for they have passed before us, these now moments are always fleeting, and that’s what makes them ever more beauty-full!
  2. Every one is fighting some sort of battle, always give your smile. Every single one of us is fighting some sort of battle. Some of us may have had cancer, others abusive parents, abusive relationships, battles with depression, not being able to afford food, not having a warm home to rest, and so many others. Not many people realized I was going through treatment for cancer and I would get made fun of by other boys my age for having a puffy face or looking pale. I realized that they didn’t know what was going on with me, and that I didn’t know what was going on with anyone else either. When I recognized that, I realized that I needed to smile. Our smiles uplift the world, for we are the expressions of Light. We never know how much of an impact we can have on others with a simply gesture of kindness. For those gestures may very likely help them realize that they are strong enough to make it through their storm.
  3. In the end only kindness, compassion, and love matter. When our time to leave this reality is upon us, we won’t worry about the bills that didn’t get paid, the people that rejected us, the job that we didn’t get…we will remember the moments when we made someone smile, when we laughed uncontrollably with our friends, when we had dinner on the table with our families, when we just stared into our lover’s eyes. Trust me, I was there. The world will remember the moments when you held the door open, when you told her she was beauty-full, and when you gave your love freely. I can’t tell you all the times that I felt sick, but I can tell you when I sang “Open Arms” to a room full of beauty-full souls and gave them a 5 minute break from the tubes attached to their chests or their placement in the children’s hospital.
  4. You never know how strong you are until you are tested. Before I got sick I thought I was invincible…now I KNOW I am! Seriously though, you will never truly know how power-full you are, how amazing you are, how adaptable you are, until you are tested. Life is a playground for you to see how much you can experience and to see how fast you can run up the slide! If you do not get up and run around the jungle gym you will always be watching from the sidewalk. You will never know the joy and satisfaction that comes with knowing how amazing it is to spin one hundred times around the tire swing if you never give it a shot. You will never know how fast you can climb the hill if you refuse to take a step. Okay enough analogies, but start looking at the challenges you are given as opportunities to manifest the divinity that is present within you. Each obstacles is a chance to show your greatness!
  5. Cherish those you love, when the going gets tough they will be there for you. Had it not been for my parents, brothers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and all the other support around me I wouldn’t be writing tEllie's Photos 817his today. I realized that more than anything I was loved unconditionally. I am here writing this today because every time I felt like giving up I would picture leaving my parents and brothers and knew that that wasn’t a possibility, that they had to deal with me a lot more before I made my transition. I realized that the TV didn’t matter, the news didn’t matter, the movie didn’t matter, what mattered was that I had an opportunity each moment to share moments of connection and love with them, and that was it!
  6. The only voice that matters is the one within; always listen to the guidance of your heart. You see, I have this problem with taking orders from anyone, sometimes even suggestions…I know I know, I should probably work on that. It took me a while to understand this conceptually and to actually follow it. In those times when I felt like giving up, there was always this little voice, this feeling within me, that no matter how hard I tried to turn it off, would not allow me to give in. It kept telling me, “Zach, this is just a road block, you have much more important work to do.” And as much as I wanted to just turn it off, it was always there telling me to stay strong and to keep pushing. When my doctors said I shouldn’t exercise because of the effects the chemo might have on my heart, that voice once again told me to do it! Now I’m not saying don’t follow your doctors advice, what I’m saying is that my spirit, that inner voice demanded that I do what was right for me, and that was to move my body and exercise. After I had my bone marrow transplant, my doctor said that it was a good decision that I was so athletic coming into the procedure because it helped immensely with my recovery.
  7. It’s okay to share your story, often times it may help others going through the same things. When I was finally finishing my treatment and started college, I didn’t want anyone knowing that I had had cancer. I wanted them to accept me for me and cancer didn’t dictate my life. As I grew older I realized that what I went through was a gift, a very awkward gift, but nonetheless a gift. I am alive, I am here with you, and what I have experienced many others may be going through right now. As I started sharing my story I began to realize that it inspired hope, it inspired faith, in others, that the obstacles they were experiencing in their lives were not barriers but mere challenges that they could overcome. Our stories are part of the gifts that we have to share with others going through similar circumstances. “As we light our own candle, we are then able to help others light theirs as well.”
  8. Your life is a story and every great story has a tragedy. You see, this is a hard one to realize while we’re experiencing the tragedy, but truly every great story has a tragedy, whatever it may be. Your life experience is one of the trillions of stories of the Universe. If you are experiencing immense hardships, just think of how special you are to the Universe for providing such a beauty-full story and for the incredible ending that is soon to come!
  9. It’s okay to ask for help. I know, I get it, you like to do things on your own, don’t we all?! However, asking for help is such a beauty-full way to grow together. In our ability to ask for help, in our ability to be vulnerable, we are allowing so much beauty into our lives. We may meet people who become very important to us, we strengthen our relationships, and we are able to feel that we aren’t in it alone. We all fear dying alone, and when we are able to ask for help, even if it is in the most miniscule way, we develop stronger bonds with those who step up to the plate and create lasting relationships.
  10. You better dance! Live like someone left the gate open! I guess when you are lying in a bed staring out the window and just wishing to be outside you really develop a fondness of being outside! Like I said earlier, this experience called life is a gift and it is a story. What do you want your story to be? Do you want to tell the cosmos how much you enjoy Real Housewives? Or do you want to freak the Universe out by committing to a life filled with love, and joy, and dancing?! This is YOUR story and it is YOUR experience! I hate to be the bearer of bad news but you will die! I know, eww! So when that moment is upon you do you want to regret watching TV when you got done from work? Or do you want to remember the crazy dance sessions you had in the kitchen, the bonfire sing-alongs in your living room, the handstand/cartwheel practice you had in the front yard? This is the only life you have right now…so you better dance!!!
  11. There is always a choice between hope and fear, between fear and love, and it is always YOUR choice. This was an interesting revelation to me on my journey. Throughout my treatment I would get annoyed with feeling sick, with not being able to go back to school, with the fear of relapsing, but one day I had an epiphany…I can choose to think about what might happen or I can live now. This happened a year or so before I stepped onto my “inward journey” as I like to call it, but it was so profound. I could choose to worry myself over concerns that may or may not occur, or I could choose to have faith, listen to my heart, and believe that I was on the right path. Fear and hope exist only in our thoughts, and ultimately they are our thoughts, it really is a simple matter of choice. Do you want to feel fear or love? It’s always our choice.
  12. Sometimes all you can do is believe and trust that it will all be okay. This was the most difficult thing I had to learn. As I went through my treatment, I always wanted to know the outcome of what would happen, it wasn’t enough that I KNEW within my heart that I would return to a “normal” life, I wanted proof! What I realized is that I had to be my own proof, that the proof was the belief that I had and the knowing in my heart. There were times when I was scared (there were a lot of those times), there were times when I got mad and sad and depressed, but when I went deeper within I realized that I knew I would be okay, and that belief guided me through all the fear in my own mind. Once I let go of the fear of the future and trusted in the guidance of the present, that is when I was free.

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And that is what I learned from having cancer twice. Each day I am grateful for what I went through. I am grateful for the fact that I learned these lessons, that I remembered these very important life reminders. The experiences we have are beauty-full reminders of our purpose as glorious extensions of the One Presence. As human beings it is our task to love, to experience all that we can, and to BE all that we are and all that we will be! You are beyond beauty-full and always remember that!

All My Love,

Zach IAM

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