Photo Credit: denise carbonell via Compfight cc
“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” – Søren Kierkegaard
There was a time when it was too painful to dream about the future. To believe I might live long enough to pursue passions, set longer term goals that could be achieved, or have hope for a future.
I don’t mean the sugar-coated kind of hope, where we all talk about how we know I’m going to be fine, and everyone hopes for the best. I’m not talking about false hopes, which is often what surrounds those of us who have had their lives shattered by illness, death of a loved one, or unexpected catastrophes. Well-meaning loved ones would say “I know you’re going to beat this”, and every time I would think to myself, “how could you possibly know that?” Wanting desperately for something to be true does not make it so.
Eventually though, for many of us at least, hope blooms. We begin to see small, tangible reasons for hope. Tumours shrink. Laughter returns. The morning when you realize you actually slept well and feel rested. Muscles regain their strength. We push forward with the kernel of optimism that we might be able to beat this disease, or rebuild from the crushing defeat we faced.
I found one of the hardest things to do was to be comfortable with dreaming about the future again. For years, I never imagined life beyond the current year – to think beyond the next 12 months seemed to be tempting fate, or setting myself up for more pain. With an illness that is known to recur, it’s hard to know how long you’ll have to work on your dreams before the disease gets in the way again. Do you set it aside, and hope that it doesn’t recur quickly? Do you dare to colour outside the lines, and set bold goals?
We faced one of our biggest challenges with the decision about whether or not to have children. It hardly seemed fair to bring other people into this life of uncertainty. Having children with the ever-present worry about whether or not I would live long enough seemed cruel. How could we make that choice?
For a while, it was unclear whether we would have a reprieve from my illness long enough to have the ability to make that decision. And then we were told things looked stable enough that if we wanted to “give it a shot”, we likely had a year to do it. After that, it was difficult to know whether the disease would continue to be stable.
Choices, choices. It was so difficult, and the first real test of dreaming post-diagnosis. We told many people that we believed a cure for my form of lymphoma would come in my lifetime, but this decision put it to the test.
We decided to go for it, and within the year we were pregnant. We now have two boys who are living, breathing evidence that it is worth it to dream again. They have created new reasons to think boldly beyond today, and never give up hope.
I’m not sure what gave us the strength to make this decision. Likely lots of stubbornness, with tiny beads of hope. Stubbornness mostly because we had seen so much of our former life stripped away by the realities of this illness (everything changed; absolutely everything), that this was one piece of our life together “before” that we needed to cling to with determination. The hope was only a glimmer, but it was all we needed.
Leaping into a big decision like that one has made it easier to repeat the process. The more time we spend living with this illness, the more comfortable we are with the knowledge that we’ll adjust again, as we have many times before, with the changes as they come.
For those of us who have confronted the most difficult tests of hope, we have survived and we now can choose to live our lives in the fullness of colour that life has to offer. We know all too well that life is short, and it’s pushing us beyond our comfort zone to live with zest. We can choose to set a high bar and dream big, because really, what’s the worst that can happen? We’ve faced the worst, and we’re going to use it to our advantage.
Are you with me? Are you brave enough to dream big, no matter what life throws in your way?