It wasn’t what I thought…

Donna-Lee Lista
Donna-Lee Lista

I reached my five year cancer free point on Feb. 15, 2011. It’s interesting, thinking back to what I thought it would be like and what it actually was. It was like, “oh wow, great.” Don’t get me wrong, I was very happy and relieved, but it was almost anticlimactic. I have given much thought to why it hit me that way. What I have come to understand is that through it all, I kept on living and growing. I used up quite a bit of my worry early on, and I figured each scan took a little more worry away from me. So, by the time I got to this milestone I figured I had already made my peace, and could look at it as something I had already been through. I really thought I would be jumping for joy, that music would play, that bells might ring, but…..nothing. It was really weird. I have been wanting to write this column since that day, but still couldn’t put into words what I have finally come to realize. Then last night at 3:32 am to be exact (most of my best work and ideas come around that time-thanks menopause) it hit me, and it was as clear as the 3:32 on my digital clock.

I look at the person I am today, a completely different person then I was. I like the “me” now, so much more. I wonder if maybe the thought of dying as the old me, was too wasteful. I was a person who really hadn’t evolved into the best I could be, it would have been an unfulfilled life, a short circuit. Now I can say, I found my additional purpose. I have gotten more and more involved with lung cancer advocacy each year and as I did, I noticed I felt more confident about my long term health prospects and more importantly, less fearful. I worked with lung cancer advocacy groups. I have helped other lung cancer patients, joined forces with Penn Medicine, attended lung cancer medical conferences, spoken at fund raising events, lobbied in Washington, etc. And now I have just been asked to sit on the governing board of the Pennsylvania Chapter of the National Lung Cancer Partnership, an honor. This is a group that aggressively and positively is helping change the outcome of lung cancer in this country by funding research and raising awareness.

WOW, I realized, each one of these advocacy milestones were the bells, each ringing one at time… proclaiming me free of the hold lung cancer had on me not physically, but mentally. When you are no longer afraid, and can look the beast in the eye, knowing you did your best, the fear starts to vanish and you just think, “bring it on.” I thought time would be the crucial element in my acceptance of cancer, but it wasn’t really time itself, it was what I did with that time. It was the good use of that time. While I’m not claiming to be perfect or not have any life regrets, I now feel I created a legacy I am proud of. I was able to define all that was good in me so I could share what God wanted me to share. I hope I have many more years to be with my family and friends, to see my children and grandchildren grow, to experience life and all it has to offer. The difference now is I don’t want to just live longer; I want to have meaning in however long I live. Whatever my future brings, I will be ok. I know that I fulfilled God’s purpose for me, and that gives me peace, acceptance, and the most beautiful sound of ringing bells anyone could ever imagine.

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