People often ask me, what is the greatest lesson that has come from my breast cancer diagnosis?
I have to say, a sense of urgency. We live our lives as though we have an eternity in front of us. We talk about the things we want to do someday: How we want to visit Europe someday, sing karaoke someday, or learn to drive a stick-shift automobile someday. But we never quite seem to get around to it. We keep putting it off because we know that we have the rest of our lives. The only problem is, we don't think about how long the rest of our lives will be.
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1996 at age 43, I was at the peak of my career. I was too busy to do those things I wanted to do someday. I had quite a few things floating around in the back of my brain that were on my mental to do list, but there was no sense of urgency.
My diagnosis changed all of that. Devastated from the affects of chemo and radiation, I began to see the end of my life on the entirely too near horizon. I didn't want it to end this way, without having experienced the things in my life that I dreamed of doing someday. One night, while reading in bed, I got this crazy notion to get a note pad and pen and write down all the things on my mental list that I wanted to do someday. I called it, "My list of things to do before I die." (Unfortunately, Hollywood didn't know I already had the idea for their movie, "The Bucket List.") The first item on my new list was to get my degree. I was currently enrolled in school part time while working full time when my diagnosis came. I remember facing the challenge, do I stay in school or quit for a while. It took me way too many years to get back to school, so I decided to stick with it. My doctor gave me a 60% chance to survive beyond five years. I'm glad she was wrong because it took me seven years to graduate. I had some other exciting things on my list: Travel to Italy, be a "leaf-peeper" in Vermont in the fall with my husband, visit my birthplace in Alaska, write a book, become a professional speaker, sing lead with a band, speak at my graduation and get back to a size 10.
Systematically, I began to work through my list. I learned one thing pretty quickly; as you check one thing off your list, make sure you add one thing on. This was, after all, my list of things to do before I die. I don't want it to ever be finished.
I did go to Italy with my daughter. I have visited Alaska twice now, once with my husband and once as a professional speaker. I did graduate. I did speak at my graduation and at my graduation party that same night. My husband and his friends formed a band and let me sing lead with them.
The next morning, as I checked off those three items and replaced them with the following: Appear on Oprah, dance with Patrick Swayze, and actually publish the book that I was currently writing, I felt a sense of pride. I realized that slowly all of the things on my list were getting accomplished. Tim McGraw wrote a song, "Live Like You Were Dying." Don't wait until you are actually dying to start making these things happen.
I keep hoping I'll meet Patrick and Oprah and oh yeah, I'm still waiting for the size 10 wardrobe.
Becky Olson is a professional keynote speaker and author. Her inspiration comes from her experience as a two-time breast cancer survivor and co-founder of a successful non-profit, Breast Friends in Oregon. Becky left her career in sales and sales management to pursue her dream of speaking and writing. He book, "The Hat That Saved My Life," was first published in 2004. Becky now travels all over the country sharing hope and inspiration to women suffering through the same disease that one time threatened her life.
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