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Stephanie Gilman

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Cancer Taught Me to Live in the Moment

Posted: 02/22/2013 12:03 pm

For as long as I can remember, I have been an obsessive planner. I love to make plans, to organize, to prepare. And I'm quite good at it, too. Long-term goals, schedules. These are things I like. A fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants girl, I am not.

With my cancer diagnosis, a lot of things came crashing down around me, and one of them was my ability to plan for the future. You might say that for everyone, cancer or no cancer, life is unpredictable and full of uncertainties. And you would be correct. None of us knows what the future holds, or what tomorrow holds, for that matter. However, in my case, things are a bit more unpredictable than they might be for the average 28 year-old. Or at least, I am more familiar with the fragility of life and forced to confront it in a way most young people do not have to.

Before, there were plans. Plans for family, houses, jobs, vacations. Regular things that regular people hope for and work toward and often take for granted. I was headed down a particular path, and things were going quite swimmingly. I had a very bright future, one which I took as a given. And why wouldn't I? I was young, healthy, and had a lot going for me. I even remember thinking to myself, Life is going so well, I hope nothing bad happens. And then something bad happened. And I stopped making plans and thinking about the future, for the first time in my life. As someone who is not so great at the whole live-in-the-moment thing, I was suddenly thrust into that mode of thinking, without much choice.

People say things like when you have your own kids someday or when you're retired someday and I nod and smile, allowing them to imagine such narratives, but I no longer let myself actually envision those scenarios anymore. I can't. This doesn't mean I don't believe I have a future, or that I don't wish to have many wonderful years ahead of me. It doesn't mean I don't have a positive attitude, or that I've given up. It means I have cancer. And it's scary shit. And it's unbelievably, excruciatingly difficult to acknowledge that there is the possibility that my plans for the future will be cut short. So for me, at this moment, it is just easier not to think about it at all. I can think about today and I can think about next week. I can plan for my treatments and organize my medical schedule for the next several months. That, I can do. But anything beyond that, I can't plan for right now. I can't see it. I hope that at some point, I will be a planner again. That I will allow myself to dream of all the things I used to and view them as real possibilities, within my grasp.

I don't know what next year will hold for me. Or the year after that. I won't be making any plans just yet.

But I will hope.

At least I haven't lost my ability to do that.

EARLIER: Myths and facts about breast cancer:

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  • Soy: Good Or Bad?

    One of the possible risk factors that is the most controversial in the world of breast cancer are the findings about soy's source of estrogen — which <a href="http://thechart.blogs.cnn.com/2011/01/19/is-soy-linked-to-breast-cancer/">some say can even cause cancer</a>. One thing is certain, the soybean and its derivatives — tofu, soymilk, tempeh (fermented soybeans) — are all interesting alternatives to meat because of their protein content and unsaturated fat levels. But other studies indicate that soybeans are rich in antioxidants known to prevent several cancers, including breast cancer itself. That being said, some studies indicate that it would be safer to consume soy before menopause and women with breast cancer or in remission should reduce soybean consumption or eat in moderation.

  • Should I Avoid Zinc?

    A scientific journal published in <a href="http://advances.nutrition.org/site/misc/pub_dates.xhtml">Advances in Nutrition</a> in 2011, noted the importance of having zinc in your diet to boost the immune system and our DNA make-up. Until more scientific evidence is found, it would still be a good idea to add zinc-related foods to your dish like oysters, clams, butter sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds and legumes.

  • Can Vitamin D Prevent Breast Cancer?

    Well known for its role in calcium absorption, vitamin D has also been the subject of studies for cancer prevention. In the case of breast cancer, some studies have s<a href="http://www.google.ca/url?sa=f&rct=j&url=http://www.canadianliving.com/health/prevention/womens_health_vitamin_d_helps_prevent_breast_cancer.php&q=vitamin+d+and+breast+cancer&ei=L3d8UI79NITv0gG0ioGADg&usg=AFQjCNEMnNbMPs-3hZJbv2CP3wiiAq-vyw">hown that vitamin D can even prevent it</a>. On the contrary, other studies have not achieved the same results. That said, we also know that the treatment of breast cancer chemotherapy causes a loss of bone density in women pre-menopause. This is more of a reason to ensure an adequate intake of vitamin D, especially from October to March, when sunlight is rare. Try foods like fish, — especially canned with bones, milk, yogurt, vegetable drinks fortified with vitamin D, eggs and shiitake mushrooms.

  • How Much Alcohol Should I Be Drinking?

    Several studies have confirmed that <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/health/2012/06/03/alcohol-consumption-boosts-breast-cancer-risk/">women who consume alcohol on a regular basis increase their risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer</a>. Even one drink a day raises the risk by four per cent. Those who have the habit of drinking three or more drinks a day saw their risk rise to over 40 per cent. That being said, moderation is key for cancer prevention.

  • What's The Risk Of Being Obese And Having Breast Cancer?

    Obesity <a href="http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/story/2012/08/27/breast-cancer-recurrence-obesity.html">significantly increases the risk of developing breast cancer</a>, particularly in post-menopausal women. Being diagnosed with obesity at the time of breast cancer was associated with poorer survival, the study added.

  • Can Breastfeeding Prevent Cancer?

    Nursing can possibly help <a href="http://breastcancer.about.com/od/riskfactorsindetail/a/breastfd_prevnt.htm">prevent breast cancer and lower it's risks</a>, according to a report by About.com. On top of this, one 2002 study found that an estimated 25,000 breast cancers would be prevented in developed countries if women had the same number of children but breastfed each child for six months longer, the CBC reports.


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