I was the kid in 4th grade that loved when the day’s schedule was outlined on the chalkboard in the beginning of class each morning.
I found comfort in knowing that 9:00 was math time, 10:00 was English and Noon was lunchtime. This routine carried into my later years, where color–coordinated agendas and to-do lists ran my life. I even made a mental list of how my future would go: graduate from college, find a job, fall in love and make gorgeous and/or ugly babies whom I’ll love anyway because my future family would represent my success in checking off another item off my list.
My list decided to self-destruct two months before my college graduation, when I found out I had cancer. As I stared numbly at the “Bald is Beautiful” posters in the doctor’s office, I found myself still so determined to draw out my now very vague future. I mentally planned when I would re apply to internships and jobs. I saw it as the same as before, just adding a few chemo treatments into the agenda. And for a while, my plan worked; I struggled to finish my senior year courses online in-between chemo sessions, and even managed to organize my chemo schedule so I could drive back upstate to sit with my classmates at graduation.
Reality didn’t get its shit together until the day I lost my hair.
All of it. Because that, my dear friends, was the very gut wrenching, tug-on-your-heart-strings moment where I acknowledged that my illness was real. That night, I stared in the mirror for the longest time with tears brimming in my eyes. I finally admitted to myself that I was no longer in charge of where life would take me, and I had no choice but to accept it.
At first, it felt like I had lost the instruction manual to building a piece of Ikea furniture; there was no more step-by-step direction to what the outcome would be. Without losing sight of my general goals, I slowly learned to stop placing deadlines on tasks. As a result, there was so much time allotted for experiences I never would have planned for. I met amazing cancer survivors and fighters, began cooking more, created a blog, and even went on trips with my family. Ironically, cancer did the complete opposite of what it was meant to do: it made me a much happier person.
Two years and two cancer recurrences later, I managed to complete my internship and pass my licensing exam for dietitians. I adapted with each recurrence, seeing it as a new route to pave my future. I knew I was a better version of myself when I accepted a job offer one week after finding out that my cancer had spread to my lungs, having zero idea how I would balance having a full time career along with being a full time 25-year-old with shitty lungs.
This story doesn’t end with a dazzling description of my success, because in real life, it doesn’t really matter how any story ends, does it? With the infinite amount of possibilities that could happen between the beginning and the destination, why focus on one expected ending?