How Ten Years and Tons of Tumors Transformed My Goals

Much like my taste in food, preferences in clothes, and penchant for reality TV programming, my goals evolved a lot over the years. 

Once upon a yester-decade, I favored fluorescent yellow pants (hi,’80s), sugary candy (#SourPatchKids4Life), and the first few seasons of The Real World (back when MTV actually played music). 

During the ‘90s and early 2000s (when I swapped the blindingly bright attire for jeans and more modest colors), I enjoyed the carelessness and fearlessness of a life that had never been touched by tragedy. My goals revolved around fun and no thought of consequences. After all, what was the point of life if you weren’t having as much fun as possible?

Then the 2000s rolled into 2010, and I turned 30. Oh, no. How did I suddenly cross into the decade where you’re supposed to be an actual adult? I had a stable job as a Business Manager, but I felt lost and depressingly unfilled. I couldn’t ignore the nagging sensation that things hadn’t turned out the way I anticipated.

My previous goal of “Have as much fun as possible” morphed into “Find a husband, buy a house, adopt a dog, get a Prius, and finally be able to afford a Dyson vacuum.” I saw all my friends on Facebook driving nice cars, cleaning their giant homes with top-of-the-line gadgetry, and vacationing in exotic areas where the sunsets needed no Instagram filter.

Jealousy seeped into every fiber of my soul.

But, how was I supposed to accomplish my new goals at a job where there was no room for advancement? I did a bit of soul searching and kicked a plan into motion. I left that job, took marketing classes, and sought out freelance writing assignments to build a creative portfolio. I happily accepted a few opportunities that added to my writing and marketing experience. Things seemed to fall into place. I still didn’t have a Dyson vacuum, but I felt closer than ever. 

Then everything fell apart.

I’d worked at a cool tech startup for about two months when I went to the hospital for what I thought was a gallbladder problem. It wasn’t. It was Stage Three ovarian cancer. 

Visions of a husband, a house, a dog, a Prius, and a Dyson drifted to the back of my mind and got replaced with newer goals. Simpler goals. Goals like: stay alive. Fight for my life. Don’t let cancer win.

This unexpected, earth-shattering diagnosis threw me into a bizarre reality, one that narrowed my field of vision and bred smaller timelines for smaller objectives. Suddenly my mission became “Just make it through this week without giving up.” Or “Just make it through tomorrow’s chemo.” Or “Try not to barf when giving the cat his breakfast.” Cancer stripped me (and my goals) down to the bare essentials.

As the weeks wore on and treatment dragged by, my focus became “Make it through surgery. Push through the last few cycles of chemo. Wear as many weird costumes as possible. Keep smiling.” And so I did. After what felt like an eternity, I went from fighting cancer to beating cancer and it was time to clean up the physical/ psychological wreckage. 

I slowly started to heal. Between weekly visits to my therapist, daily meditation, and lots of self-reflection, the fractured puzzle pieces of my psyche began to merge. My cancer-tunnel-vision broadened and I saw things clearly. 

Nearly three years after my diagnosis, and lots of chemo and several surgeries later, I sustained the most significant mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual transformations of my life. Things REALLY didn’t turn out the way I thought they would. But watching my life get derailed actually gave me direction, purpose, and clarity. 

With a divine sense of timing, I got my health back as we updated our calendars for 2020. And like everyone does on January 1st, I took some time to reflect on what I used to want and what I want in the upcoming years.

OK, I still want a hunky husband, a cute dog, a pretty house, a fresh Prius, and a state-of-the-art Dyson. But these days, my goals are less about the things I want to HAVE, and more about who I want to BE. I now ask myself, “What adventures do I want to experience? How do I want to be remembered? How can I be a better person today than I was yesterday? What can I contribute to society?” 

Because, as cancer so profoundly taught me, who I am is more important than what I own.