The Joys Of “What If’s?” In Life And Cancer Survivorship

Yesterday I saw a notice on LinkedIn that stuck in my heart and made me think about all the “What ifs…” of life. You know, the positive side of the many moments in life that turn out well, as in “What if I/we/they hadn’t done that?”

For me, this “What if” memory triggered by the LinkedIn note was special. It was one of those unexpected moments when a bit of joy creeps into your day and makes you stop and reflect, and helps you overcome all the “If onlys…”.

Here is an excerpt from the message:

“Sharing with you all that I am a best-selling published Children’s book author with my first book now available! This book started as a Tall Tales Speech in my first year in Toastmasters. The tale was so inspirational and fun to tell that I knew it needed to be a children’s book. It reached number 6 on Amazon for winter activity books on launch day!

It is my mission to inspire and help to build confidence in young children and adults through coaching and building skills in sport.”

It goes without saying that publishing a book and getting it listed on Amazon day #1 is quite an accomplishment, as in “What if I hadn’t taken that Toastmasters course?” Or “What if I hadn’t taken the leap from the inspiration of the talk to write the book?” Either of those would be enough to fulfill a “What if?”

For me, however, there is a much more personal “What if?” in this story, the part that brings some tears to my eyes. You see, my “What if” has to do with the reality that this best-selling author is in fact a cancer survivor, a colleague and most important will always be a personal inspiration.

I won’t go into all the details of their journey because although I know this person has always acknowledged their survivorship, they also do not define their life by that survivorship alone.

However, just like so many of you who read this blog and are either cancer survivors yourselves, a loved-one and/or caregiver of a cancer survivor, or support those with cancer and cancer survivors, our “What ifs?” gives us the encouragement to help others celebrate their “What ifs”. We need to share our “What ifs” because it is those moments that make us who we are.

You see, this “new author” had reached out to me a number of years ago because they had a lump. I was concerned that—at the time—the treatment for the suspected type of cancer was just evolving and getting both the diagnosis and the treatment correct was critical to taking advantage of that new and complex knowledge. The odds of a successful journey, in my opinion, rested on getting the basic diagnostics and treatment done in line with what we knew to be most effective at the time.

There were barriers, such as an HMO that wasn’t exactly excited at the prospect of one of their insureds traveling and being treated at a major cancer center. In another one of those special “What ifs?” the HMO agreed that it was the best approach for the patient’s treatment.

That part of the story worked out well: the diagnosis was confirmed by the major center with the best expertise to treat the cancer; treatment was agonizing and successful; and survival was the outcome.

I don’t know all the details of that survival however I do know that my friend turned out to be an inspiration to others who faced similar journeys. They were athletic and participated in strenuous events, again inspiring others. Their outlook on life certainly hasn’t dimmed, notwithstanding I suspect the moments that all of us face as we deal with our own “What if’s.”

Now, here is a message that has filled my heart with joy and my eyes with tears as I read it (and again as I write this). And I know that there will be children who will read this author’s book and have their hearts filled with happiness and inspiration as well.

So today that is my “What if?” as in “What if we had not had those initial conversations? What if she had not gotten the best diagnostics and treatment from the outstanding physicians and cancer center, which really did have the needed expertise to treat her illness as best we knew at that moment? What if that HMO hadn’t let her get her care out of network? What if she hadn’t persevered through the complications of that treatment to maintain her wonderful outlook on life?”

Our worlds are full of “What ifs?” We need to celebrate the ones that turn out well, the ones that fill our lives with happiness and joy, especially when that joy comes from the moments that cancer survivors brings into our lives.

I could share a lot of other personal “What ifs?” and I suspect you can as well: “What ifs?” that are important to you in ways that you may not even recognize, like the good friend you meet later in life who had a life-threatening cancer diagnosis years ago, survived, and is there to be someone who listens, shares your life, and provides a shoulder to lean on in your time of need.

Sadly, we have too many “If onlys” in our lives, the thoughts of “If only they had done this or that they would be alive today…” That is the grief all of us share.

Today, let’s take a day to think more about the “What ifs” and the good things that happened because we had a discussion, an intervention, a direction, an opportunity to take a better path. I am willing to bet you could come up with a lot of wonderful “What ifs,” if you just take a moment to think about it.

And let us take every day to pray that we will continue to see the happiness of many more “What ifs” fill our lives with joy, overcoming the sadness of the too many unfortunate journeys of those we have loved and cared for so deeply where a “What if” wasn’t there to make a difference.