(Disclaimer: This post is going to be slightly off topic.)
Everyone has days or certain times of year in their life where they’re reminded of a challenge from years past. They find themselves thinking about the road they have traveled since the challenge… where they were… where they are… where they’re going…
For me, Cinco de Mayo is one of those days, if not the day that causes me to reflect on my life. It was seven years ago today that I admitted myself to the hospital because I didn’t feel right and my body wasn’t acting normal. It was seven years ago tomorrow, 5/6, that I had surgery to remove the cancer that was forming inside my body. I am thankful every day that I finally listened to what my body was saying and went to the hospital. I was told that if I had waited just a few days longer, or never went at all, that the cancer would have spread.
I am blessed, because having that surgery saved my life without needing chemo or radiation. I was diagnosed with Stage 1 ovarian cancer, and I will have to see an oncologist once a year for the rest of my life. I am blessed, because I get to live the rest of my life.
I always think about this on Cinco de Mayo because it’s shocking to me to realize that another year as gone by since this happened. I thought I was grown when this happened because I was finishing up my first year as a teacher and living in my own apartment. I was capable of handling this experience fairly well (an online group for cancer patients/survivors was extremely helpful) but I was far from grown. I have grown so much emotionally, professionally, personally, in the past years that I wish I could go back in time and tell the me in the hospital bed that “everything is going to be good, just wait and see.”
I did another year of teaching and in that time I was able to fully accept that it wasn’t for me. I hated to be another statistic of someone that didn’t make it past 5 years in teaching but I’d had an epiphany. While talking to a group of students I realized I would make a far better counselor, and that I’d be happier doing that too. After being let go, during the following fall, I went through a quarter-life crisis from moving back in with my mom and wondering where I went wrong. The scar on my stomach gave me strength to realize that things get better, just wait and see.
I started graduate school that January and found my niche. I thrived in my program and completed a 2 year program in a year and a half. Then, another crisis. There were no jobs in my area, so I settled for working retail and doing boring office work. In that time, I had a job interview for a counseling position in West Virginia*. Out of boredom, or curiosity maybe, I drove the 8 hours and spent 3 lonely days exploring the “city” near the school. I was on the verge of tears during the face-to-face interview because I knew it wasn’t right for me. My gut was screaming, “No! You’ll be so unhappy here! It’s not for you!” When the district called to tell me I had been recommended for the job, I told them without a doubt in my mind that I had second thoughts and would like to withdraw my application. I settled into the boring office job for almost 8 months. “Just hang tight,” I told myself. “Things will get better, just wait and see.”
The summer after my trip to West Virginia, and after applying to over 200 positions in my locale, I realized that in order to pursue my dreams I would have to relocate. I was at peace with not accepting the job in West Virginia. I would have been miserable there, and even though I was miserable anyway, at least I was surrounded by my family and friends. I started applying randomly to places in the South, and I got 2 interviews pretty quickly. I did a phone interview while sitting in my car outside of my office. I thought it went well, but who would hire me, sight unseen? I was open to the idea of moving, more at this point than when I went to West Virginia. A fresh start was appealing to me. If I hated it, I would do a year and come back. They called the following Monday, and within a split second I made a life-changing decision to accept the position, and within 2 weeks I uprooted the life I had cultivated my entire existence to move to a state I had never even set foot in to work with people I didn’t know.
It was the best decision of my life. Was it hard at first? Absolutely. Did I want to quit and go home? Many times. But over time, I realized that this is the place where I can reach my goals. The cost of living is too expensive where I come from and I could never afford a home like I’ve always dreamed of. The weather suited me better, and the pace of life suited me better as well. Yes, I was homesick and yes, I still get homesick. As months turned into years, though, I knew in my heart that I wouldn’t be going back. I’ve been accepted into this community that, although dysfunctional at times, makes me feel like what I’m doing is important. I had so many stops and goes in my life that I felt it was time to stop for real, and settle down.
So here I am, closing on my first home next week. I have this scar on my stomach that reminds me of how far I’ve come from that weak girl in the hospital to this strong woman doing what she loves. This scar also reminds me of how unpredictable life is, but that I can handle it. I am blessed. Through my adventures, I’ve met so many amazing people and had so many amazing experiences that even though a movie about my life would overall be a snoozefest, I think it’s still worth watching. I’ve taken chances. I’ve faced and overcome challenges. Whatever challenges this home throws at me, I will handle them.
So, going back to the weak girl in the hospital bed. If current me could visit past me, I wouldn’t tell her what happens because I know she hates spoilers. What I would tell her is that she will find happiness. It may not be where she thinks, or with whom she thinks, or doing what she thinks she loves, but that it will be so much better. Happy Cinco de Mayo! Here’s to another fabulous year of life and love.