That Moment When All Your Priorities Change

I’ve debated writing this post for over a year. Almost 2 years now. It’s something I’ve only shared with a few people. Ever. And something I didn’t think I’d post or talk about publicly. Three things changed my mind.

1. My good friend Erika wrote a piece for Change This called “The Shattering.” She talks a little about it on her blog here as well. I won’t go into details on her post, you can read it (it’s free) and see for yourself why it moved me.

2. My friend Justin in San Francisco introduced me to this guy on Twitter. Who has cancer. And is blogging about it. And live tweeting chemo. Amazing.

3. A friend on Facebook posted the graphic to the left today* that made me really think about choices I’ve made over the last ~2 years.

So what do I have to say? I’m getting to it. Be patient.

You already know from previous posts that the death of my friend Jason was a pivotal point in my life. It altered my reality. Fractured my soul. But admittedly, after reading Erika’s piece, I wasn’t shattered. Fractured, yes.

Shattered, no. That came about a month later.

After Jason died, I took a new interest in my own health. I was approaching 40 and hadn’t had a physical in a LOOOOOOONG time. So it was time. We did a full work up and fortunately, everything looked good aside from two things.

  1. My total cholesterol was fine, though  my HDL/LDL levels were the opposite of what each should be. Diet change. No biggie.
  2. My doctor found some lumps around my right nipple. Yep. That.

His opinion? “This could be nothing or it could be cancer.” Time for a referral.
Here’s where you need to know something key about me: I have an overactive imagination. I admit it. In creative situations it’s a tremendous asset but in this situation it was not. My doctor wrote me a referral for a mammogram. Wait, what? They can do those on men? Again. Yep. (Ladies, you have my sympathy on this one. Big time.) I left the doctor’s office, sat in my car and cried. About 20 minutes of t-shirt soaking bawling. Then I picked up the phone and called the clinic. They could see me that afternoon. This is good news when one has an overactive imagination.
I debated whether to tell my partner, Brian or not. I didn’t REALLY know anything except there are lumps that concern my doctor. But given how dysfunctional I was at that point, I needed support. And I needed someone to drive me to my appointment that afternoon. For the first time since we’d been together, I honestly didn’t know what I would do without him. And after I told him he was having to face what he might do without me.

That afternoon I had my first (and hopefully last) mammogram. Inconclusive. WTF? The technician said she could see the lumps but wasn’t entirely sure what they were. So I sat there and waited about 15 minutes for the doctor. (Cue overactive imagination.)

The doctor was awesome and direct. She reviewed the mammogram with me and her conclusion? Inconclusive. That word is serious fuel for an overactive imagination.

Fortunately, the room I was in also had an ultrasound. So the tech came back, doctor stayed, and they did an ultrasound on the right side of my chest, my arm pit and part of my upper arm and shoulder. This time we had a conclusion: “It’s serious and something you should deal with, but it’s not cancer.”

NOT. CANCER.

Hearing the words “it could be cancer” shattered me. Every single piece of my life was sitting there on the floor in front of me. Fragments of my work, my relationship, my family, my dreams. All of it. Lying there on the floor in a big messy pile. I couldn’t think clearly. I couldn’t function. I was numb.
Hearing “it’s not cancer” altered my perspective in a way I didn’t imagine. I realized that I had to make changes. In my stress levels. In my relationships with others. In my PRIMARY relationship. In my life. Reading Erika’s piece I realize now, ~2 years later, that this was my “shattering,” followed by a new perspective. Facing my own mortality for the first time gave me the courage to ALLOW myself to CHOOSE which pieces I picked up off the ground. And which I left behind. I left a lot of my life up to that point lying on the floor in that doctor’s office & clinic. By choice.

I realized that Brian and I needed to get back to San Diego. We’d been talking about since we left in 2006 but hadn’t done a lot to make it happen. After talking with my doctor I also realized that my job at the time was so stressful and required such long hours that I was ignoring friends, eating inconsistently and poorly, too exhausted to exercise & putting all of my dreams on hold. It was also making me more of an asshole than I’m comfortable being.

So I sit here today, at a new job. In San Diego. 50 lbs lighter. Eminently healthier and 100% happier. I make time for friends. I’m better at making time for Brian. I’m better at making time for me. I’ve also picked up photography again and launched it as my own small business (part time for now).

I’m not sure if the prospect of cancer would have shaken me as much as it did had Jason not died just weeks earlier. But in the end, it was the jolt I needed to make some very major, very important life changes. I’m hopeful, that by sharing this story, others won’t need something quite so drastic to take a step back, gain new perspective and make changes.
To close the loop, what I had (have) are lipomas. I won’t go into detail but here’s a wikipedia page. Mine are treated by diet & exercise alone – and I’ve had no issues since making those changes.

*I actually wrote this earlier in the week and just couldn’t hit publish until today. So “today” in this instance isn’t quite accurate. But it got awkward if I tried to change it.

Original graphic can be found here. I don’t know who the original creator is though or I would give credit. I’m big on giving credit.

[UPDATE: Thanks to @JeriDansky on Twitter you can find the ORIGINAL graphic here (with explanation) and an option to buy a print if you love it!]

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4 Responses

  1. I know first-hand what this does to a person. I’m so proud of you for tbis posting. Very well written. What a great expression of life.!!

    1. Thanks, Mom. I’m hopeful sharing experiences like this help other people recognize their own situation. It’s hard to really “see” when you’re deep in it.

  2. It’s amazing how a single moment like this can provide clarity in your life. I met with a neurologist around 8 years ago to discuss things my then girlfriend had noticed.  The neurologist ran a series of tests. He said he’d like to run additional tests, but there was a 50% chance that I had Parkinson’s. Life altering moment. For the 3 days until the follow-up I was devastated.
    Fortunately for me it wasn’t Parkinson’s. It’s still not a great thing, but I’m not going to die from it anytime soon!
    That moment provided clarity and lit a fire. It provided focus on who was important in my life. In the next 3 years I completed my undergrad degree, my MBA, got an awesome job in my target industry and have pushing hard since. It’s unfortunate that it takes moments like this remind us that life is short…but on the positive side some people *never* realize that!
    Glad it wasn’t the bad news.

    1. Thanks for sharing, Rob. I’m always amazed at two things: 
      1. How serious things have to get for us to make necessary changes (that are usually PRETTY obvious).2. How many people (to your point) never, ever realize that.
      Fortunately for me, I only spent about 6 years with priorities completely out of whack. Took less than a week to start making changes and less than a year to change lifestyle. Probably one of the best doctor visits I’ve ever had. I should actually write him a letter, now that I think about it.

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