Living with cancer, I can’t deny that my glass is definitely half empty, probably more than half empty. Some people in my position would fret over the fact that there’s so little left to enjoy. But I look at the water that remains at the bottom and tell myself “Hey, there are still several good sips remaining. I’ll enjoy each one of them as much as I can.” It’s simply a matter of perspective.
Another way of looking at it is to think of a coin which represents cancer. One side is pain, suffering, and death. The other side is the life that still remains to be lived, the good times with friends and family, the things that are still capable of being accomplished and enjoyed. Everyone with a serious disease—or a serious problem in life—can learn to flip that coin over and access the good side, the same way they can learn to enjoy the last sips of water left at the bottom of the glass.
This isn’t necessarily easy. I have to work on my own attitude every day, and I’ve had plenty of darkness to ponder over the course of the past thirteen or fourteen months. But over time it grows easier. The daily mental exercise of altering one’s perspective is a discipline akin to practicing scales, or meditation, or exercising.
I have an incurable rare cancer that will take my life, and I can’t help but think of that every day. But I also ask myself “What can I do to fully enjoy this unique spring day?” Right now I am doing all the things that I really want to do. I’m working on creative projects; gardening; playing guitar and singing; spending time with my family and dearest friends; and taking long walks. This is how I enjoy those sips at the bottom of the glass.
Also, I recently threw myself a party called Carrol’s Last Chance To Dance, inviting guests who for the most part represented my youth in Bloomington in the early 1980s when I worked at the original Uptown Cafe.
I wanted to recreate a time and place when I was young and optimistic and healthy. Old friends came from all over the nation to help me do this, traveling back to Bloomington from Las Cruces, New York City, Chapel Hill, and rural Wisconsin. One dear friend even flew from Zurich, Switzerland. People went to great effort and much expense to come to this event despite having very little advance notice.
It was indescribably wonderful to be surrounded by such love and support. There was more hugging than I’ve seen in ages, as old friends, colleagues, and ex-lovers all met again in one place, united by a single cause: to dance and have fun with me. I danced for three hours running, just as if I were young again. Indeed, with the sense of vitality and happiness that filled me, it felt as though I could live (and dance) forever. Not bad for a 56-year-old woman with a fatal disease; although some people undoubtedly wondered how I could party like this, knowing what lies in store. But that’s exactly why I did it! I want to make the most of my time on earth, to flip that dark coin over to its reverse, to sip from that sweet drink at the bottom of the glass.
My glass is half-full, not half-empty, and the top of my coin is bright and shining. Cancer has taught me that we all need to create and share as much joy and laughter as we possibly can. So if my health holds, perhaps I’ll throw another dance party.