Today I was telling my sons that experiences, both good and bad, shape us. That they make us who we are. My sons are just shy of six and eight now, so this is perhaps this was a rather weighty topic but our family has already lived through more than most.

It was four years ago that my oldest son, then just shy of four, finished his cancer treatment.  I write this because it is something of a milestone with cancer. This milestone is called remission. And in reflecting recently on the journey that was his experience with pediatric oncology, I couldn’t help but think about how the experience shaped not only him, but me as well. I learned many things during that time that I’d rather forget. Things like how to change the dressing on the port that was cut into his body for chemo, things like how much weight your child can lose by not eating for two weeks, and how to implement nasal tube feeding. It’s still hard for me to look back at pictures during that time. That said, an experience like that certainly shaped everyone involved. I believe that in working through some of the challenges there is wisdom to be gained. For me, I walked away shaped by two key lessons:

1) My son’s cancer taught me that life is unfair, and life is ugly, but life is beautiful as well. In this culture of quick fixes and instant gratification, this is something I think we often lose sight of, particularly during hard times. It’s important to recognize that those challenging times teach us resilience, help us find our strength. One of my more lucid posts on my son’s blog was a post called Finding Meaning, written at the point when I realized there was not a silver lining to every tragedy. That no matter how much I wished or prayed, I ultimately did not have power over the outcome of my son’s disease. That most of life’s events were truly beyond my control. That the only real control I had in my own life was to change my perspective, to be active rather than passive, to learn, to fail, to revise. This is how we grow as humans.

And recently I realized that post served as a catalyst for a some sort of subconscious mission I took upon myself, a mission to find more fulfillment in my own life. It’s something that self-help gurus talk about a lot, but when it gets right down to it, it’s asking a lot with the all the limitations put upon most of us. Limitations like time, money, and oops I’ve got to run out and buy more more toilet paper instead of writing my novel kind of limitations. The limitations of simply not having leisure time between home, work,  family and the grocery store. There are a lot of people out there currently selling the dream of a quick life fix with a book or seminar with a plan and easy steps. Gurus letting us know that the life want is just within reach or at least within the reach of our wallets. But here is what I’ve learned about the dream. Ready?

It. Doesn’t. Come. Easy. Don’t expect it to. There is no finish line.

There are not always four easy steps or a master plan. There is no Cliff’s Notes to improving your life. Sometimes you’ve just got to learn your own life lessons and shovel through the ugly shit.

2) My son’s cancer also taught me how to be brave. Braver than I had ever been before. As a parent of a child with a life threatening disease, one has to summon tremendous courage in spite of the fear. To be present, to cancel out the background noise, to center. Because your child is three years old and is going to have his gut cut open in a four hour surgery and that means it’s time to read him Thomas the Tank Engine as he is wheeled in the OR on a gurney. Because your child looks to you to lead. Because your fear or your fearlessness is mirrored back by her. Anyone having been through a similar experience can understand that these experiences teach us that we can be stronger than we ever believed.

Today, four years after my son’s final chemotherapy appointment, I am:
Stronger
Braver
More resilient
than I ever thought possible.

Would I do it again? Of course not. But ultimately it’s part of now my personal history, and part of the fabric of who I am today.  —Maja Brugos

Image: Maja Brugos ©2014

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