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Cancer Left Me Less Patient

My breast cancer diagnosis brought with it a focus on time — how much I have and how I want to spend whatever remains [for me].  I’m confident I am not alone in this as it seems to be a universal feeling experienced by most, if not all, cancer patients.  After my diagnosis I found myself becoming less and less patient with people and situations that I would have overlooked previously.

No More One-Sided Conversations

You know those conversations where you find yourself being ‘talked at’ instead of having an exchange of dialogue?  When those conversations happen my eyes immediately start scanning doors and windows for an escape route.  I feel held captive as I count the minutes until I can bail.  The snack table at gatherings offers a handy escape.  A simple, “Oh, look at those tacos!” and I’m free.  I even confess to purposely drifting out of frame as the stranger chatters on, changing their focus to the next person.

I simply don’t have time for this anymore.

I want to have real interactions with people. Not the kind about your high-powered and impressive job, but instead I want to know how you help your neighbor; what good things are you doing to improve your community, and even the larger world around us.  I want to learn new things, laugh at a joke, anything that will relate you to me, something that allows me to be seen and for me to truly see others.  No more superficial fluff.  I just don’t have the patience for less.

Less Complaining More Doing

Life has new meaning when one realizes its finiteness.

I have little patience for people who are caught in a cycle of negativity, somehow believing that the world around them will benefit by hearing how they waited an hour on the phone with the cable company.  Friends of mine are fighting for their lives, and they rarely complain about everyday annoyances.  Life has new meaning when one realizes its finiteness.

I sincerely believe that negativity is a habit — a guilty pleasure even.  My own spouse will attest that I am guilty of this habit as well but I’ve come to believe we can break the cycle if we recognize this habit in ourselves.  Shouldn’t we save our complaints for the ‘big things’?  Don’t sweat the small stuff, right?  When the big things arise that’s when we seek the comfort and confidence of friends and family who will commiserate with us over a glass of wine, or two, or three.

Avoiding Unnecessary Stress

A few years ago I made a deal with myself.  The deal I made was to not fight with strangers on the internet. I think this is an act many can relate to in our hyper connected world of social media and access and tendency to opine.  Here’s the deal.  They don’t know me, they don’t care about me, they have their own agenda and I have mine.  I decided when the feeling surfaces to engage that I would no longer take the bait.  I drew a line and I am standing behind it (mostly).  In the instances where I have disregarded my own promise, it hasn’t ended well and I inevitably end up with regrets.  Life is too short for regrets these days.

If the urge to begin typing out a biting, overly snarky response to someone on social media or email, I pause, and I hear the calm voice of my spouse in my ear, reminding me to ask myself “is this really your best option?” and “will this serve any purpose other than a momentary feeling of victory?”  I then sigh, delete the unnecessary comment, and inevitably thank myself later.

Even reading someone else’s thread of negatively without commenting robs me of joy and time.  The other day, I made the error of reading a conversation thread online (still kicking myself over it) that had turned exceptionally personal with an unusual amount of vitriol and anger. I actually felt a little ill afterward and was upset with myself for having wasted my time.  Nothing was served in the exchange except a probable rise in the blood pressures of all involved.

I think most of us want the same things in life.  Food to eat, clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, shelter and the love of family and friends. The moment we separate ourselves from people, we are ‘othering them’ and it is so easy to lose perspective.  We are better than this.

So to repeat: Life is too short to fight with strangers on the internet.

No More Hand-Wringing

It’s important that we do good with the time we have here on earth.  If there is a problem or issue that needs fixing, we need to take action because simply twisting our hands and worrying doesn’t help.  If you have money to give, give it.  If you have time to share, then share it.  If you have a voice, then raise it.  I realize now, as a result of confronting my mortality that the time for remaining small and quiet in life has passed.  There is much work to be done and I want to be part of it.

For example, I grow more and more impatient over the lack of money being funneled towards research. It’s crazy to me that scientists have to beg for money in order to conduct potentially life saving research.  A cure to cancer will only be hindered by the lack of money flowing in the proper direction.  Taking an active role in ensuring more and more funds find their way into the hands of science is as important as bringing awareness to any disease, if not more so.

Among other things, cancer has given me the desire to do what I can to impact the world around me in a positive way.  No more wasting time on meaningless, trivial ‘things’ anymore.  Just last night, I attended a local meeting involving a proposed project in my community — a particular problem because of an already-existing issue with traffic and public safety. The room full of people who showed up in opposition sent a clear message: This project is not welcome here.

We have the ability and the responsibility to encourage positive change in our communities and our world.  Whatever gifts, skills, tools, means you have to effect positive growth and change in our world, I encourage us all to use them.

Actions speak louder than words.

And Another Thing

I try to help others to love freely.  I recommend napping, we all need naps.  I make time for me.  Self care is paramount.  We cannot possibly take care of others if we aren’t taking care of ourselves.  I still hope I’m making my mother proud and on my best days (somehow, some way) I hope that I am the woman my dog, Echo, believes me to be.


  • Margaret Lesh is a two-time breast cancer survivor and author of her memoirs Let Me Get This Off My Chest: A Breast Cancer Survivor Over-Shares. She also writes children’s and young adult books. She believes tacos are magic. Visit her website: http://margaretlesh.com

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