6 tips for living the good life

I’ve been thinking a lot lately of the lessons I’ve learned and wisdom gained as a result of having had a life-threatening disease at a young age. I received a lot of positive feedback from my recent column for ELLE where I wrote about the effect my cancer had on my career, and how it made me unable to work in any type of environment where I didn’t feel happy and fulfilled. Some people seem to think leaving my job was revolutionary, but to me, it was just a natural consequence of my post-cancer no-bullshit attitude.

But I’ve realized that not everyone has gone through a terrifying health scare (you lucky dogs, you!) and that what now seems obvious to me might not be so obvious to the average Joe or Jane. So being the generous soul that I am, I’m going to share some of my bits of wisdom with you that I’ve picked up along the way.

Spend your money

I have always been really good with money. I’ve saved since I was a wee child, always cautious with my spending. While most Jewish kids take their bar/bat mitzvah money and immediately spend it on something awesome, mine went straight into the bank. I wanted to keep building my savings, for my future house/kids/retirement/life.

And then cancer came onto the scene, I thought I was at death’s door, and I stopped planning and caring so much about the future, because I wasn’t sure it was going to come. It seemed silly to spend time calculating how much I needed to retire if I were going to be dead long before then anyway.

I’m pretty much like Kanye now

As time goes on, my senses have somewhat returned and I realize there is a chance I could live until retirement and it’s still a good idea to plan for the future (luckily I have my very intelligent, finance-minded husband who locks up money in secret places I can’t find it so that I will not find myself on the streets come age 65). But even though I’m still saving and planning, I’m also not stressing about it anymore. If throwing a bit of money at a problem makes my life easier, whether it’s taking a cab home because it’s freezing out, or ordering takeout because I’m too lazy to cook, I’ll do it, without giving it a thought. Obviously I’m not walking around every day sipping Dom Pérignon and eating caviar (although there’s a fun image for you), but I’m caring a lot less and enjoying a lot more. Which leads me to my next point…

Go on vacation

This involves spending money too, and potentially a fair amount of it if you go somewhere super awesome, so I feel like I should put in some sort of disclaimer that you’re not allowed to come back and yell at me after you’ve gone broke from following all my rules. Okay, glad we got that out of the way.

I was diagnosed with cancer a couple months before my husband and I were booked to go to Jamaica for a holiday. Cancelling that trip was such a bummer. Rebooking that trip and finally getting there after I finished chemo and radiation was pure bliss. And then we decided that that wasn’t enough, and went back again 6 months later.

Happy vacation times
Happy vacation times

We’ve travelled a bunch since cancer, little trips here and there, some bigger. After going through something like cancer where you’re not allowed to travel, and where you dream about someday getting on a plane and being anywhere but your couch or bathroom, you never take going on vacation for granted again. Although we still have all the same old work and financial constraints we always had, we’re now much more likely to just say “screw it” and book a ticket and go somewhere.

Enjoy your food

Okay, if you know me, you know this was never an issue for me pre-cancer. But if anything, I enjoy eating even more now than I did before. It is such an amazing pleasure that so many of us don’t take the time to appreciate. But let me tell you, losing your sense of taste and losing your ability to eat the foods you like because of the many gross side effects from cancer treatment, really makes you realize how amazing eating is.

Fruit plate with a side of bacon because YOLO

I try my best to eat healthy and balanced, but I also love my sweets, and my carbs… and bacon. And I don’t apologize for any of it. Because you know what? Life is short, and if I get hit by a bus tomorrow, or die from cancer, or anything else, at least I’ll die knowing that I didn’t deprive myself of one of my greatest joys in life. Food is good. Make good choices, but don’t stress about it so much. Order the side of fries, or have the slice of cake. JUST EAT.

Don’t waste time doing something you hate

I referenced this earlier and have written about it already, but it’s amazing how many people fall into the trap of being comfortable in a situation that makes them unhappy – a job, a relationship, a mindset. Whatever it is, if it’s making you miserable, get the hell out. Seriously. Time is so bloody precious and you don’t want to waste a second of it.

Choose happiness. Choose you. Once you make that choice, good things will start to happen. (But if this leads to you quitting your job and not being able to pay your rent, please don’t show up at my house, seriously my husband will kill me.)

STOP stressing

Have you ever noticed how much people are stressed out on a daily basis? Take a look around you. It sometimes seems like everyone is stressed, anxious, uptight. If this is you, stop it. Stop it right now. Sure there is “productive” stress. A little bit here and there can do some good and help get things done. But for the most part, all it does is yucky things to your body and mind.

Even though I still find myself getting worked up in stressful situations, I’m much better now at not letting anyone else’s bullshit get to me. I just don’t have the time or patience for it. If I do notice my stress levels start to rise, I think to myself, Is this really that important? Is this life or death? And the answer is almost always no. And then I snap out of it, eat a cookie, and move on.

Don’t take your health for granted

Yep, this is the big one. I don’t think it’s possible to go through something like cancer without having a newfound appreciation for how amazing your body is when it’s working properly. Since having cancer, every day that I’m able to lift my arms, have control of my bowels, have hair growing from my scalp, can hold food down, can sit upright, can move without excruciating pain, can walk down the stairs without passing out IS A FREAKING AMAZING DAY. It’s like the wise John Mayer once said – your body is a wonderland. If yours is functioning properly without trying to kill you, then you’re extremely lucky.

Really, what it all boils down to, is we’ve all only got one life to live. So live it, and live it well. And most importantly, remember these six words to guide you through: There is always room for dessert.

To life, to life, l’chaim

Last week, I attended shiva for Linda and had the honour of meeting some of her amazing family. It was so special to get a stronger sense of what Linda’s life was like, and the people she surrounded herself with. I felt so lucky to have had her come into my life, even though it was for much too short a time. I do believe that people enter our lives for a reason, and I feel that Linda left such a wonderful legacy behind, and taught me many lessons, for which I am very grateful. Her family told me of how much Linda had admired my attitude and my honesty, but I hope they know that the feeling was completely mutual, and I felt a true kindred spirit in Linda.

Of course, despite it truly being a celebration of her life, I still felt a deep sadness, as I’m sure most did. It is always so sad when someone dies much too early. This unshakable feeling of a life unfinished. Cut short. Sometimes I wonder if anyone ever feels ready to go, when it’s their “time”. Is it easier when you’re 90 vs. 30? Or does it always feel as if life just sped right by you, without there ever being enough time to do and see all that you planned.

Since getting diagnosed with cancer, I’ve thought to myself if I could live just until “middle age”, that would be enough and I’d be satisfied and grateful for the extra years I got. But I’m certain if I make it to that point (and I hope I do), that I won’t feel any more ready to go. That it won’t be any easier. When life is good, it is natural to get greedy and want more. More years, more experiences, more trips, more love, more laughter. More living.

I do feel more pressure to live my life to the fullest and make every day count and fulfill the requirements of countless cliches. I think it would be almost impossible not to feel this way, when you know your days could be limited and that a long life and old age is not a certainty, but more of an abstract concept. A hopeful wish. A perhaps, rather than a definitely.

The strange thing is, even with this pressure and this fear safely tucked in the back of my mind, I don’t really want to do anything different. I don’t want to jump out of a plane, or climb the tallest mountain or run away to an exotic part of the world and leave my life behind. If my life were a movie, I feel like that’s what my character would do.

But what I want most of all, what I dream of, is a normal, long life. Filled with the mundane, with splashes and sprinkles of excitement thrown in here and there for good measure. I want family, and traditions, and changing seasons. Lazy nights and long days. Eventually, wrinkles, and some grey hairs (or any hair, really).

When it comes down to it, I just want my life to go on. I don’t need anything to change, and I don’t want to be a poster girl for how cancer can miraculously change your life for the better. I just want to be able to feel that when my time is up, I’ll know I lived the life I was meant to.  Nothing particularly extraordinary. Nothing filled with daring adventures and endless excitement.  Just life. Boring, typical, beautiful life.