This week marks an anniversary that I “should” not have seen. Five years ago, after two sets of brain surgery, I was diagnosed with a very rare and aggressive grade 4 brain tumour. Given my poor memory since then, it is strange that I remember so much of that day. The view out over the city, the sun, the poor oncologist sitting on the end of my bed about to give me the news. The news my brain cancer was terminal and that I’d be doing well to survive two years, 5 years a near impossibility. But I digress… those memories are important, but they are a bit of a distraction from what this blog is about.
One of the most common questions I am asked is how has this prognosis and diagnosis changed me. There seems to be an expectancy that I have somehow been let in on a secret reserved only for the terminal. That somehow being told you are going to die soon gives you an answer to life that no one else knows. I am sad to say that if there was a secret I was either distracted by a squirrel while they were telling me or I promptly forgot what it was – that happens when they cut out part of your brain. What I think is more likely (although those two other possibilities are highly likely as well) is that there is no secret. I don’t think the diagnosis and prognosis has changed me much at all. If anything, I feel that I have become more me.
All of those parts that make me me have been amplified.
I have embraced some more of my craziness… although I am still learning to embrace a lot more of it.
I would say I live with more urgency now than I used to. I have a greater appreciation for how short life really is, so I focus more on how can I make things happen in a shorter time frame than I would have thought possible previously. (It turns out that for a lot of things it is possible to speed up the process when you are 100% committed to it.) I also try to remember to make the most of each moment and experience, finding the cool stuff in the normal “mundane” experiences, and the hope and possibility in every challenge.
I have always loved challenging thinking and expectations, so saying I would be doing well to “survive” two years was the perfect challenge for me, although probably not in the way you might think. I do not live my life for quantity. I do not feel that living a short life is worse than having a long life. The focus of the challenge for me was less on the two years, and more on the word “survive”. The word survive does not sit well with me. I don’t want to just survive. That is not what life is about.
Every moment I have is a chance to thrive.
Every experience has the potential to be an amazing experience if we look for what is amazing, find the amazing, or create something amazing. It requires attention, and focus (not my strong suit), and effort. Do I do this all the time? No way! I am still learning.
This last year has seen some pretty crazy health experiences. I have been so fatigued that I was unable to teach more than two classes in a row without needing to sleep. After finding a solution for that and getting some energy back, I received the news that Timmy had grown, and I went in for my third set of brain surgery. Shortly after the surgery, I had a stroke. Currently I am continuing rehab from the stroke while I undergo a 6 month chemotherapy regime. Twelve weeks after the stroke, I am also in the middle of a demolition and renovation project, among other squirrels, and loving it! This is my version of survival.
If there was a secret, then we all know it. To make the most of every moment we have by making it a memorable, amazing moment. Not by thinking or expecting a moment to magically be amazing. Our lives are our responsibility. Five years on, seeking to thrive and not just survive, and after the recent tumour recurrence and stroke, I still believe that. “Bad” things can and do happen, but our reactions to them define the quality of our lives.
Here’s to another adventurous five years!
Want to learn more about Cameron Gill’s journey, his legacy, and his legacy projects? CLICK HERE for Cam’s official Facebook legacy page. We have heaps more of his story to share, so like and follow to stay updated.