This weekend, I attended a gathering with friends in Arlington, Virginia. Everyone left their kids behind to join in conversation, reflection and connection.
And I got far more than I expected to going in.
On Sunday morning, over coffee, I got into a deep conversation with a woman named Robin, whom I’d never met, and I found her story remarkable.
Robin has endured a very difficult series of life events in recent years. Robin, it turns out, is a cancer survivor. She received the devastating diagnosis on June 6, several years ago. She was in her early 40s, and she underwent an invasive surgery, followed by a long stretch of chemotherapy.
She described to me the pinpoint-sized tattoos she received during chemo, called “radiotherapy skin markings.” These are dots the size of freckles that help line up the radiotherapy machine each time the patient goes in for treatment.
After her treatment was completed, she couldn’t stand to look at two of these markings in particular – one on each of her thighs. She didn’t know why they bothered her so much, but every time she saw herself in the mirror, they brought all the pain of her diagnosis and treatment up to the surface once again.
A year after the doctors told Robin she was cancer-free, her 23-year-old cousin, with whom she was very close, was diagnosed with advanced cancer.
Over the course of his treatment, they grew closer and closer. She was still affected by her own experience, but her cousin’s diagnosis helped her find her strength. She spent hours each week talking to him – sharing memories, reflecting and making plans for the future, when he was on the other side of his treatment.
And during this time, she defiantly transformed the meaning of the two radiation marks that had bothered her by getting a word tattooed on either thigh.
On one leg, she tattooed “Fight” in red and orange. On the other, she tattooed “Live” in blue and purple. Each radiation mark became the dot of the “i” in one word.
This turned those painful reminders into a source of strength.
Sadly, her cousin took a turn for the worse. And on June 6, 2021, the very same day she had first been diagnosed years earlier, he passed away.
Before he passed, he told Robin if he didn’t survive, he would make his presence known to her from time to time by sending a small shock into the doorknob when she opened a door.
Robin turned her arm over and revealed a small tattoo of a doorknob with a lightning bolt on her left wrist – her eternal connection to the cousin she’d lost. It was a reminder to herself to be thankful for every second of every day she has in this life.
She finished by expressing to me that even though she still felt the pain of his loss and the trauma of her own experience, she felt stronger and more connected to the moments of her life than she ever had before.
As an educator – knowing that almost everyone knows someone who’s experienced cancer – she plans to use her strength to empower others and to help them appreciate each moment of their lives more deeply.
Looking for Lessons
So why am I sharing this story?
Right now, I’m sure that if you wanted to, you could find plenty to focus on that worries you. The economy… your finances… your health… your family… the future…
Our minds are predisposed to look for threats.
But regardless of your current circumstances, today will come and it will go. And you alone have the power to choose what you pay attention to. Will you focus on your worries about the future? Or will you choose to appreciate the privileges, relationships and opportunities you have?
Adversity is a sign of life. The more you grow, both in age and in experience, the more challenges you inevitably face.
You likely already know this from your own experiences. Weren’t the moments of greatest adversity the ones that taught you the most? For me, the answer is a resounding yes.
But here’s the thing: I invite you to consider that the most difficult moments are also the greatest opportunities to find the deeper meaning in your life.
For example, when the economy starts falling, it can bring us back to the basics of what really matters and the value of each day. It can make us more likely to notice the little things we take for granted… Yes, like cheaper gas and groceries. But also the relationships we have and the daily pleasures that have nothing to do with money.
Even when the circumstances seem completely unfair, like in Robin’s life, there is always a deeper meaning to be found.
So I invite you to confront the things that worry you. Take them on one by one and ask yourself these questions…
- What else could this mean?
- Where is the lesson in this?
- How will this make me stronger, wiser and more capable?
With questions like these, you’re likely to find answers that will help you now, that will allow you to appreciate the richness of your life today.
And if you can find the magic when times are tough, everything else becomes a cherry on top of a life well lived.
Until next time…
What do you think?