It's hard to explain, and I don't doubt that most people won't be able to see where I'm coming from, but my cancer diagnosis has given me the opportunity of a lifetime.
The opportunity to learn how to take care of my body: from changing my diet to making fitness a priority to managing stress to getting enough sleep. When I think of the way I lived before my diagnosis, it's no wonder to me that I wore my body down enough to allow cancer to get the upper hand. I am so much more educated about health and cancer and disease in general, and I never would have taken the time to learn and grow and change without my diagnosis.
The opportunity to see life from a different perspective -- a better perspective, in my opinion. You'd have to be with me all the time to believe it, but what I'm about to say is true: nothing gets me down. Don't get me wrong -- there are things that make me sad or mad. It hurts me when I hear of a fellow cancer warrior ailing or dying from the disease. It pains me to witness or hear about brutality, a lack of compassion, or ignorance winning the day or an instance of human interaction. Those big things aren't what I'm talking about. I'm talking about traffic, the restaurant getting your order wrong, freaking out about deadlines and obligations, gossip, and the like. Stupid stuff. Bullsh*t, if you will. I just don't get caught up in it anymore. At the end of the day, deadlines will get met, traffic will ease up, the restaurant will finally get my order right, and people will talk regardless of what we do or don't do. Boiling down my life to the things that matter most to me, focusing on and celebrating those things, and letting the rest fall away has been incredibly freeing. My diagnosis opened a door for me to a freedom of thinking and living that I hadn't yet recognized before it, and who knows if I ever would have.
The opportunity to help people in a deeply profound way. I've always wanted to help people, of course. That's why I became a lawyer and that's why I want to run for office one day. But I've never helped people like how I'm helping them now, through this blog and the Foundation. I don't think I can really tell you how much it means to me to talk to patients and their loved ones. People who are newly diagnosed, gathering information about their options, or about to start treatment or have surgery. People who want information, hope, and someone to relate to. I am honored every time someone reaches out to me. It is my true joy to share my story and experiences and helping people in the process. I talk with new people just about every week, and knowing that I'm making a difference in their lives is the biggest accomplishment of mine. Without my diagnosis, I never would have had this opportunity.
The opportunity to fight. Knowing that my life is on the line has filled me with a drive and focus like no other. Every single thing I do is done with the goal of beating cancer in mind. And not just beating the disease in my own body -- that's part of it, but not nearly all of it. I want to be a part of beating this disease by funding research to find the cure through my Foundation, by inspiring others to say "you know what, cancer? F*ck you. You're not going to ruin my life," and by spreading the word about how a vegan diet, regular exercise, and a positive attitude is part of living a healthy and cancer-free life. The fight, the competition, and the will to win is my fuel.
The opportunity to embrace life. One of things I've learned is that there's no need to "wait" for things to happen. Life is too short and unpredictable for that. If I want something, I go after it. If I think I should do something, I go do it. A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to go to trapeze school with the summer associates at O'Melveny. I didn't hesitate. And there I was, flying through the air, exhilirated. In a couple of months, I'll be jumping into a cage in the waters of the Farallon Islands, facing what is my biggest fear and one of my greatest loves: the Great White Shark. There's no reason to hesitate in this life, and if you do, you may miss some opportunities. I loved my life before my diagnosis and I always did things big in the past, but these days, I'm doing it even bigger.
I was 28 years old, newly married with tons of friends, back home in L.A., and at the start of a promising career -- one I worked my butt off in college and law school to achieve. Then I was thwacked on the side of the head with a Stage IV colon cancer diagnosis. In some circles, people may say that cancer messed up my life. But it didn't. My diagnosis gave me the opportunity of a lifetime: the opportunity to dig deep and find who I really am and how I really want to live. And I've seized that opportunity. And I couldn't be happier.