How My First Year of Chemotherapy Changed My Christmas Wish for You

The holidays are upon us and I am sitting at my keyboard two days after my latest infusion, my brain awash in a heady mix of chemo drugs and residual steroids. I can feel the moisture in my nasal passages dissipating as it tends to do at this time, my eyes drying up along with them. Food doesn’t taste as profound and I gravitate toward sweeter options just to find them more palatable, or more bitter options because that bitterness is only intensified. But aside from a slight sleepiness that keeps threatening to overtake me, I’m actually feeling pretty good, very happy and more or less alert… And I’ve been thinking about this whole holiday thing since I was in the chair at the clinic, watching the drip come slowly down that long tube.

Snowman Believe
This snowman has some good advice at his fingertips.

I’m a big fan of Christmas. Always have been. Not the commercial side of it, so much, but that is because consumerism and gluttony always rub me the wrong way. And not the religious side of it, so much, because dogma rubs me the wrong way, too. But the spirit of Christmas, that I do love. The concepts of peace, unification, giving — and taking the time with family and friends to focus on the love, joy and small miracles of life — these are very good things, indeed.

Every year I try to look at these positive elements (that should be) exemplified by the holiday. I think it is important to contemplate the meaning of Christmas, even from a secular perspective. This time around, there is little doubt that my views and my wishes have been influenced by my treatment. Here is my Christmas wish for you.

Don’t wait to follow your passion. And if you don’t already know what your passion is, don’t wait any longer to discover it. Passion is what gives life it’s meaning — and I don’t mean the term as it relates to sex, although there is a certain sexiness about discovering something great and powerful that can drive your imagination and give you moral direction. You want to live life to the fullest, and being a passionate advocate for something positive will drive you in that direction. Having a lust for creating something of your own, a drive to complete an overarching life goal, or a solid sense of how you must intrinsically lead your life in an exemplary manner as an artist or teacher or leader or gardener or partner or parent — these are essential qualities for fulfillment, and they will in turn be gifts that you leave behind for others.

Life does not wait.

You cannot predict where life will take you. That makes “the journey” or “the path” everything.

Although I was talking and writing about this sort of thing twenty years ago, it meant something quite different to me at the time. The concept to a young person seems very abstract, especially when the road leads out far ahead, seemingly forever. I made some mistakes in my youth, squandering time that could have been spent in the pursuit of greater things, mainly because it always seemed like there were insurmountable days ahead. Granted, I am proud of much of what I accomplished, but I would not say that my legacy was as firmly established as it should have been.

A year of chemotherapy and the notion that I will likely have years more of it ahead of me, leaving me with a constant up and down cycle for my physical body to deal with, has done two distinct things to me from a creative perspective. One, it has shown me how difficult it will be to accomplish some of my artistic and professional goals. Two, it has given me insight and direction and focus that were previously lacking with regard to what I want to do with my projects and my life.

I always had lofty aspirations. I still do. Living with cancer does not change what is in our hearts, after all — those passions we should be following. I’ve toned down some of them, because it is going to be a really tough sell to get a person living with Stage 4 cancer into high political office (and I haven’t even mentioned my shady past, which would undoubtably be unearthed at some point). But I still am plugging away at movie and book ideas that have been too long in the gestation period. My problem in the past has always been that I start more than I can hope to conclude with creative projects. The result of this is that too much time is wasted on new beginnings, rather than focusing that same energy on the completion of worthy projects. Cancer has given me the sense of clarity that I had otherwise been lacking in this specific way: if it isn’t truly worth my time, I’m not going to do it. And, if it is truly worth my time, I’m going to make it a priority.

But time is precious. No one knows how much there is left to them, or to anyone else. And that is why it is so important to fill the time we have — hopefully lots and lots of it — with whatever our passion is. And when our time is done, if we have had that passion to follow, we can leave this place satisfied that we have done what we came here for. It’s the ultimate road to peace for the individual, and while Christmas may be about the whole 12238004_10153823395077160_6927269283729390256_o“peace on Earth, goodwill toward man(kind)” trope, the Zen part of me likes to think that it is also about that deeper, personal, internal peace.

And that is what I wish for you. The ultimate peace, through a life devoted to your passions. May they be good ones that will take you to fabulous places, whether that is somewhere exotic to you or your own backyard. Wherever these passions lead, be in the moment to experience them. Share them wantonly. Make them a part of not only your world, but the world. Participate. Exist. Exalt. Live. Share.

And have a glorious holiday season.

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