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Life lessons

August 25, 2013
By SHAUNNA DUNDER HERSHBERGER - Lifestyles Editor ( , Times Leader

We've all been there. That slow poke at the drive-thru took forever to order a burger. Someone cut you off in traffic. The number of things you need to do and the amount of time you have in which to do them don't match up. So we get irritated, angry and flustered. We're human. It happens.

But sometimes, so many of us focus in on these bad things. So many of us spend more time wishing instead of doing. And while from time to time we can't help it, constant negativity is draining, mentally and physically.

I won't pretend to be one of those people who is positive and bubbly all the time. I've been known to get a little grumpy on occasion (as Justin likes to say, I'm wearing my "grumpy pants"). But having had a life-threatening illness, I learned to reshift my focus in life on things that matter. After my transplant, I wrote in my journal a list of things I learned from my cancer journey. I recently found it and read it again, and it really struck a chord with me. You know how sometimes you just stumble across the perfect thing at just the right moment to help you refocus? Well, this list did it for me.

1. Don't sweat the small stuff.

I know that statement is about as cliche as you can get, but it's true. Who cares if you have to wait in line an extra minute at Starbucks because the person in front of you doesn't know the difference between a macchiato and a latte? Who cares if the bank is busy and you have to wait two minutes longer? I mean, does this really have such a profound effect on your life that you have to get all up in arms about it? No! Of course we wouldn't be human if we didn't get upset sometimes, but these are things not under our control and not worth troubling ourselves and ruining our day.

2. Be thankful for the things you have.

I know a lot of us (myself included) have spent a lot of time asking for things we don't have - more money, a bigger house, nicer clothes, fancy electronic gadgets. But I've learned that if we just look in front of our faces, we are already rich with the things we need. I am so thankful to have a roof over my head, a nice warm bed to sleep in and food to eat. There are lots of homeless, hungry and sick people out there who would give anything for some of the stuff we already have. Even though I was not happy to have cancer, I was thankful that I didn't get sicker. Some people in the bone marrow unit were very ill, and looked to be in much worse shape than I was. When you get down and feel like everyone and everything is against you, just think that there is probably someone out there worse off than you. And be sure to thank God every day for giving you the things you already have.

3. Say "I love you."

This is an important one. I never used to wear my emotions on my sleeve at all. But that changed once I got sick and realized how many people loved me and took care of me. Don't just assume that someone "knows" you love them. Tell them! Tell your parents, your siblings, your spouse, your children, your aunts and uncles and cousins, and your friends! It might be hard to say the first time, but it gets easier, and it's worth it.

4. Smile and keep a positive attitude.

Be friendly to people. Say hello. Treat them how you want to be treated. Don't you feel good when a stranger walks by and smiles and says hello? Well, why not spread that happiness to others? And try to keep a positive attitude no matter what. We all have unpleasant things we must do in our lives. I had to have chemo. I didn't want to do it, but I had no choice. So my thought was, I can approach this two ways: whine, complain, be angry and miserable or keep upbeat and try to focus on what needed to be done step by step. I chose the upbeat way. I truly believe that attitude can affect your health. If I had gone into this deal thinking I was going to be unbelievably sick, then chances are I probably would have been. However, I went in with the thought that I did well with the other chemos and I didn't expect this to be any different. Plus I knew I was young and otherwise healthy, and I think this mental aspect really aided in my recovery. Being miserable wasn't going to change the fact that I had cancer or that I needed chemo and a transplant. All it would have done was make me . . . well, miserable!

5. Be yourself.

Who cares if you're a big dork? Embrace it! Don't try to be something you're not. If you like to go against the flow, do it. I am certainly not trying to impress other people, so I just go about my business and do what I want to do. If I want to sing karaoke with my friends, then I'm going to do it and have a great time. If I want to eat an ice cream sundae for dinner, then I will and I'll enjoy every bite. Who cares what other people think? Obviously, I'm not talking about being reckless or breaking the law, but just staying true to yourself. The worst thing you can do is hold back because you are afraid others might not approve.

I read those words above and feel like they can apply to my life right now - four years into remission - just as much as they did when I wrote them five and a half years ago. Isn't it amazing how certain lessons can just transcend time? Those are the ones that you need to hold close to your heart.



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