September 8, 2005 | I cannot begin to explain to you how strange it is to know that one year ago, I was in the heart of my chemo therapy. Part of me feels like it was so long ago. Yet, another part of me feels like it is still lingering inside of me. The short story is that last year I was sick with cancer. It was caught early enough that the surgery was very successful, although the cancer was far enough along that I still needed chemo to protect my future. I had treatments for six months, every other week.

Being sick was an intense journey as a young single woman. Since I was a little girl, my life was always about staying "on track." This track was mostly about being productive. But what does it mean to be productive, really? While I was sick, I spent a lot of time thinking. Either on a couch, a doctor's waiting room, or the treatment center. All thought-provoking places.

When I got sick, I knew that many parts of my life would be put on hold. It was very difficult. I was about to start graduate school. The exact month I was going to start full time was when I packed up my life in New Jersey and moved back to Seattle to deal with being sick.

When you think of a resume, you don't really get excited about writing, "searched for the reason I was sick from Jan 04 - Apr. 04" and, "surgery and chemo from Jul. 04 - Dec. 04."

I guess what I want to share with you is that our true resumes are not what we think they are. Obviously, I do not wish cancer on anyone. However, it sure opened my eyes to the meaning of life. Our everyday trials with our family, friends and coworkers are what really count. These are the important tasks and challenges which are written down on our life's resume.

I remember the first week I came back to Seattle, not knowing why I was sick. I felt awful for more hours than not in the day. My mother and I went to the grocery store to buy food, and when I saw someone I knew from home, I just hid. I was embarrassed of the reason I came home. It took me months to lift my chin and be proud of who I am and what was happening to me. I am so happy that I went through that process. Being sick or being different in any way is not a mark against you. I learned that we have to step up to our challenges and face them, head on.

It is tough to share with others the challenges we are given. During my chemo therapy I decided to write an email letter after each treatment. I wanted my friends and family all over the world to know and feel what I was going through. It really brought them closer to me. Everyone who received my letters told me that they felt like they were there with me during that time. Even more, I saw that sharing my trials with people encouraged them to share their hardships with me. I wasn't even thinking that people would do that. But the responses just poured in. My friends and even family felt safe sharing their struggles with me.

I learned so much from watching people open up to me, after I chose to open up to them during this intense time. It's so basic, but I never really appreciated this before: that most people have struggles, but they do not share them with the outside world. In other words, you never know what is going on behind closed doors.

In terms of people whose doors are "open"—like people you know are sick—a small part of me always felt as if they were not part of regular society. They have a problem that makes them different from everyone else. But that's not true. We are all given trials and everyone must deal with them as they come. In one of my letters I explained how I finally let go and accepted my position as a sick person.

Today I had one thought that pulled me out of the dumps. I decided that this is my job. God commands us to guard our bodies. In order for me to do that properly, I must do chemo as a full time job because it takes that much time out of my week and life. So, then, that's it. You may go to work and work so hard it hurts. Or, you may run your house and make sure your kids are fed and have clean clothing to wear till you could drop. So, I must wake up every day and tend to my body. But, I think that the reason my job is a bit more scary is because it involves me and my body. It includes intimidating things like hospitals, needles, IVs, doctors, etc. But I believe that there is no difference between my job and your job. Neither one is more secure than the other. Everything we do and its outcome is really up to God. I just think that we feel less in control when it is our bodies that we are dealing with. So, fine, it's humbling. I have to just let go.

Trials and hardships shape us. But I believe that it is a two-way street. Something or someone can come in to our lives to test us whether we want it or not. However, your reaction to this test is the most important part. Hopefully we will decide to face these challenges head on, share it with others, and be grateful for the tools that we have to deal with it. As I share these thoughts with you, I hope that I can take them with me on my journey of life. I hope to always remember my sickness and let it humble me.

I am inviting women to see the world as a deeper place. I have been down a very tough road. From seeing my women friends respond to my letters and share their struggles with me, I learned that we need to share more. We need to acknowledge the deep and real parts of life with each other. If we only cover the surface then we will never know that our friend, neighbor, sister, or mother is going through something just as hard as us. After being sick, I learned that life is not about living smoothly. It is about working through the bumps. No one is perfect.

As a single woman without a family or a career to show for myself, I still feel very important. Being sick opened my eyes up. For almost two years I was a sick person. My job was to take care of myself and be grateful for the family and community that took care of me so well. I know that everyone has something to offer in this world, but it's not always what you might expect. We are not here to show off our jobs nor even our families.

We are here simply to find our place in each day.

Laura Negrin graduated from Barnard College and majored in mathematics. She helps run her family's 30-year-old business and her hobbies include knitting, cooking, playing basketball and many other sports. She currently lives in Seattle, Washington.





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