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“The attitude we bring to the table, our coping ability, and our future, is completely within our control.”

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By Mamta Shah

My mother-in-law passed away in the spring of 2016. Six weeks later, my dad died of a heart attack. The last time I saw him was at my mother-in-law's funeral. Five weeks after, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

As a nurse, I have been able to care for many lives—both as they were improving and as they were ending. I realized I had been taking the preciousness of life for granted. Now I was getting my wake-up call.

Over the next few months I went through a dark phase. I had a double mastectomy to get rid of the cancer. Though healing, I was losing the will to live. I wondered, perhaps a little too eagerly, about what was waiting in the afterlife. I knew so many of my loved ones were there. Wouldn’t it be nice to end the suffering and be with them?

My husband saved me. He asked, “What about the people who are here now? What about the people who love you? What about all you do for your patients?” He reminded me what I live for. His unconditional love carried me through the dark times.

Giving back to others brought light into my darkness

I work with Operation Smile, a nonprofit that provides surgical care to children suffering from cleft lip or cleft palate.

Exercise also helped pull me out of depression. I’m into CrossFit, and I’ve formed a community at my gym. We check in with each other and hold each other accountable.

One day I was trying to lift a heavy weight and realized I did not have the strength. I went behind the weight rack and cried. My gym buddy saw me. She left her workout to check on me. I felt derailed by my physical weakness. I felt like I was regressing instead of moving toward my goals. My friend said, “It’s time to make new goals.” So that’s what I did: I made new, attainable goals. Over and over again.

“These may not be the cards you wanted, but they are the cards you were dealt.”

I still let myself have pity parties. But my rule is they can only last 24 hours. I curl up in my pajamas, eat unhealthy food, and watch Netflix. But it's one night only. In the morning, I get up. I go outside.

A coach once said to me, “These may not be the cards you wanted, but they are the cards you were dealt.” Especially during the toughest of times, it is important to remember that the attitude we bring to the table, our coping ability, and our future, is completely within our control.

We’re all given a finite amount of time on this earth. Neil Gaiman’s quote rings true to me: “You get what everyone gets. You get a lifetime.” Someday my life will end and I’ll join my loved ones in the afterlife.

But until then, I’m determined to make a difference in this world. One step at a time. On my own terms.

_________

Mamta: mid-40's, registered nurse, a daring adventurer, afraid of snakes and putting on pants that are too tight.  

Image Credit: Norman Jean Roy

Health, Illness & Injury Grief & Loss Building resilience Cancer Physical illness Suicide Supporting others Women
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