On September 25, 2017 at 8:00 A.M., while in my car, on my way to my 13 year old niece’s Junior Achievement Awards ceremony at her school, I got the call from my doctor – “Emilia, I have the results of your biopsies – you have Invasive Ductal Carcinoma – your next step is to see a breast specialist. I recommend…” the rest was a blur until she ended with “I’m sorry.” I thanked her – what else was I supposed to say – and hung up. At that point, the first thing that crossed my mind was – what most of us women would think when we’re told we have breast cancer – “sh__t, I can’t cry, my mascara will smear.”
As I’m sitting at the awards ceremony next to my sister, making ugly faces trying to hold back the tears, I think “wow, what’s going to happen now, will this be one of the last opportunities I’ll have to witness events like my niece’s award ceremony marking change and growth in my family? How am I going to tell my husband, my kids and my grandson? What about my brother and sister….”
Fast forward to today and here I am, over four months and a mastectomy later and in the middle of chemotherapy treatment.
But alas, this blog is not about my disease or my treatment, it’s about what I’ve learned when life throws you a big lemon forcing you to make a hard stop in the middle of a very busy, active, and full life.
Lesson 1: What I thought were big, unmanageable problems before DC (Ductal Carcinoma) – now seem minor, manageable, and no longer impossible to resolve. As one of my business mentors, Marie Forleo, says, “everything is figureoutable.”
Lesson 2: The hard stop I was forced to make in my life which I thought before DC would be the end of the world without my presence and attention, for example, picking up my grandson from school every day, maintaining my coaching practice, working to help my husband meet expenses at home, and so on and so on – turns out it’s all taking care of itself while I’m taking care of me. Now I have my morning meditation and yoga practice and my evening gratitude ritual, which I’ve incorporated into my life forcing me to take pause and be with just me.
Lesson 3: Before DC I never made time to really sit and evaluate my coaching practice because I was too busy working the practice. Now, I’ve made good use of my down time to evaluate it and map out steps and intentions for 2018 in order to take my practice to the next level. Intentions which I have already begun implementing.
Lesson 4: In addition to business intentions for 2018, I’ve also set personal intentions for 2018, one of them being traveling more and spending more quality and down time with my husband. Before DC, 2017 came and went without realizing my intentions for the year. I have begun taking steps, along with my husband, to make sure we don’t make 2018 a repeat of 2017.
Lesson 5: Finally, I’ve learned to BE PRESENT (including putting electronic devices to the side) and treasure moments throughout my days with my family and friends. Moments like the ones with my sister while she’s sitting next to me during my chemo sessions; moments with my husband while we’re having dinner or while we’re watching TV together; moments like hanging out with my brother, sister, brother-in-law and sister-in-law in the cold night over an open fire warming up the marshmellos for smores; moments with my son and my daughter-in-law; moments with my daughters and grandson; moments with my nieces and nephews; and moments with my girlfriends who are also a key and integral part of my life.
To summarize my lessons I’d like to end with a popular story I first heard in one of my MBA classes about the Rocks, Pebbles and Sand and the important things in life:
A professor of philosophy stood before his class with some items in front of him. When the class began, wordlessly he picked up a large empty jar and proceeded to fill it with rocks about two inches in diameter. He then asked the students if the jar was full.
They agreed that it was full.
So the professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly and watched as the pebbles rolled into the open areas between the rocks. The professor then asked the students again if the jar was full.
They laughed and agreed that it was indeed full this time.
The professor picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. The sand filled the remaining open areas of the jar. “Now,” said the professor, “I want you to recognize that this jar signifies your life. The rocks are the truly important things, such as family, health and relationships. If all else was lost and only the rocks remained, your life would still be meaningful. The pebbles are the other things that matter in your life, such as work or school. The sand signifies the remaining “small stuff” and material possessions.
The professor then emptied the jar and started over but this time he started with the sand and filled the jar to the rim leaving no room for the rocks and pebbles, important things that matter in life.
The same can be applied to our lives. If we spend all the time and energy we have in this life on the small stuff, we will never have time for the things that are truly important in our lives. Know your rocks and pebbles so that when life comes hard at you with lemons, you have your rocks and pebbles to keep you going through it all.