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Lessons from Inside the Parentheses

Today . . . is the first in a series of personal "anniversaries" marking the beginning of my cancer diagnosis and treatment.  Much as I try to put these dates and events out of my mind, they tend to make their presence known . . .  down at my very core.  

And especially in September.

So forgive me while I revisit these ghosts of my past . . . and try to make sense of my experience seven years ago.  (It seems to happen every year in September.)


Recently, I read a rather wonderful analogy of personal crisis (be it a cancer diagnosis - or any one of the myriad other Things That Go Wrong).  The author suggested that "catastrophes provide a pair of parentheses in which to live apart from real life, depositing you rather abruptly on the sidelines for a bit while normal life continues to eddy downstream."*

This description completely resonates with me.  When I was first diagnosed with cancer, and then for the long months of chemo, I craved only one thing: my normal life.  All I wanted was to live outside those parentheses again!  Back then, in the midst of treatment . . . I swore I'd never take the ordinary-ness of my days - the normal stuff- for granted again.  I looked forward to celebrating the little inconveniences of every day life.

And - for a time - after treatment, I did.  Because cancer is a very good teacher teacher.  It forces you to face up to what you should have known all along:  that life is fleeting, there is little time, and no room for regrets.

At first, after treatment, I felt . . . shiny and new, sanded and polished, incredibly fragile.  I knew - for sure - that I would never experience life in quite the same way again.  While I stepped lightly - but purposefully - away from The Edge, the colors seemed brighter and the boundaries sharper -- and everything tasted much, much fresher.  I took more risks, I reached out, I tried new things, and I spoke out louder and sooner than ever before.

But then one day . . . I was stuck in traffic.  I got impatient.  I yelled in frustration.  And then I realized . . . that I had gotten normal back.  I had moved away from The Edge, and out of the shadow of my cancer ordeal.  I was - once again - cranky about a routine traffic jam, something absolutely unimportant!

I had moved outside the parentheses -- away from the catastrophe and back to normal life.  (It's amazing how resilient we really are.)  But sometimes, it's good to revisit those lessons we learn inside the parentheses.

That's where I am right now.

It is September, after all. . . 


*Lynn Darling in Out of the Woods: A Memoir of Wayfinding










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I haven't been through this and I'm grateful for that but I have watched others and I think that it's okay to go back to normal and be frustrated by frustrating things like traffic. The key, I imagine, is to always be grateful, even when frustrated. I'm so glad you are here.


Well said. I hope this September treats you gently.

I'm still in the period of time of being grateful for pretty much everything. That probably does fade over time, as forgetting takes over.


Amazing. When I broke my arm it was so painful and limiting for a year. I vowed that I would get strong and stay strong and be careful. But now I'm running up and down the stairs, hurrying again, not considering as I once did. You're so right...there's always time to slow down and look around. Thanks Kym!


Wonderful post. I have been fortunate, but completely get the parentheses in other facets of my personal life. Gratitude is something that I try to keep in the forefront of my daily life. It helps to slow me down and realize what's truly important.


Everyone experiences the parentheses differently; I have always envisioned them as a gaping chasm with a difficult, scrabbling fight to claw your way back to stable ground. The lessons learned are well worth revisiting, and if I'm truthful, I'm afraid that if I don't remember occasionally then the universe will remind me again. I hope September brings you to the best place for you, knowing what things are like inside the parentheses, but living your normal life (complete with frustrations!)


Six years ago (tomorrow) my normal life was also put into parentheses (as you know). The lesson I learned was to be grateful (always). My anniversary was off the radar for the first time this year, until your post reminded me I need to revisit and refill my heart with "grateful" again.


I think revisiting is good. I'm glad that you're to the right of the parenthesis!


In or out of the parentheses, you are a Big Plus in this world.

Cheryl S.


Beth Popish

Beautiful and poignant, thank you for letting us travel back with you.


Beautiful thoughts. I'm always grateful for the wisdom and experience you share in this space. ...and reading this post two days later also lets me see all the comments. You have wise and beautiful friends following, too. Wishing you peace in this season. xo.


I think revisiting is good. To me it's part of meditation, a good practice. I think being grateful is always good, whether or not you have yet to experience anything to "revisit". But I also find it such a relief to hear you say you are back to "normal" again. Shouldn't you be relieved of that 'sentence' that was thrust upon you all those years ago? Shouldn't you be 'normal'? As we all are normal, taking life for granted, being thoughtless, occasionally, impatient, angry, and all those other things - good, bad or indifferent - that make us human. I think as time continues to pass, your life will feel more and more 'normal', and I think that is as it should be.... Not being a cancer survivor myself, I worry that these words I've just written might be lacking in insight, but honestly, Kym, I do truly wish "normality" for you, and also even more important: joy.

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