What I Learned from Cancer and “The Happiness Project”

glass_skyscrapers_190522Near the end of the second round of chemotherapy drugs, my oncologist noticed a new lump under my right arm. She looked worried. “What if it’s another tumor?,” I asked. She replied “That would be bad if the cancer is spreading while you are on chemo.” I was scheduled for a second surgery in a two weeks.  “We’ll just have to see what it is when we go in to clear the margins from the first tumor”.

For the next 14 days I was terrified that I might be dying.  Who would take care of my cats if I died? How much pain would I go through before I passed away? Would I lose my house before I no longer needed it? Could I afford hospice care?

When I awoke in my hospital bed, my friend told me the lump was not cancer, just a blocked lymph node. I experienced joy more intense than I ever had before or since. I had a view of top of a concrete building and blue sky out the hospital window – it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.  The sky was luminous and almost vibrating. Since that day in the hospital, the rest of my life seems to me like winning the lottery. I’ve given myself the choice to spend it in whatever way makes me the happiest.

Since getting the Bradshaw and Buono email, I’ve been through several emotional phases. There was a first phase: euphoria- that’s been gone for a while. Next came panic: what if I had a memory slip (it’s happened before)? what if I can’t handle the pressure of getting ready on top of my current teaching schedule?

I was reading The Happiness Project as I grappled with my fears. Why was I doing this concert? I mean, I could just bow out (no pun intended) and I would still be a ‘winner’.  After all, I know from experience that things very rarely change after a performance. Audiences are usually small, critics do not attend, and one does not get offered a recording contract ever! So, I concluded, the only way I could proceed with doing the concert was to find a way to prepare that I would enjoy and that would address my fears.

Last Sunday,  I did a first performance of my Carnegie Hall program from memory- and I was happy with the result! This Sunday, I’m playing it again – and I feel calm and clear about how to prepare. In fact, I have found that my regular practicing routine actually calms me down and helps me enjoy the rest of my day more.

Tomorrow,  I’ll share more about some of the solutions I found. Off to the piano!