It’s the beginning of a new year and a great time to step back and assess what really makes you happy. In the last two years, I dealt with one of the happiest times of my life (giving birth to my first child) quickly followed by one of the scariest (getting diagnosed with breast cancer.) And while I still take things for granted and spend too much time watching “Friends” instead of being with my friends, I think I’m definitely living more in the present than ever. And a big part of my present is about paying attention to the people, things, events that give me that “life buzz.”
So here’s a list, in no particular order, of the 31 things that bring me joy after cancer. Some of them are certainly more poetic than others. But honestly, when it comes to making me happy, they’re all equally irreplaceable.
1. Spending time with my sister.
You know those people you can do nothing with and it just makes you feel alive? That’s my sister. Watching Hallmark Holiday movies whenever we get together is simply perfection.
2. “Friends,” Frasier,” and “The Golden Girls” or as I call them FFG.
Five minutes of one of those shows and I’m golden, no pun intended. Betty White is my hero.
3. My parents.
I think about them at least a dozen times during any day. Just knowing all they’ve done for me and my sister, and all they continue to do, keeps me going on rough days.
4. Picking my son up from preschool.
He’s two and a half and I love filming him right before he sees me and then the moment he knows I’m there running over yelling “Mama!” Best. Thing. Ever.
5. New York City.
I lived there for over a decade and it’s my favorite place on earth. I watch Law and Order: SVU on the treadmill just so I can be reminded of all the different places in the city. I met my husband there and got my first acting gig in the city that never sleeps. It really is where dreams come true and I miss it every day.
6. Listening to Country Music.
I knew all the words to Kenny Rogers’ The Gambler by the time I was five. Yes, there are way too many songs about shotguns and pick-up trucks, but those ballads aside, I do love me some Kenny Chesney and Dierks Bentley.
7. Pembroke Welsh Corgis.
I love, no, adore, these dogs. Anytime I see one I feel like it’s a little (or big) hug from the universe.
8. Eating healthy foods.
I was always a pretty healthy eater but now I pride myself on it. Sure, I have a slice of Dairy Queen ice cream cake on occasion (any occasion) but nothing makes me happier than a huge kale salad with balsamic vinegar and lots of beans.
9. Dairy Queen Ice Cream Cake.
Soon after my double mastectomy, we celebrated my son’s first birthday and I’m not gonna lie, I had three pieces of that cake and it was glorious.
10. Walking on the treadmill.
It’s not just walking, it’s walking at the highest incline possible, at a power-walk clip with ankle weights watching Netflix. I rarely miss a day on that mighty conveyor and 20 minutes in I always feel like anything is possible. I can literally hear “Eye of the Tiger” playing in my head.
11. Free continental breakfasts at hotels.
I just love them. I mean, some are better than others. But bottomless cups of coffee, the endless bowls of fruit, all you can eat yogurt? It excites me in a way that I think my husband finds both sweet and alarming.
12. Being close with my mother in law.
I don’t know what I would have done without this woman. She went with me to tests, doctor’s appointments and she watches my son on a regular basis. (And he started his terrible twos at one.) We are even going on a spa weekend together for her birthday. She is one of a kind and I’m so grateful for our friendship.
13. Dry shampoo.
A total game-changer for me. I found one that’s great for people with lighter hair and now I’m the whole package. Seriously, a good dry shampoo gives you power.
14. Spending time with my fellow breast cancer survivors.
This is not an exaggeration. I would be lost without these ladies. At any moment of any day I can text a fellow breastie and get a response. That connection gives me more peace of mind than WebMd ever could. It sucks that we all had to go through cancer, but it’s amazing that we now have each other.
15. Seeing the nurse practitioner at my oncologist’s office.
I love my oncologist but I adore my nurse practitioner. She is brilliant, funny and always there for me. She calls me back immediately when I have a question and just always reminds me I’m not alone in all this. She listens and really hears what I’m saying. Many doctors could learn much from this well-dressed gal.
I participate in this program where former cancer patients talk to medical students about our experiences, providing insights into what really worked for us and what didn’t. It’s a nice feeling to talk to these soon-to-be doctors and even if they only hear one thing we’ve shared, that may affect how they treat future patients.
17. Cherry season.
I know I talk a lot about food, but it’s part of my truth, what can I say? Cherry season is my favorite time of the year I have been known to consume bags of cherries in one sitting.
18. Going off the grid.
Leaving my cell phone plugged in and just going about my day is the best vacation ever.
19. Rediscovering what I already have.
I didn’t make New Year’s resolutions this year but I did have one main goal: to not buy anything before I first use what I already have. Just by employing this mentality in these first few weeks of the year, I have realized how many things I own that I don’t even use. Purses, creams, clothes. Forcing myself to take stock in what’s really in my overstuffed closets and drawers. It’s been really fun and quite the money saver.
20. Eating organic.
It can get expensive so I don’t go crazy, but eating organic fruits and veggies makes me so happy.
21. Seeing my parents.
Since cancer, we hug each other a little tighter and are more patient with one another.
22. Creating my own stuff.
23. Getting older.
Before cancer, I was always afraid of getting older and what that would mean or look like. But then I got breast cancer and realized what a gift being able to age is.
24. Getting a really good massage.
I always loved getting massages, but after breast cancer and the hormone therapy that makes everything hurt a little more, having a super-skilled masseuse go to town on my hips and lower back is everything.
25. Taking my vitamins.
Before cancer, I would rarely remember to take my vitamins. I mean, do I really need them? Are they even working? The fact is, I now know I need my Vitamin D et al and I rarely miss a dose. I’m taking control of keeping myself strong and in fighting shape. I also got a really sassy pill box that I love putting on my desk for the world to see.
26. Talking regularly with my therapist.
I rekindled my relationship with my therapist when I was first diagnosed and cherish our sessions. She herself is a breast cancer survivor and having her as a resource is critical to keeping me moving forward.
27. My husband.
We just celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary and I love him now more than ever. He’s my biggest cheerleader and truly believes I can do anything I put my heart into. My scars are just symbols of how strong I am and he makes me feel beautiful every time he looks at me. He’s also an amazing kisser.
28. Matcha green tea.
In my quest to always look for healthy options, I started to drink Matcha green tea and I’m hooked. It’s got caffeine, antioxidants and my body aches less when I drink it regularly.
29. Having another baby.
Before cancer, I was okay with only having one child but going through the big C with the support of my sister made me realize our son needed a buddy. So with the help of a surrogate, we are growing our family.
30. My BFF.
I’ve been friends with my best friend since we were eight. She was there the day I got the call about the cancer. When she and I are together, it’s as if we were never apart.
I never went swimming before cancer. I always had excuses or was never in the mood. And me in a swimsuit? Not something others needed to see. Well, let me tell you, swimming laps in the pool is quite the stress reliever, not to mention how at ease my muscles and joints feel. I love it so much and can’t believe there was ever a time I didn’t want to be in the water.