“You’ve been given a second chance.”
I heard these words from doctors, family members and friends. My breast cancer diagnosis had turned out to be a rare but benign disease. Despite losing part of my breast and enduring months of antibiotics to fight infection, I was OK. I did not have cancer. That was great news, but I wasn’t sharing the enthusiasm expressed by those around me.
“What does one do with a second chance?” I thought, frustrated. The promise of a new beginning was made with good intention but I had no owner’s manual to guide me as to what to do next. While it seemed that I’d been handed a winning lottery ticket, it felt more like I’d been handed a burden.
Don’t second chances mean making big changes? Wasn’t I supposed to have an epiphany and transform everything about me and my life? That felt like an overwhelming task, especially for someone who was still healing, emotionally and physically. I simply did not have the stamina, capacity or desire to become a “new person.”
A year later, I finally understood. Second chances aren’t necessarily about changing who you are or what you do with your life. Although a cancer scare may trigger regrets and reconciliation, for me it reinforced what I’d already known: given another chance in life there really wasn’t much I would do differently.
I lived by a clear set of values. The choices I made I would make again. Life was not any better or worse because of this setback; it simply moved forward. That was empowering to acknowledge.
My diagnosis had not been an ominous event to get me to change my ways; it was simply a side trip on life’s journey. My second chance started when I was ready to resume that journey. I chose the time to get back on the main drag. I reflected on what had happened. This gave me a clearer view of where I was going. I made the most of the insights I gained.
Have you been given a second chance? Here’s what I took away from my experience:
Be realistic. Second chances usually come after a tough time or crisis situation. Don’t expect the transition back to “real life” to be like flipping a switch. A year later I’m still building back my endurance, physically and mentally, but I’m making progress.
Second chances don’t need to trigger major changes. But they can mean taking small steps forward with more confidence to reach goals. I definitely gained more chutzpah for the next go-around.
Reinforce what you’re doing right. Second chances can be like getting a checkup on your purpose and priorities. Although I’ve been able to do some tweaking, I realized that I was living my life guided by an internal compass that worked for me. Not many people get that opportunity.
Looking back, my ability to survive and overcome my disease was one of the most empowering things I have done. I have less fear now about discovering a lump than I did before, because of my dress rehearsal.
I know now there is not a wrong way to accept a second chance.