On paper, I’m the healthiest person most people know.
As an avid fitness junkie, former Division I athlete and could’ve-been-nutritionist, cancer as a young adult was never an idea on which I chewed. Health and fitness has always been an element of my personal brand. So much so, that although it pains me to admit this; at one point I even had a Fitstagram.
I’ve lived life to the fullest since I was a teenager — of course(!) I’ve never grappled with my own mortality.
In fact, for the past 24 years, my operating rhythm has been predicated on the worst case scenario. With big decisions, my approach has always been as follows: what if the worst thing in the world happens? As it turns out, for the vast majority of things, the worst case scenario really isn’t that bad.
For example: I’m 22, I graduated college a week ago and want to move from my hometown, San Diego, to New York City for an hourly job at a startup.
Realistic worst case scenario: I take the risk, fumble massively and move back home to San Diego for a short stint. I brush myself off, get back on the horse and find another path.
Not so bad, huh?
At every corner, there are ridiculous, outlandish instances in which things could go awry. For example, while traveling, I could wind up dead in a ditch. And in fact, once I had one too many and literally fell off of a cliff (but that’s a story for another time). But the realistic worst case scenario never turns out to be all that bad.
Then, of course, there’s your rare, late stage cancer.
And now I’m confronted with the realistic worst case scenario as something horribly, terribly, awful.
So I asked my therapist, where do we go from here?
She delivered this gift: we proceed as we did before but even bolder, with one foot in front of the other. We capitalize on the time we have on this planet, which is never guaranteed anyway, despite being told that we have infinite amounts of it in our twenties.
We stop waiting and telling ourselves we’ll get around to things. We create. We feel. We love. We build bridges, boundaries and become a better friend and family member. And we wake up everyday, feeling good about the legacy we’ve built and that which will continue on long after our time is up.
After all, time is a quantitative measurement; it doesn’t represent quality. We’re taught to consider success as having lived a long, purposeful life — is that really the case? If so, why does Western society neglect our elders?
And if these musings are reminiscent of those experienced at end-of-life, is it really so tragic to start fully living at 24?
To me, this permission is freedom! To live wholly; absent of trivial insecurities, frustrations and regrets. This is the lemonade I’d rather make, the way I’d rather live; wringing out every last lemon until the rind. I want to squeeze out every drop of life, for as long as I possibly can. This is the fuel driving my fight.
And I’ve just realized this: with mortality, dying isn’t the realistic worst case scenario. Instead, the realistic worst case scenario is living a long life, un-lived.