As I reflect on the 2010s, I see how much has happened and how much has changed. Some of the changes seemed not particularly significant as they were happening, but turned out to be crucial. Others seemed dramatic and frightening at the time, but turned out to be not a big deal at all. But, certainly a lot has happened between 2010 and 2020. Some events were great, some not so great, but all were opportunities for learning and transformation.
Here are five most crucial milestones of the decade:
Deciding on becoming a mother second time around (2010)
Saying yes to a second child at 40 was a big decision. We already had one, eight years old at the time. The family seemed complete but there was still room for one more. We were healthy, professionally established, the timing was fine, if not great (but when is it ever great?). Even if we discussed whether this was a good idea for about a minute, we knew that we wanted another baby. And so the little guy happened and made us all more complete.
A new kid in the house is a lot of work, but also so much fun. We still have Santa visit us (probably another year longer or so only, he’s turning 9 soon); there are all the school activities and sports tournaments to see. He keeps us on our feet, makes us feel young just by his sheer exuberance and his adorable childish enchantment with the world.
Buying a home (2014)
After renting for years on end in one of the most expensive rental markets in the world, buying a home was a big and agonizing decision to make. We contemplated for a long time whether it would be a good idea to get saddled with huge mortgage for thirty years which might not be paid off by the time it’s time for us to retire. One the other hand, once we calculated how much money was being thrown down the drain and into our landlord’s pockets every year, the decision was not that hard to make.
Owning a home has been such a pleasure. Finally, to be able to paint whatever colors I dreamed of, change walls if we wanted to, improve landscaping to our liking, decorate with new furniture, put nails in the walls, make even the simplest decisions about the house has been super liberating! But, of course, now every single repair is on us, and they usually happen around holidays and come in threes, Murphy’s law. Still, worth it!
Getting and fighting cancer (2014)
This one, the least expected, the most dreaded, event of the decade, happened just as we were signing the deed for the house. Talk about bad timing! A new home, a toddler and a pre-teen in the house, a job still without tenure, and a cancer diagnosis. I am now five years since that fateful day, three-and-half years since achieving NED (no evidence of disease). NED does not mean you are cancer free, but it means there is currently no detectable disease in your body.
It can change quickly, but the more years of NED one gets, the better the chance seem to be that this primary cancer has been cured. Considering the seriousness of my initial diagnosis, this is pretty remarkable. I have seen so many friends and acquaintances beaten by this disease. There are days, I marvel at how lucky I am. Dumb luck, that’s what it is, nothing more. And of course there are all the other emotions there as well: grief, fear, guilt, anger (read about the emotional rollercoaster during and after cancer here.)
What I have learned from this cancer journey is how fluid the concept of time really is.
On the one hand, since cancer, it seems that time flies as I am able to realize how many beautiful moments with my loved ones I have daily, how many small and big wins I have gone though, and how much can happen in just a nick of time. On the other hand though, the passing of time can seem much slower than it did before. This is especially true when counting down to the end of some milestone: end of the treatment, end of the entire line of chemo, end of the prolonged and painful radiation series.
It can feel excruciatingly long to reach the milestones such as cancerversaries. One year since diagnosis is a long time but it means little. You might still be in treatment or awaiting decision from your medical team on how to proceed to extend your chances of getting it right and coming out victorious.
Five years is supposed to be that magical number when it seems more and more possible that you won the battle. The fear of reoccurrence lessens but it is never gone. This adds to the idea that one is really a little bit of a different person after cancer, with different priorities, different outlook, different concept of time and a better defined “bucket list.”
Detoxing from inside and out (from 2015 on)
I would never say, that cancer has been “the best thing that ever happened to me,” it definitely was and is not. It was hellish to go through and there are still issues that I have to deal with now that came out of this disease. But, having to battle it for all these years has taught me a lot and made me change my lifestyle in many ways.
De-stressing – from the first visit at the naturopath, I was “prescribed” meditation. It was the hardest thing for me to do from the entire list of recommendations. Trying to empty my head and focus on breathing or experiencing sensations in my body seemed almost impossible with all the scary thoughts about the illness and the treatments pounding in my brain. I tried many times, and I gave up many times. But with time, my sessions extended from two to five minutes, from five to ten, to fifteen and so on. With learning to meditate came a more of the “do-not-sweat-small-things” attitude, and I realized the importance of being in the moment, focusing on now and not on what has been or might come in the future. Read more about the importance of de-stressing here.
Optimizing nutrition – I wrote mote about my journey finding the “optimal diet” for my specific needs elsewhere. Suffice to say, due to certain limitations: physical (substantial part of my colon being removed) and social (family would not accept certain changes), it took me a while to find what worked well and to satisfaction of my gut and everybody’s palate.
Starting a home garden - I dabbled in some container gardening, a few tomato plants, some herbs, before. But last year, I went full force into designing, building, and cultivating a raised beds garden. I’ve been toiling in my garden entire spring and summer and it brings me so much joy and pride, it is meditative and relaxing, and it is so rewarding when our dinner features our home-grown produce. Even now in December, I’m still picking peppers, beets, lettuces and herbs from the garden (lucky to live in Southern California!). Everyone eats more fresh plants, and it tastes so much better than store-bought! Totally worth it!
Ditching store-bought skincare products and household cleaners and starting to formulate my own, all-natural products – Once I started to detox from inside out by optimizing our food, I realized there is so much more I should be doing to keep myself and my family healthy and cancer-free. Cleaning out the chemicals from the household was the first step. Getting to know the power of essential oils for cleaning and therapy was the second. Both led me to starting to formulate skincare for myself and family that is all natural, predominantly vegan (beeswax and honey are the only non-plant ingredients in my products), never tested on animals. You can read about my "cleaning and greening" my skincare routine here, and about household detoxing here.
Enjoying life, taking it one day at the time, travelling, collecting moments
Highlight was the 2018 European Vacation – Visiting family, seeing friends that I didn’t see in a decade, showing my teenage daughter places I lived at and learned to love like Berlin and Vienna, getting her – who is half-Polish – to know more of my home country and its rich history by visiting cities, castles, museums, art galleries. It was a spectacular trip and I can’t wait to repeat it with my little guy when the time comes.
Ready for the new decade!
Come what may, new Roaring Twenties maybe, I'm ready for it and equipped with new lessons, some of them just from gettting older and wiser, some of them specifically learnt due to cancer. I hope to see 2030, and 2040, but nobody knows what future holds, so we can just welcome the incoming events with a smile, maybe a surprise, and contentment when they arrive. Happy New Year and Happy 2020s!