Editor’s Note: Urska pulls out this latest post from her archives as she discussed her challenge with graduating on time as a college student while being treated for her cancer.
Last September, when I entered the senior year I envisioned this end of May as one of the stepping stones, one that was going to mark an ending as well as a beginning of an adult life that all college graduates eagerly expect, only to realize it’s not all that different, minus the dorms-free part.
Well, even though without an official degree, I too have started a new chapter in my life. Instead of graduating from college I have graduated from a life changing experience which was, just like college, very challenging, but unlike college has given me zero time for preparation to face it.
Six months ago, instead of starting my last semester, I enrolled in an individual course of chemotherapy, which offered a new lecture every two weeks when I went in for my treatment. It made me sicker each time for the sake of getting me healthy at some later point.
In all these months I have had a lot of time to reflect, talk to people, talk to doctors, talk to adults, and talk to peers, some of whom I have now had the courage to offer some friendly advice.
I have had the time to think about what I learned in class, what I learned from my mistakes and what I am yet to learn and understand. The latter being things about the way of being, things that we aren’t tested on under supervision, things in which an A- or a B+ doesn’t make a difference.
Many of these I learned from being sick. Though I haven’t graduated yet, I now feel better prepared for what lies ahead of a graduate – life with its unpredictability and countless challenges.
The reason why I feel better prepared is that I have reprogrammed and shifted some of my defaults. I think this got me closer to adulthood than a college degree would have.
There were quite a few occasions on which I have asked myself what really makes me happy, what matters at the end, what I want and what I need, and how I can make the present better, for myself and for others.
While all of these could spring into a philosophical discussion, they all have a single common denominator – ourselves. It turns out that more often than not, we don’t have a lot of control over a given situation. There are myriad, intertwined variables, but only one of them is us. And us is what we can control – our thoughts and our views of the situation.
For those of you who know me well, you will know that I can be very critical, and am often most critical towards myself. While critique is necessary, the wrong kind of criticism, or too much of it can lead things awry.
I realized that I don’t have to lower my standards, in fact the only thing I have to change is my perspective. And so, for the first time, I haven’t gotten upset about not completing a task, and instead congratulated myself for having completed most of the task despite being sick.
It may seem small, but it was all I needed to feel happy and fulfilled.
Having cancer is not a journey.
When I say journey I think of a pleasant trip, perhaps the one I will take as soon as my immune system recovers and allows me to travel again. A journey is something you embark on with great enthusiasm, plans, and expectations.
Rather I would consider this a little detour that cost me more gas, got me upset at the beginning, but forced me to accept it; get through the bumps on the road and find the finish line just the same – a delayed graduation.
I would also like to use this opportunity to congratulate many of my friends and classmates who are receiving their well-deserved diplomas this May.
Even though the adulthood we are entering may seem scary at first, you should embrace it. You may not know what is really out there, but you ought to face it.
Don’t worry if you didn’t land the job you wanted, or if it doesn’t pay six figures. Don’t worry if you aren’t sure what exactly you want to do yet.
I am telling you this because this is what I told myself.
Know your priorities, listen to your body and needs and take time to nourish yourself and cherish the moment. We all have a finite number of heartbeats so it’d be sad to waste them stressing out about things that won’t matter a week, a month, or even a year from now.
I’ve learned this the hard way.
Trust me, there is no worse feeling than having to pick yourself up knowing that you will get hit again, until the very last chemo session.
But, no matter what, the most important part is that you do get up and go ahead. You get up, and go about your day, climbing steps without thinking about the next punch.