Welcome breast cancer sisters, family and friends. We hope to make this chapter of your life a little easier, treatment less difficult, help families cope, provide inspiration and guide you to a new place of strength and purpose.

Who’s in Your Aquarium?

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One of the books I’m currently reading is “Life,” by Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones. Keith grew up listening to everything from Mozart and Bach to Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong. When he was 13, Keith used to walk around his bedroom, holding a tiny radio up to his ear, twisting the antennae just so until he could get an intermittent signal from Radio Luxembourg. According to Keith, the night he heard Elvis Presley singing “Heartbreak Hotel,” was “like an explosion,” and the next day, he “was a different guy.” Whether he knew it or not, Keith Richards had just found his tribe—the aquarium in which he wanted to swim. Rock and roll music and artists like Elvis, Little Richard, Buddy Holly and Fats Domino would forever change his life. He’d found his passion, that thing that gave meaning to his life.

One of the greatest gifts we can receive in life is discovering who we are. Even if we know we’re a shark, a goldfish, or a guppy, we still need to find what gives meaning to our life. Writer and teacher, Joseph Campbell, said, “Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were walls.” Certainly that path held true for Keith Richards, but what about the rest of us, especially if we’ve experienced a brush with death?

After surviving a serious illness, some of us have a tendency to play it safe. While our friends and family have gone back to life as it was, we seem to be tapping our foot, waiting for “it” to return. We’ve disconnected from the rest of our life to deal with our illness, but when treatment is over, who are we? How do we integrate our healthy self with our new normal? How do we go from wellness to surviving and from surviving to thriving, squeezing everything we can out of life? The real tragedy isn’t dying, but failing to live our lives. As Joseph Campbell said, sometimes “we must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.”

For starters, we can use our illness as an opportunity to become healthier by adopting a better diet and exercise plan. We can also use this transition time to integrate our mental, spiritual and emotional changes into our family life. We’ve heard about men who leave, after their wives have been diagnosed with breast cancer, but I’ve also heard of women who’ve been the one to leave after their cancer diagnosis. Their rationale is, “If I only have five years left, I’m not spending it with him!” Whether you’re prepared to leave an unhappy marriage and carve out a new life for yourself, or to create a life that has more joy and purpose, spend some time thinking about what makes you smile, what gives you purpose. Bring more bliss into your life, one experience at a time. Surround yourself with things, people and activities you love. In addition, step outside yourself and think about ways you can help other people; that’s the best way I know to stop focusing on yourself and move forward.

There is life after the darkness. Swim toward the light, and make it a good life.

P.S. Speaking of Keith Richards, I had a front row center seat to the Rolling Stones’ first American concert: Teen Fair, at Joe Freeman Coliseum in San Antonio, Texas. (You don’t want to know what year.) I went to swoon over Bobby Rydell, Paul Peterson and Bobby Vee, so I didn’t know what to make of The Rolling Stones. I took pictures of every artist there, except the Stones! Now, no one’s interested in my little black and white scalloped edge photos of singers the world hasn’t heard from since. It wasn’t long before I was the Stones’ biggest fan, saving baby sitting money to buy their album “Out of Our Heads.” My mother hated it and kept throwing them away, but I bought another one and another one. I’m still a huge fan. You wouldn’t believe what I paid for two, front row center seats to the Stones’ 2002, AT&T Center concert in San Antonio. Really… you wouldn’t, and I would have paid twice that!! Am I crazy? Maybe, but I’m just squeezing everything I can out of life.

P.P.S. Keith, did you name the iPhone music Ap “Shazam?”