I’ve spent the great majority of my life being incredibly healthy. A mixture of good genes, eating well, and being fairly active have contributed to my body functioning the way it was supposed to. Until it didn’t.
It’s a little crazy how easily humans take things for granted, isn’t it? Even when we have a good sense of self-awareness and the ability to think critically about things, we often coast through life, allowing time to slip by without truly being grateful for what we have. I’ve have friends and loved ones diagnosed with cancer (most of the time at a far-too-young age), and while I felt the shocks of their announcements throughout my body, and watched them go through hell to rid their body of the disease and come out the other side healthy and powerful, I still managed to continue on my merry way, maintaining a “won’t happen to me” mentality and secretly thinking that I was immune to any kind of bad health luck.
Let me stop right here and get to the heart of it: I do not have cancer. I have something called endometriosis, which, unlike cancer, is not life-threatening. Endometriosis is a disorder in which tissue that normally lines the uterus also grows outside the uterus. The tissue can implant on many other organs, most commonly the ones in the abdomen. The weirdest thing about it is that it continues to behave like the tissue inside of the uterus, which means that when the tissue in the uterus is bleeding, so is the tissue that has implanted elsewhere. This causes scarring and cysts. Endometriosis is chronic, but not deadly, and it's far more prevalent than I ever would have imagined — it affects approximately 1 in 10 women of reproductive age. It oftentimes goes undiagnosed, because although it can cause varying levels of pain, some women have no symptoms at all.
I was informed I had endometriosis a little under a year ago, and while relieved it wasn’t something deadly, I reacted in a way I didn’t expect: I cried. A lot. At first I felt guilty for being so upset about something that wasn’t going to kill me; who was I to be so emotional when there are people all over the world receiving much worse diagnoses every day? But I took some time to think about it, and I realized that my reaction wasn’t in response to the intensity, but instead a response to the sudden awareness of my own mortality. This time it was a manageable disease, but there are no guarantees, something I’d always known intellectually but had never truly grasped on a realistic level.
I also reacted the way I did because, suddenly, I felt myself losing control. There are ways to manage endometriosis and prevent it from growing, but the actions we humans are able to take only go so far.
Control has become an overarching theme in many areas my life: what I can do and what I cannot. There's a balance to be struck between taking charge and letting go. Should we do all we can to eat well, move around, and get enough sleep? Yes. Does doing those things mean we're going to be able to shield ourselves from absolutely every possible health issue? No. And there's some beauty in that. At a certain point, striving for physical health can become unhealthy. It can consume us and detract from the other parts of life that contribute to our overall well-being: spending time in nature, pursuing meaningful work, sitting and doing absolutely nothing at all, to name a few. The key is to find which balance of all of these things work for each of us on an individual level, and to not get stressed out by the knowledge that no matter what we do, we still might not be able to prevent bad things from happening. And that doesn't have to be a cause for negativity. Instead, it can be a motivator to be grateful for what we have in the here and now, to not take our health for granted, and to enjoy our lives.