Buy the Good Shoes and Don’t Take Your Arms for Granted

Buy the Good Shoes and Don’t Take Your Arms for Granted

susan miller

Change (v): Make or become different.

Cancer will change you. It will become a catalyst of transformation, a revolution of your existence. It separates your life into two versions of yourself: You before cancer and you after cancer. My before-cancer self is someone who took things for granted; who was blindly unaware of many things, including her health and the delicate brevity of life.

When I was three days post-mastectomy, I couldn’t lift my arms to wash my hair or brush my teeth. I had tubes that dangled under my armpits; they were sewn into my skin and collected blood from the inside of my chest. I laid back over the bathtub as my boyfriend Jeff washed my hair, and I couldn’t help but think how ludicrous this was. At that moment it dawned on me — I had taken my own arms for granted my entire life. Arms! What I wouldn’t have given to be able to use my arms in that instant. Then, a few months later, as I raised my arms to touch my cold, bald head, I thought: What I wouldn’t give to have that hair again, even when I was unable to wash it with my  T rex arms.

After things are taken from you, you miss them. We sulk and reflect back to the “old days” with sad, polar eyes. When familiar comforts, like working arms and hair, are no longer there, you realize how you’ve foolishly been unaware of their importance. As Joni Mitchell sang, “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.”

With cancer, you’ll gain more than you lose. Sure, I lost some physical attributes, but I gained confidence, acceptance and wisdom. When all of my material crutches were taken – pretty hair, long eyelashes, breasts, a skinny body­ – I was left with only my mind and soul. It’s a blank slate, a clean canvas, a new birth, a reawakening. Cancer will make you hit rock bottom, but it never felt so good. You may think you were left for dead and buried in the soil, but you’ve actually just been replanted. I was buried so I could grow again.

The saying is true: The healthy wear a crown that only the sick can see. I wear that crown now, but I can see it, and I kept the receipt to remember how much I paid for it. Nothing is to be taken for granted. I have lived, I have learned, and now I upgrade. All of those things the pre-cancer me said she was going to do … I’m actually doing them. I had preventive surgery this week to remove all my moles, something I said years ago I was going to do (because I’m not trying to get skin cancer, too). I took a real-estate class last week to get my license in Florida. I am currently writing a book. I dyed my hair lavender. I’m doing ALL THESE THINGS because I can. I will always strive to be a better me than the day before. A healthier me, a stronger me.

If you’re waiting for a catalyst of change in your life, don’t wait until you hit rock bottom. Make this that day. Complacency is an ugly weed that will slowly suffocate your roses. Nothing will grow in the stagnant dust of your comfort zone. So, get moving, young grasshoppers! Seize each day, because tomorrow you might not be able to wash your own hair. Grab your life and elevate it like you’re Rafiki holding up baby Simba in The Lion King, screaming something in Swahili. BAHHHHHH-SOWHENYAAAAA-BABABISH-KIBABAAAAAAA.

There is plenty of time to make mistakes, but there is no time to be average. Death may stalk me, but I’m skipping around and waving my middle finger back at him saying, “You can’t catch me!” Because, newsflash: We are all going to die. He will catch me one day, but until then I’ll be that girl who is out there buying the good shoes, dying her hair like a rainbow, changing jobs, moving cities, and never ever settling in the dirt.

Namaste, pink sisters.


Note: Breast Cancer News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Breast Cancer News, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to breast cancer.


  1. Georgia Czapiewski says:

    I love this article. It is so inspirational! A great reminder to not let life pass you by even though you have cancer. I love the way she defined the two mes, the pre-cancer me, and the after-cancer me. So true! Thank you for this great article that says a whole lot with not a whole lot of words! Namaste, pink sisters?

  2. Melanie says:

    Thanks for the kick in the butt! I have been getting more complacent and pushing down the thoughts to get busy and do things i need/want to do.
    Prayers and God’s blessing on your life

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