Breaking Free from Expectations After Cancer
In August of 2020, I sat alone in a doctor’s office with my parents on FaceTime as my doctor told me I had cancer. If this was Asian American girl version of The Truman Show, that moment would be when the audience gasps in unison at the absurdity of my life.
Let me explain.
Just like Truman Burbank, I grew up in the confines of a highly sheltered reality. My immigrant Asian parents — my mother from Hong Kong and my father from Taiwan — led me to believe that I could build a perfectly unblemished life, void of any dilemma or uncertainty.
So when my cancer diagnosis came, it felt like the moment Truman witnessed a spotlight falling out of the sky and began to question his reality.
Here’s my journey through questioning that reality and finding courage after cancer to take risks.
LIVING LIFE IN A BUBBLE
Growing up, my parents taught me that every accident or hardship was preventable.
It led to me internalizing this false narrative that I needed to eliminate all risk in every aspect of my life. I developed a deep-rooted fear of failure and felt ashamed whenever confronted with potential rejection.
During middle school dance tryouts, I let a nosebleed give me an excuse to leave before completing my routine. And in high school, when an Ivy League college interview request came in, I left the email unanswered.
I always stayed within the confines of what I thought was “safe.” After high school, I went straight to college and studied business for four years. Once I graduated, I landed a stable, high-paying job and never questioned my decisions.
BURSTING THE BUBBLE AND GETTING DIAGNOSED WITH CANCER
The first time I found myself taking a leap was when I quit my full-time job to explore my creativity. I made videos for my YouTube channel, launched a podcast, and read tons of books on creativity and personal growth. It felt so new to explore what it meant to exist without needing to feel completely safe.
But three months later, the world spiraled into chaos. The coronavirus crisis forced millions of people out of work and into their homes.
Five months afterwards, my doctor diagnosed me with stage four cancer.
This revelation opened me up to the idea that there are no completely wrong turns in life. I could only focus on making the best choices for myself based on the information at hand and deal with any issues as they came up.
When I initially thought about quitting my job, my father cautioned me by saying, “The best time to get a new job is when you’re at your current job.”
Even with a couple years worth of living expenses, no student loan debt, and a safety net of my rich parents, I was still scared to explore.
My parents conditioned me to stay in fear.
Ultimately, I gambled on myself. I would never know what was on the other side of fear until I tried.
If I never quit my job to take time off, I might have stayed, left my cancer undiagnosed, and died. I might have left for another job, been equally lost and confused, and died. Either way, I wouldn’t have found the happiness I have now.
Five months after getting diagnosed and going through four rounds of chemotherapy, I entered remission. Once healed, I started to embrace my newfound approach of moving through fear.
I signed up for classes in a wide range of creative interests, despite the fear of not being good enough. My mind was exposed me to countless unfamiliar yet exhilarating experiences and emotions. I wrote a song with my friends, performed at The Moth, and discovered a love of acting.
Even though I made a fool of myself at times, I learned that I would survive.
Cancer and Discovering Courage
So it turns out there is no medicine strong enough — not even chemotherapy — that can eliminate fear and uncertainty. Discovering courage doesn’t come with , during, or after cancer.
It comes from a much deeper realization about taking risks.
It took a cancer diagnosis for me to fully learn that a carefully crafted plan is just as fragile as a flimsy one. But here’s a secret: You don’t have to go through a life-threatening illness to figure that out.
There may not be any hidden cameras or paid actors in the reality show we call life. But just as The Truman Show taught me, it’s up to us to question the artificial worlds constructed that keep ourselves trapped.
When we celebrate fear and uncertainty, we discover all the beautiful moments in life and become infinitely more expansive.
So tell me, what will you do when you see a spotlight falling out of the sky?
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