We hear the advice all the time, and turn a deaf ear in its direction (cliché alert):
- Stop and smell the roses
- Take time for the things you love
- Lavish the people you love with love
- Don’t put off until tomorrow . . .
I recently got bitch-slapped upside the head by Mother Earth, or Father Time, or whoever it is that comes up with and promotes the above mantras. You see, in October of 2016, I was diagnosed with cancer.
“If you had to get cancer,” I was told, “you got the best kind.”
Oh goody. What an overachiever I am—no matter what I do, I have to be the very best. Cancer, however, isn’t one of those things I would have chosen to compete for any titles in.
They told me it was “very curable.” “98% remission rate,” is what they told me. They also told me I’d have to undergo a course of radiation, which I can tell you, is no walk in the park.
But am I going to spend my entire blog crying on your shoulder because I had to enter the arena against the “Serpent C”? No. I’m going to tell you how it has changed my life—for the better.
You see, as I’ve aged, and heaped more and more on my life’s plate (including a full-time job and a full-time writing career), I’ve let some of my other joys fall to the wayside. Family? Husband? Children? Grandchildren? Never. But the other, seemingly menial things that brought joy to my life, I put on the back burner for, “Someday. Maybe when I retire.”
Don’t do this.
Because you know what those three little words—“You have cancer”—did to my outlook? My worldview? My life plans?
As I said, I got bitch-slapped. That beautiful, someday-horizon I’d been imagining? A big, steel door came down and locked itself right between me, and it.
I used to be an equestrienne—I mean, an obsessive horse person. My mother claimed the first word I ever said was “horthie,” although nobody in my family had anything to do with horses. There were no horses in the neighborhood (no pun intended) where I grew up. My first horse came to live in my parents’ garage when I was 13, and I’ve pretty much never stopped since then.
Until about five years ago, when hitting my mid-50s, and life, got in the way. Also, we’d moved from the warm climate of the South to New England for my new job. Believe me, owning a horse in Massachusetts is a bit more challenging than owning one in Florida. I sold what I swore would be my “last horse” about four years ago. I still cry when I go to visit him.
“I’m almost sixty years old,” I rationalized. “I’ve gained a few pounds, and I don’t bounce off the ground quite as well as I did when I was in my thirties. It’s just time. Time to give up this dream.”
On day thirteen of my radiation treatments, I got a fluke email from the Pinto Horse Association (I haven’t been a member in about ten years). As I was sitting waiting for my treatment, I showed the picture on my phone to my husband.
“Isn’t this a pretty horse?” I asked.
“Yes, it is. You should really think about getting back into it. Somehow,” he replied.
Fast forward about two weeks and a dozen phone calls, and I am now booked to fly out tomorrow to Florida to test-ride a horse I hope to lease for the next year. Geez, I fly down to Florida about every other month anyway since my kids and grandson are there—why not keep a horse in training, and travel down to enjoy him/her while I’m there, and to show in the bigger competitions?
Sound crazy? It probably is. So much so that when I called to tell my daughter I was coming for a visit, I was afraid to tell her the real reason—this time.
“I’m actually coming down to ride a horse. I may lease one down there to show.” Then I cringed, waiting for the snort of derision, the ridicule, the “what the hell are you doing that for?” But you know what her response was?
“Oh Mom, I can’t tell you how happy I am you’re doing this. Horses were such an important part of your life. You haven’t been the same person since you sold your horse.”
I was shocked. Had I changed? Was I really “incomplete” without a horse in my life?
“I mean, I know you love the writing, and you’re really good at it,” she continued, “but honestly, you just haven’t been as happy since you gave up your horse.”
Today, I drove down to a local farm here in Massachusetts where I’d boarded my “last horse.” The owner/trainer saddled up one of her better trained school mounts and helped me climb aboard. I had to be sure I could still do this. I didn’t want, after almost 5 years out of the saddle, to fly down to a fancy barn, climb on an expensive show horse, and discover I could not.
Today, I realized three other really big, important words in my life.
I still can.
Claire Gem writes intensely emotional contemporary romance and supernatural suspense. You can find out more about her at www.clairegem.com and www.emotionalcontemporaryromance.com
And she can still ride a horse. Pretty damn well.