Tuesday, January 30, 2024

“No Regrets” by Serena Camacho

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When I’m on my deathbed, I want to have no regrets. That’s my new goal in life. Strange how a person can be motivated by the thought of their very last moment here on earth. It may only be a moment – but it’s the ultimate moment.

I went to church for the first time recently to support a friend who has been going through a difficult time. During the sermon, the pastor talked about death being a portal to heaven. I am not a religious person and I have no way of knowing (at least not yet) if there really is such a thing as heaven. But if it does exist, being granted admission isn’t the point of living a good life – at least not in my books.

In my final moments, if I’m fortunate to have the chance to reflect back on my life, I don’t want to be kicking myself, thinking of all the things I should have or could have done. My deepest wish is to feel satisfied I did the best that I could, that I loved as well as I could, that I took the risks I needed to take in order to feed my soul. 

I didn’t just arrive at this goal by chance. On April 7, 2016, I had a life-changing experience that put everything into perspective. I was diagnosed with stage 4 cervical cancer. I was told I could expect to live for two years – up to five at best.

The diagnosis knocked the wind right out of me. I remember walking around feeling like a zombie hoarding this terrible secret. I’d look around at strangers in the grocery store and think, They don’t have this burden. They’re so carefree, just going about their day with their whole lives ahead of them.

The news was fresh and raw and the statistics from my oncologist were rolling around in my head – only 15% of patients with a diagnosis like mine live beyond this two-to-five years I’d been given.

The most heartbreaking part was the thought of my kids having to live without a mother and the profound sadness they would bear. My youngest was only seven; the others, nine and twelve. My only solace was that it was me, not one of them, who was sick. It’s funny how that thought popped into my head and I glommed onto it – it was the only thing that comforted me.

I did all the usual treatments – chemo, surgery and radiation therapy. I had wonderful support and did everything I could for my mental, physical and spiritual health. Miraculously, I managed to defy all the odds recited to me on that day in 2016. In September, my scans all came back negative – I was in the clear. My body had fought and won. I had won. My doctors were in awe of my unexpected recovery and ability to heal myself, and marveled at how well I was doing, like I was some specimen out of the Ripley’s Believe It or Not Odditorium.

I went back to work once I was well enough and life returned to normal. I continued to get regular CT scans to ensure that the disease hadn’t returned. And it hadn’t. It was almost as if nothing had ever happened.

Then, in October 2022, a CT scan showed “dense tissue” on one of my breasts. My oncologist insisted that I follow up with a mammogram, the results of which required further testing. In December, a biopsy revealed that it was breast cancer.

Here we go again.

My new oncologist told me this one wasn’t related to the previous cancer – I was just one of the lucky ones. And this time I really was lucky. We had caught it early, thanks to my first cancer and the schedule of CT scans I was following. And this time the prognosis was good. The disease was aggressive, but treatable.

Again, I did all the usual treatments, with a couple extra thrown in to combat my body’s natural hormones, which this type of cancer seemed to feed off.

Again, my body responded well to the treatments. I had what my oncologist called a “total pathological response.” I fought and won – again. I felt, and still feel, like the luckiest girl in the world. I’d been given another chance and I don’t plan to squander it. This has been my prevailing thought for the past year.

My second encounter with cancer cracked open a doorway to a part of myself that had previously become impenetrable. A feeling welled up in me, with every fragment of my soul trying to tell me it’s critical I wake up.

I can’t shake the feeling that if I don’t listen, the message could be delivered in the form of another illness.

I need to make changes. I’m ready to live a bigger life – to be true to myself, to live in alignment with my values and aspirations, to speak up when there is something that needs to be said, in short – to live with purpose.

I’ve begun to remember how I loved to dance and to write, both things I’d stopped doing. As I begin to let my yearnings resurface, though, I’m aware of a habitual impulse to stifle them. My desires need to be lured out now – they need to be seduced after so many years of being kept hidden. But I’m finally nurturing my longing to create.

This is why I’m here, writing these words, telling my story. It is a risk I need to take. I’m finding my way back to myself, and in so doing, I’m starting to live a life that I can look back on when it’s time to face death. It could happen tomorrow, in five years or in thirty-five years – but I’ll be ready. Whenever it happens, I’ll be able to look back, having lived a life full of richness, love and adventure – with no regrets. That is my goal.


Serena Camacho is a Montessori teacher, a former dancer, and an emerging writer. Having just woken up from a long, mid-life slumber, she is excited to be honing her craft and getting back in touch with her creative side. Serena can sometimes be found leaping through the forest near her home in Hamilton, Ontario, where she lives with her three teenagers and their elderly dog.

Quick Brown Fox welcome essays and other pieces about writing and creating or about reading, favourite books, libraries, and other literary themes. Read more such pieces here (but you'll need to scroll down past this one).   

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