Time flies! It was eight years ago today that I had a prophylactic double mastectomy. Yes indeed, I bade farewell to my dazzling double-Ds and awoke 11 hours later — not only with a pair of cuter Cs, but also a whole new perspective on life.

Sorry, no “before” and “after” pics for ya.

And for the record, I’m told they can special-order me some replacement DDs if I ever want to swap em out. Seems the majority of those bodacious silicone babies get shipped to Texas, where bigger is better and demand is the highest. True story.

Anyway, I had lost my mom at age 63 a year or so before to breast cancer, and found out around the same time through genetic testing that I have the BRCA-1 gene mutation, which significantly increased my own risk. I decided that I could live without “the girls” if it would lower my odds, give me a bit more peace of mind, and allow me a better shot at watching my four awesome young sons grow into men. My friends saw my decision as bold and courageous. I just saw it as good plain sense.

The anniversary of my mastectomy is always a little wistful for me. I remember being so terrified as I headed to pre-op, even though I wore the bravest face and a huge smile. But at the same time, I celebrate it as an incredibly meaningful day that empowered me and literally changed the way I think about life.

See, I’d always been a “glass half-full” kinda gal, but when I woke up in recovery that night I could clearly see that the glass is exquisite crystal and it overflows with bubbly pink champagne. Surgery day was also pivotal in launching my mission of spreading happiness and gratitude to people in my life and eventually beyond. And while I had always been polite and appropriate about thanking people, after coming through surgery successfully it became my top priority to thank everybody — sincerely and genuinely — for things they do. Even for routine everyday stuff. I also realized there’s not nearly enough kindness in our daily lives and made a commitment to changing that whenever and however I could. Often, I’ve found, just listening to someone is the kindest, most gracious thing you can do.

On the flip side, while I will gladly lend sincere comfort and compassion to those in truly sorrowful situations, I have shamelessly little patience for complainers. Whining and griping just wastes valuable time in a short life. There are a million more entertaining and useful things you can do instead of hosting your own pity party. Good heavens, I watched my mother suffer, and eventually die, from the horrific ravages of breast and brain cancer. She didn’t waste one single moment complaining. And she certainly had more right than nearly anyone I’ve ever known. So I’ve adopted a pretty tough “suck it up” attitude. If you push yourself and focus on what’s good rather than wallowing selfishly in the negative, I guarantee things will improve.

Each year as my mammoversary approaches, I find it a cool and worthwhile exercise to reflect on what I’ve accomplished since surgery. I’m the first one to admit I haven’t exactly done anything earth-shattering over the last eight years. I haven’t won a Grammy or earned my doctorate or brokered peace in the Middle East or cured a disease. I haven’t invented a magic diet where you lose weight by eating chocolate ice cream. Nor have I traveled to space, climbed a mountain or run a marathon, let alone a 5K. In the grand scheme of things, my accomplishments are admittedly insignificant. Irrelevant, really.

When I go a little easier on myself, however, I wind up spotlighting a handful of small but fulfilling things I’m proud to have achieved over the last eight years. I’ve done some stuff to challenge myself. I’ve grown a bit as a person, a mom, a writer, a leader. I’ve managed to touch a few lives outside my own household in a positive way. And while I grant that most of these things can be dismissed as pretty trivial, I’m mighty grateful to have had the opportunity to experience all it:

  • I got up the guts to pick up and move our family to a brand-new community because I wanted something different than what life had to offer where we were. Best decision ever, and we haven’t looked back.
  • I’ve had the joy of being married to the same wonderful guy, having celebrated our 21st wedding anniversary a few months ago. We have our ups and downs just like everyone else, but at the end of the day, our marriage is a blessing.
  • I beamed with pride at the bar mitzvahs all four sons, helped them navigate middle/high school and have gotten three of them off to college. One more to go in a couple of years.
  • wrote a book about 10 important values and virtues and donated 100% of the proceeds to charitable causes, including 50% to hereditary breast and ovarian cancer research at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.
  • I started my blog, stuck with it, developed and evolved it.
  • I’ve shared my mastectomy story in lots of different places and have strived to help other women facing high breast cancer risk however I can.
  • I started a happiness and gratitude movement to inspire others and have connected over 125,000 people in a community that shares this mission.
  • I‘ve pursued learning and professional development through formal courses in areas like the science of happiness and fundamentals of coaching.
  • I’ve been privileged to lend comfort and support to friends who have gone through challenging times.
  • I’ve volunteered in a number of organizations in my community, spanning the age spectrum from little ones to seniors.
  • I rallied with resilience and strength when our house burned down and got to see first-hand that even a traumatic circumstance can have an incredible silver lining.
  • I’ve never forgotten that first moment when I awoke from surgery and promised myself that I would make the most of life every day. I hope I never do.

Since I was a little girl, I’ve believed that everything happens for a reason. Sometimes that reason isn’t immediately apparent, but in time, and with reflection, the reason usually becomes clear — and often it’s so extraordinary and breathtaking, it’ll blow you away. Giving up my breast tissue was a pretty small sacrifice for the invaluable, intangible gift I’ve received. My surgery, and the circumstances that led up to it, taught me to value every minute of every day, and gave me the courage to set my internal GPS on a different course.

Life is full of lessons if you keep your eyes open and look for them. I don’t know what lies ahead, but I sure am grateful for the journey so far.

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