My One and Only Life

By Jaimie Hutchison, MA, LPC

The past six months I have been fighting cancer. HER2+ breast cancer to be specific. For six months I’ve reflected on life and thought about what I will do with the rest of my one and only life. I am pleased to say that, I feel good about my life decisions so far. My family shares love and laughter in our home each day. I have a 25-year marriage to my very best friend, and I do a job that is values driven. My friends and my volunteer work are essential to my life, and they have given me so much.

Through a great deal of reflection, I cemented and confirmed some things that helped me to live through these past six months. I am working hard to fight and heal every day. I wish I had paid more attention to some things and less to others. Here are some of my take-aways.

  1. Put your health first. Get your annual health check-ups. Make sure that you are not skipping appointments that may help you live longer and healthier. We are all so busy, but as Maya Angelou says, “if we don’t work, nothing else will.” Without our health, our other goals won’t be achieved.
  2. Keep the negativity away. When I was first diagnosed, my spouse met with a spouse of a breast cancer patient further along in the journey. He had one piece of advice, keep the negative energy away from your spouse. He was right. Take a good look at your relationships and the energy you are around. If there are folks that tend to be pessimistic, judging, or just overall negative, set boundaries and let go of toxic relationships. When you are fighting for your life, you realize that you need every ounce of energy to focus on surviving. The truth is, we never need to allow others to steal our energy. I am not a fan of toxic positivity; it is not healthy. Be real, feel all the feelings, but surround yourself with folks that help to build you and others up.
  3. Tell your people you love them, share gratitude. Tell people what you appreciate about them. Life can be unpredictable. I take every opportunity to express my gratitude and to tell the people I love what they mean to me. If life were to be taken away from me, or them, I would want to know that they never wondered how I felt. I also know that what you put out comes back to you, my vulnerability and transparency has come back to me and I truly appreciate it.
  4. Always advocate for yourself. Whether it is at work, or with a doctor, advocate for yourself. Come to meetings or doctor’s appointments prepared. Write down questions. Be prepared to share information and to take in information. No matter how much folks care for you and about you, you know yourself best and no one will advocate for you better than you can.
  5. Be transparent. Ask for help if you need it. Be direct and specific. People don’t know if you want help unless you ask them. If you can be transparent with your family, colleagues, boss, or medical professionals, you will get support in return. Often, people don’t know what to do or how to help you unless you tell them. For me, living my life transparently is a value of mine. It has also helped greatly during this difficult time. If the people around are not supportive seek out support at the MSU WorkLife Office or the Employee Assistance Program (EAP).
  6. Take care of your body and mind. We only have one life and one body and one mind. Prioritizing a healthy lifestyle of my mind and body is real. I haven’t always made the right decisions, but the stronger and healthier you are, the more equipped your body will be for growing older and for responding to health challenges. For me, it is important to take a walk every day, and to meet with a therapist for mental health check-ins when needed. Our mental and physical health are connected. When we don’t move it affects our body and our mind. So, whatever steps you can take, take them. You are worth it.
  7. Do the thing. In this one and only life, I enjoy the moments with my friends and family. I have taken vacations to spend quality time with my family and friends. I built in quality time to have folks over, or visit people to walk a trail, or to share a meal. When COVID hit, most of those things stopped. Then, with my cancer diagnosis, I was again isolated for health reasons. I am SO GLAD that I did those things. I will continue to. If we put things off until the perfect time, that time may not come. Living in the moment and finding joy is crucial for me. Moving forward, I will continue to find joy anywhere I can and I will savor it. This applies to my job, my family, and my hobbies.
  8. Put good out in the world. I feel so grateful for my community. My Spartan community, my kid’s school community, my volunteer community, and more. I concentrate on my health, my family, my career, and my community. By building that community and using my skills for good, I am a part of it. I am there when folks need me, and it turns out they have been there for my family through this health crisis. Cancer recovery can be very isolating, and I am so fortunate to have so many folks reach out to my family, help us with a meal or a note of kindness. It all matters. What we have put out into the world has come back to us. Accepting help has felt good, because I know we have helped when and who we could, and people wanted to do the same for us.
  9. Set boundaries. I know I referred to this already, but it is one of the most important things we can do in our lives. As work and life continue to collide and we are more accessible for anyone that needs us, it is important to set healthy boundaries. This can be easier said than done. However, once you are successful, you will reap the rewards of honoring yourself and your time. Some attempts succeeded. Sometimes it takes multiple conversations or reminders to let people know your boundaries. You deserve to have your boundaries honored.
  10. Communicate with empathy. Always. With everyone. We never know what folks are carrying. There are a lot of things that we don’t talk about, especially at work. So, interacting with people in an empathetic way is the most effective way to ensure you are respecting the whole person in front of you. It will also build trust, and help you maintain your relationships. I can tell you, on my hardest darkest days when I was not my best, receiving empathy from my infusion nurses, oncologist, family, colleagues, or friends made all the difference in the world.

Recently, I got some of the best news of my life. My pathology results from surgery found no cancer. The chemotherapy worked. I have seven more months of treatment, but I am going to beat this. I am very grateful to every Spartan who shared kindness with me. I do not wish this experience on anyone. I do appreciate a lot of the lessons that I have learned, and I look forward to continuing this journey toward better health.