How Having Leukemia Taught Me to Put Myself First

I’m a list maker. So, naturally, I compiled a list of things I have learned since finding out I have leukemia. Today, I’ll share with you number one on that list.

The oxygen mask goes on me first.

Learning to put myself first is difficult. As a mother, I think my default setting is the complete opposite. I’d usually put my kids first.

As a cancer patient, I have to put myself first.

Learning this is at the top of my list because it’s causing me (and probably my husband) so much frustration.

Having cancer has forced me to not only slow down, but to practically stop. My oncologist put it this way by saying, “Patti, you have four things to do each day. I only want you to focus on these things. In order… air, water, food, and my super dangerous but absolutely necessary chemotherapy pills. That’s it.”

Ugh. I don’t like being told I have limitations. These feel like restrictions.

“Air, water, food, chemo pills.” Seriously? So, I challenged him.

“You can’t be serious. That’s it?”

He stared at me — the kind of stare your parents give you when they are getting irritated but are trying to be nice. I got nervous and decide to make a joke.

“How about laundry?” I said with a smile.

“Not a chance,” he said.

Victory. No laundry. I’ll take that.

My days consist of my “list of four.” And, frankly, not much else. Because I’m a good patient? No. Because I physically can’t do much else. So, if I’m feeling able, instead of being on the go and doing for everyone else, I allow myself to only do only one thing a day.

It’s a learning process, for sure.

On an airplane, an oxygen mask will magically drop down right in front of you when it’s needed. While preparing for takeoff, the flight attendant goes into great detail about safety. The most important thing to know is if the oxygen mask drops down, put it on yourself before you help others (your child, etc.). The theory being you will not be a help to anyone else if you aren’t already wearing the mask.

I’ve got to put myself first. I’ve got to think of the big picture. I’ve got to pace myself. If I want to go to church on Sunday (and I do), I can’t do anything on Saturday. My body can’t take it.

But I don’t have to do it alone.

The mask, required for survival, is right there in front of me. I don’t have to pack it or carry it or be in charge of it or make sure it fits or even if it works. I don’t even have to make sure the one that drops down for my kids is any of those things.

It’s already there. Ready. Waiting. Right when I need it.

I do, however, need to reach for it.

God is my oxygen mask. Look at Acts 17:27-28. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being.

He’s right there. Waiting. Right when I need him.

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