By Lauren Miller
On a recent flight back to Chicago, I had the pleasure of sitting next an 18-year-old male college student. It was an early morning flight, and we boarded the plane in record time. Due to this, our pilot announced we would have an early arrival. The young man said allowed, “Yes! I have a connecting flight and I was worried I’d miss it.” This gave him an immediate sense of relief, and we began talking about what he was studying in school as it was his first year and was taking seventeen credit hours. In discussing this further, his speech became noticeably faster and his leg began to bounce. He went on about how his finals were coming up in a few weeks and he said he felt like he never leaves the library. While he appeared a bit anxious just talking about it, you could tell he was still confident he would do well, just that it would take a lot of work. I asked if he worked, or did sports, or was in a club at college. He explained he wasn’t because he was focused on doing well in school. His goal is to be an investment banker one day. I told him that was commendable, and as a teacher, quite nice to hear actually. He smiled at this compliment and seemed a bit more at ease. When we arrived in Chicago, we couldn’t pull up to the gate since it was occupied by another plane since we were early. The pilot announced that we would be pulling into the gate once the plane left. The young man swore and began looking around the plane, out the windows, towards the door. As though he was looking for a way to get out of the plane before getting to the gate in order for him to make his connecting flight, which was in a different terminal in O’Hare altogether. He started worrying about his checked bag making the flight as well or how the bus that would be picking him up once he got to his final destination only ran a few times on the weekend. He continued to ask, “What is taking the other plane so long?” I gave a warm smile and confidently told him everything would be okay. While I didn’t know this for sure, I knew it was what he needed to hear in that moment. Since I was in the aisle seat, I told him he could get off ahead of me, to which he was grateful and thanked me for.
We waited maybe 15 minutes on the plane before we pulled up to the gate. The flight attendants announced that there was a shuttle to take any passengers to a different terminal that meets at a gate now far from where we pulled into. Upon hearing this as we were lining up to get off the plane, the young man began to look visibly calmer and relieved. He still ran toward that gate the second he was able to, not without thanking me again though. After this interaction, I realized how my patience, my quiet calmness, never faltered. It was important to me to help this young man be less anxious. I wanted him to see that missing a connecting flight was not the end of the world. To him, it may very well be. But it made me realize that I gained more patience and perspective because I survived cancer. While I don’t wish cancer on anyone, I do believe it gave me those gifts. On what is important, what’s worth worrying over, and what’s not for that matter. I was anxious every time I went in for chemo. I still get anxious when I go for my annual colonoscopies or to get my blood tested. I get nervous when my mom and sister go for their colonoscopies too. But those anxieties, those nervous feelings, seem logical to me. They are life altering. Missing a plane, failing a test, or losing your luggage are not to me. Nor should they be to anyone I suppose. Without cancer, I would be reacting the same way as the young man on the flight with me did. I am grateful for the lessons cancer taught me. While as a teacher, I do possess patience, cancer aloud me to tap into that easier. Gaining a perspective on the way life should be enjoyed whenever possible. Not stressing out about the little worries in life because it’s simply not healthy for me. I never thought that I would enjoy life as much as I do now. I only wish that for my students, the youth of the world, the young man on the plane. To live in those wonderful moments life brings them, and not stress about things out of their control. I assume I’d stumble about this revelation at one point in my life, but cancer allowed it to happen faster for me. I never thought I’d be grateful to have had cancer, but I am glad I survived it. Without it, I don’t believe I would possess the same perspective I do now. I revel in my quiet calm, my unfaltering patience, and my positive perspective on life. Thank you cancer, for giving me such qualities that have truly made my life and me as a person that much better.