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Jane Schwartzberg: Maybe down but not out

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Would your holidays be different if you knew you had a terminal illness? A woman living with incurable cancer offers 3 ways to get the most out of every day. Jane Schwartzberg cringes when she hears someone say that a terrible accident or frightening medical diagnosis made them realize what’s important in life.

In some ways, I do wish everyone could experience a taste of terminal, if that’s what it takes to make them appreciate the intangible gifts we receive not just during the holidays, but all year, says Schwartzberg, But I wish they’d known all along, and I hate the thought of goodness coming at the expense of so much suffering.

Schwartzberg says she was clear about what’s most important before she was diagnosed with stage four incurable breast cancer. As a mother, wife, daughter, sister, aunt and friend, she knew that all that really matters is how much love we give and receive. Although I won’t attribute any revelations about what’s most important in life to my illness, I can say that there are a few things that I am trying to do better since getting sick.

The holidays are a great time to cultivate a spirit of gratitude and to re-focus on the things that are most meaningful.

For Schwartzberg, those include:

• Showing up. If you’re worried about yesterday or always planning for tomorrow, you’re missing the present moment and any wonderful experiences it may hold.

Although my clock ticks louder than others, I know we are all here for a short time. I am determined to find joy in every single day. It may come from the simplest of things: a view from my window, a great conversation or a hot cup of coffee. But I know I need to be always present and available, with an open mind and open heart, to experience any of it.

• Riding my love train. We all have people in our lives who care about us, and it’s important to let them know how much we appreciate them. Schwartzberg’s 'love train' is a metaphor for all of the people she chooses to share her life with. They are rooting me on and giving my family and me love and support. I try to be as meticulous and thoughtful as I possibly can be with those on board, and that means making sure they know how much I love and value them.

• Knowing my place in the world. There is a Jewish teaching that says everyone should carry with them two pieces of paper, each in a separate pocket. One paper should say, “I am but dust and ashes.” The other, “The world was created for me. I constantly remind myself that both statements are true. I am capable of incredible things to improve the world, and I am just a tiny speck in the universe. Powerfulness and humility can, and do, exist for me side by side.

As the holidays approach, keep in mind that the best gift you can give – or receive – is love. It’s not a table full of food or gadgets you can’t afford. Approach this holiday season as if it could be your last, and you’ll probably find much more to revel in than to stress about.

Jane Schwartzberg Fighter, wife, and mother of two diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. Author of "Naked Jane Bares All; A Tale of Triumph, Travails & Ta-Tas" Schwartzberg was a 31-year-old newlywed when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer. She underwent treatment and eventually was declared cancer free. She moved on with her life, giving birth to two children and launching a technology company. Then, when she was 42, the cancer returned.

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