Small Talk

Living Your Best Life with Incurable Cancer

October 11th, 2013

To be sure, Jane Schwartzberg of Montclair, N.J., would give anything not to have stage 4 metastatic cancer, a disease for which there is no cure. But she says that having a terminal illness has changed the way she lives – for the better.

“I live my best life every single day,” says Schwartzberg, co-author with Marcy Tolkoff Levy of “Naked Jane Bares All,”, a new book that shares Jane’s story with candor and humor.

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.

Now 44, her condition has stabilized, but she has no idea for how long. She lives every moment aware of “this cloud over me.” But she’s determined not to allow it to steal the laughter, meaning and fulfillment from her days.

No matter what the adversity a person may be facing, no one should waste a moment of our temporary time on Earth, Jane says. She offers these suggestions – learned the hard way – for living your best.

•        Go ahead, make a “bucket list.” And no matter how unlikely an item may be to fulfill, give it a try. Just for grins.  After being blind-sided by the pronouncement that the cancer she had beaten 10 years ago had returned – enraged – Jane slumped into a depression for three months.

A friend, trying to rouse her spirits asked what she’d do if she could do any wild, crazy, highly unlikely thing. She was quick to answer: “I want to take Larry David to lunch.”

She’s a huge fan of the Curb Your Enthusiasm star and Seinfeld creator, and if anyone could make her laugh, she knew, it would be Larry David. Though the odds against such a meeting were astronomical, her friend encouraged Jane to write David a letter.

Jane ended up flying to California for a 52-minute lunch with her idol. Far from depressed, she remembers thinking, “I am the luckiest person walking this Earth!”

Says Jane: “Even before he responded to my letter I spent weeks fantasizing about what I would say if I met him, what I would wear … I pictured everything. If the lunch had never happened, I still had all those weeks of wonderful, happy dreaming.”

•        Choose the people with whom you spend time. We’re not obliged to spend time with people who don’t make us feel good or, worse yet, make us feel bad! Our time is the most valuable commodity we have and, for all of us, it’s limited.

“I spend my time with the people I love – the people who are most precious to me,” Jane says. “I don’t have time for people who aren’t genuine, who are negative, or always angry. I love to laugh and I strive to be 100 percent in the moment every moment.

“If you’re with someone and thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t wait to get away from this clod,’ you are definitely not living in the moment!”

•        Remind yourself every day to love life. Every day is a gift – for any of us. And if we’re not loving that gift, we’re our own worst enemy.

“We have little control over how our lives unfold; the unpredictable happens and suddenly you’re on a course you never guessed lay ahead,” Jane says. “That does not mean you can’t live a fulfilling life and continue to do what you were put here to do.”

3 Responses to “Living Your Best Life with Incurable Cancer”

  1. Ken Conklin:

    If I'm chatting with someone who doesn't know me well, and if I feel a need for a conversation-starter, I might casually say "I'm dying." [Gasp!] "Yes, I have an incurable terminal disease." [Gasp, gasp] "It's called 'life." Yes, we're all going to die someday. But most of us don't know when or how. Those who find out when or how, ahead of time, have a wakeup call which is their silver lining to a dark cloud. As English author Samuel Johnson said "Nothing so concentrates the mind as the hangman's noose."

  2. betterlatethannever:

    Hi Diane,
    Always enjoyed your posts. Longtime reader, first time poster.
    I just found out that my brother has stage 4 lung cancer, quite a shocker for someone that never smoked, rarely drinks... lives a rather healthy lifestyle. It reminded me that we should all appreciate what we have and live life to the fullest as we never know what or when something may happen.

    Thanks for sharing this. I'll forward it to him.

  3. Diane Ako:

    betterlatethannever -I'm so sorry to hear of your brother's cancer. Thank you for reading and thank you for sharing!

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