What going from negative to positive taught me about change

“You’ve got a journey ahead of you.” I remember Dr. Merker saying those words after telling me I probably had cancer. And at the time, I remember telling myself that this journey he was talking about was just going to be a detour. It would suck, but I would get through it and be back on track in no time.

Some of that was true. I did get through it. And yes, it did suck. But there was something I only began to appreciate once I was on the other side of my bone marrow transplant: this was no detour.

A detour implies that you’re making a temporary deviation from the road you’re on. And that you’ll eventually meet back up with that same road and carry on to your original destination. But this journey I found myself on wasn’t that. Instead of returning to a pre-cancer “normal,” my life branched off in a new trajectory entirely. 

Because the experience changed me. For starters, I literally went from negative to positive. After my transplant, my body adopted my donor’s blood type, shifting from A-negative to O-positive (weird, I know). 

But more importantly, it transformed my outlook on life and what I wanted to do with it. It inspired me to pursue a career in writing and helped me embrace life’s everyday awesomeness.

So while I wish I never had to go through cancer in the first place, I’m grateful for the positive changes it sparked in me. 

It’s natural to think of crises as detours and wish for things to go back to normal. But just because “normal” feels familiar and comfortable doesn’t mean it’s where we should aim. Like a heart attack survivor returning to his daily diet of greasy hamburgers, getting back to “normal” or the “good old days” isn’t always the right direction. 

Although it’s always preferable to prevent a crisis in the first place, those times can be an opportunity to consider how you might build a better normal.

The same is true for broader societal problems. When wildfires flare up, we want to snuff them out so we can breathe easier again. But those plumes of smoke and ash should also move us down a new path that tackles the climate crisis fuelling the flames in the first place.

Meanwhile, instead of just wishing for an end to the latest round of race-related protests so things can get back to normal, we should be fighting to end the systemic racism causing them. 

In short, rather than seeing a crisis as a detour, look at it like a fork in the road — as an opportunity to let go of the things that don’t work and embark on a better way forward. Like my blood type, it’s about leaving the negative behind and creating something positive in its place.

Next: Chapter 37 — The school of hard knocks: What life’s misadventures taught me about blunderful resilience

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Did you know? This resource is also available as a print book called “Simply Blunderful: A cancer survivor’s illustrated guide to flaming tennis balls, camping catastrophes and the many obstacles life throws our way.” Click here to learn more and order your copy.

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Chapter 1 — The coin flip: What a cancer diagnosis taught me about life exploding into a bazillion pieces

Chapter 2 — The slip-up: What a puddle of puke taught me about asking for help

Chapter 3 — The Great Burning: What a million paper monsters taught me about things going up in smoke

Chapter 4 — The crayon candle: What the lamest science project ever taught me about putting in the extra effort

Chapter 5 — The Christmas concert: What starring as a tree taught me about finding my voice

Chapter 6 — The “Super Something:” What blood and glue fumes taught me about vulnerability

Chapter 7 — The dare: What wearing a clay helmet taught me about bad habits

Chapter 8 — The cannonball: What Meghan in the mud taught me about letting go

Chapter 9 — The fireball: What a flaming tennis ball taught me about nurturing imagination

Chapter 10 — The frying pan: What towel-snapping taboos taught me about pushing your luck

Chapter 11 — The haybale: What a tough day in the barn taught me about having someone to watch your back

Chapter 12 — The babysitting gig: What banshee babies and buttered butts taught me about failing forward

Chapter 13 — The sledgehammer: What a construction job taught me about using the right tools

Chapter 14 — The cement truck: What a misguided act of heroism taught me about good intentions

Chapter 15 — The valet: What a parking disaster taught me about overconfidence

Chapter 16 — The growl: What a wolf in the woods taught me about knowledge and responsibility

Chapter 17 — The shortcut: What a hike through stinging nettles taught me about cutting corners

Chapter 18 — The backpack: What a giant duffel bag taught me about band-aid solutions

Chapter 19 — The big freeze: What camping in a snowstorm taught me about knowing when to quit

Chapter 20 — The snowy gauntlet: What an idiotic bet taught me about redefining success

Chapter 21 — The Christmas tree: What a holiday hunt taught me about overkill

Chapter 22 — The BB gun: What my dad getting shot in the eye taught me about owning up to our mistakes

Chapter 23 — The toboggan hill: What sledding battles taught me about approaching problems from different angles

Chapter 24 — The train: What a trip to the big city taught me about self-sabotage

Chapter 25 — The mushy cauliflower: What dinner in France taught me about the power of words

Chapter 26 — The shopping cart: What an unusual ride to the bar taught me about control

Chapter 27 — The butt clay: What a muddy gully battle taught me about karma

Chapter 28 — The president: What Bill Clinton getting in my way taught me about adaptability

Chapter 29 — The Taipei middle way: What a hostile hostel taught me about moderation

Chapter 30 — The refugee camp: What volunteering in Ghana taught me about digging deeper

Chapter 31 — The bus ride: What a long drive through the mountains taught me about patience

Chapter 32 — The barn: What a Christmas sleepover taught me about keeping your fires stoked

Chapter 33 — The list: What farts and sandwiches taught me about gratitude

Chapter 34 — The birthday: What a surprise celebration in the hospital taught me about self-care

Chapter 35 — The goodbye: What a man named Frank taught me about luck

Chapter 36 — The bloody transformation: What going from negative to positive taught me about change

Chapter 37 — The school of hard knocks: What life’s misadventures taught me about blunderful resilience