Choosing Joy


I was diagnosed with breast cancer on October 22, 2014, one day after my oldest child turned 9 and one month before I turned 40. Two weeks later, I found out that I wasn’t (at least not yet; knock on wood, not ever) going to be one of the 40,000 women who die each year from metastatic breast cancer. But still, my diagnosis put me face-to-face with death—and hence with how I really want to live my life—in a way that most people don’t experience at such a young age.

I wish I could say that, thanks to cancer, I no longer sweat the small stuff. But I still rage at rude drivers; still stress about non-life-and-death-matters like email and dishes; still snap at my kids for being kids and, say, leaving their Legos strewn like landmines across the living room floor. (Do you know how much it hurts to step on a Lego?!)

I wish I could say that, thanks to cancer, I refuse fear. But every pain or bump that would once go unnoticed now triggers questions like, “Is it melanoma? A brain tumor? Metastasis?”

What I can say is that, thanks to cancer, I am committed to bringing more joy into my life. I am choosing passion over practicality by pursuing my life-long dream of living as a writer and pulling back from my career as an education consultant. I am choosing “want” over “should” by reading my book on a Sunday afternoon rather than cleaning bathrooms and paying bills.

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It takes practice, this business of prioritizing joy! There are days when I spiral into the all-too familiar anxiety and doubt. (“I can’t afford ‘joy’ right now, we spent all of our savings on cancer—I need to make more money!) There are days when I spiral into self-judgment. (“I’m only one month post-treatment, and already I’m losing all my ‘cancer-clarity’—will I ever really shed old patterns?!”)

But I just keep on practicing. I keep coming back to the question, “What brings me joy?” And then, I work on a new kind of to-do list, one that answers the next question: “What can I do today that will bring me joy?” When I reach September 2016, I hope I can look back on my first year post-treatment and know that cancer really did change my life and me for the better.

You can find Jenny on Twitter  @jennybinhbender and on her blog,

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