I just finished a really moving book called “Regine’s Book: A Teen Girl’s Last Words” by Regine Stokke. Regine was a 17 year old Norwegian girl who was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of leukemia at the age of 17. She began to blog about her daily life during her illness and the blog became immensely popular. As per her wishes, the blog entries were published into a book following her death. The book touched me tremendously. It was painful and moving to follow her through her journey, especially given that I knew from the outset that it would end with her death at age 18. Regine was wise beyond her years, and was able to capture so much about her illness, family and life in her blog entries. She was a talented photographer in addition to being a gifted writer, and the book includes some of her moving photographs in addition to her writings.
I think that the book particularly spoke to me because my husband was also a teen when he had cancer. He spent most of his high school years undergoing chemo and radiation treatments. I didn’t know him then (though Colby did), so I didn’t share that journey with him. I think I am always drawn to first-person accounts of cancer patients because they give me a sense of what he went through without me having to ask him painful questions. Reading “Regine’s Book,” I felt overwhelmed with gratitude that my husband, C, survived cancer.
There is a lot to learn from Regine’s words, but one passage spoke to me immediately – perhaps because it is January, and everyone is thinking about plans, goals, resolutions. Perhaps because it is January, post-holiday blues and winter doldrums are prevalent, and I need a reminder of how precious a gift life really is. Or perhaps it is because the message is just brilliant, especially coming from a 17-year old:
“Sometimes I also feel so guilty, as if I deserve this somehow. Because I was so dissatisfied before. Of course, I wasn’t dissatisfied all the time – don’t misunderstand me. I actually did like my life. But lots of times I was. And I regret that. I regret it so much. Why couldn’t I just enjoy it? The only thing I did was wait, wait for it to get better.”
How often do I waste time feeling dissatisfied with things? How often do I rely on the anticipation of a future event to keep me satisfied rather than focusing on what is right in front of me? How devastated would I be if I suddenly realized that I had run out of time for do-overs? And my big take-away from this is not just that I need to actively change situations to remedy dissatisfaction, as opposed to merely grumbling and then waiting for something else to change them. I do think that is necessary and part of what Regine is getting at here, but more importantly, I think of how important it is that I also change my perspective on things to avoid feeling dissatisfied. On my worst day, my life is pretty good. If I choose to, I can – and should – be satisfied with what I have, whatever it may be on any given day. And that should be the first thought that comes to mind in the morning and the last one before I go to sleep.
Regine closes out that same blog entry with the following sage advice:
“I just want to say this: You shouldn’t wait for life to get better. You have to realize you can’t have it all, and every once in a while, you’re sure to experience a setback. I was always focusing on the future. Try instead to look at what you have in the here and now, and enjoy it. I can’t do anything about my life right now. I’m not in control anymore…I’ve gotten a new perspective on life. I just hope I get another chance.”
It is heartbreaking that Regine never did get that other chance.