If You’re Not Living on the Edge, You’re Taking Up Too Much Space!

“Respect yourself enough to walk away from anything that no longer serves you, grows you, or makes you happy.”
Robert Tew

March, 2010. It was a warm Thursday evening and I’d been out to Steeps for tea with a man I’d been briefly dating. I’d decided to try “George Costanza’s Law of Opposites” by dating the type of man I’m not normally drawn to; I have a predilection for larger-than-life, swarthy foreigners and this man was as white, engineer-geek as they come. He was intelligent, warm, and a good conversationalist with a balance of talk and ask. We’d been out on a number of dinner dates that consisted of delicious full course meals and delectable bottles of wine.

I’d not given him my last name at this point, simply for the fact that if he Googled me and decided to read my book, he’d find out far too much about me too fast. (Not something you think about at the time you are writing a revealing travel memoir).

The longer this went on, the more curious he became. On this particular night, he teased me that he was becoming intimidated, that maybe I was a famous author and he a mere mortal. I told him not to worry; I was a legend, but only in my mind.

He parked the car outside my apartment and left me with a long good-bye kiss. A true gentleman, he opened the door and escorted me to the landing. It was near midnight, and as we walked up the path, we heard a wail, “Waaaaaanda!”

Josh, a colorful barista from my writing coffee shop, and his girl friend ran up breathless. “We both read your book. We love it. We absolutely love it!” they both gushed, kissed me, then ran off from wence they came. My date cocked an eyebrow and gave me a look. I laughed and assured him that this was definitely not the norm.

I crawled into bed and for some strange reason (twitterpation?), I gave myself a breast exam. A few weeks earlier, I’d booked a flight to Italy. My friend, Lynne, was hitting her five-year survivor marker and this year, 2010, was to be my grand twenty-year marker. We’d talked about Italy for many years and finally decided that this was the perfect time for a celebration of life tour.

I sat bolt upright in disbelief. There, in my left breast, mirror location of where my first lump had been twenty years prior, was a distinct, hard lump.

No f-ing way. Not after twenty years.

Cancer had been eradicated from my radar; I’d learned a lot from it at the vivacious age of 29 and my life had changed in good ways from the experience. I’d had all manner of other challenges since, but cancer was something, I was sure, I never needed the lesson of again.


In the aftermath of the big C, many people want to get back to normal, back to their old life as fast as possible. A second close encounter at this stage in life stopped me in my tracks. Go back to my old life? I think not. Clearly, it wasn’t working for me. From my point of view, if it were, I wouldn’t be having this experience. Spontaneously, I challenged myself to live life by heart.

I am now, two years later, reminded of a career crossroads I found myself in the middle of at age 24. I knew I needed to place myself on an upward trajectory. I’d left my difficult, straight-commissioned job and set myself some lofty goals: a top 100 company, first-rate benefits, a company car, a specific base with bonus, and an opportunity to grow.

I made looking for a job a full-time job. As the clock ticked by, everyone told me to take a job—any job. “Be a waitress for God’s sake!” (Not that there’s anything wrong with that). But I knew if I settled, I’d likely fall into dead-end jobs for the rest of my life. I stuck to my vision and values. And at the final hour, I triumphed, with more than I’d set my sights on.

I now find myself at a similar fork in the road, only this time the experience is far more profound. Two rounds of the C word and life takes on a new hue.

So what’s living on the edge? For me, it’s taking stock and digging in. Reviewing, reassessing and remembering what I truly value and not going back to what brought on my tsunami in the first place. Is that easy? No frigging way. It means doing a lot of things that I never imagined I do.* It means accepting (and asking for) help when I’ve been fiercely independent since I was 15. It means finding the guts to live by those values, no matter what, because my life might just depend on it.

Living on the edge for you may mean taking that solo trip you’ve dreamed of but have been afraid to book. It could be signing up for that Italian class even though you’ve never spoken a word of another language before. Maybe it’s enrolling in an evening university course to, inch-by-inch, get out of your dead-end job or closing the door on a dead-end relationship.

Living on the edge is like hanging on the ledge of a precipice. Your heart pounds, your palms sweat, you panic. Then you find a foothold. And someone grabs your hand to pull you up. And you take a moment to look down and you see that the gorge is not that deep and that there was always a way—you just couldn’t see it from where you were hanging. I’m at the “someone grabs your hand” part and looking forward to the view.

In spite of what my crazy-assed life looks like to others (or to myself) right now, I just know that I’ve been called to heed Shakespeare’s “to thine ownself be true.”

Actually, I think we all are. As I navigate through on a wing and a prayer, share the bumpy but beautiful trail with me and maybe we’ll find a spot of inspiration, a chuckle, and an odd miracle or two along the way.


© Wanda St.Hilaire

*More in future posts.

This entry was posted in Gallery, Life after Cancer and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

30 Responses to If You’re Not Living on the Edge, You’re Taking Up Too Much Space!

  1. penny says:

    Wanda, how skillfully you encapslated years into those few succinct sentences. You’ve earned and deserve the nomenclature “writer”. If I was in Calgary (but please dear god, never again) I’d give you a big hug and tell you how much I admire: the strength of your instincts; your ability to take one step forward in the dark in spite of having fallen into the chasm about a million times; the discipline and perseverance to stay the course … in spite of tremendous odds; the flowering of an artist. Write on, girl!

  2. Ryan says:

    Starting a company that was doomed to fail from the go (I’m wise enough to recognize that now) had three major benefits. Firstly, it showed me how much owning my own corporation was a full-time job all on its own. Secondly, it showed me the wisdom required to run a successful business, even though that wisdom was not able to be applied due to massive burn-out as a result of a few life rolls and getting into business with unreliable people. And thirdly, it set us on the path to meet. You are an inspiration and an inspired person, even if it you don’t always feel that way.

    On an entirely unrelated point, but not too large a digression, I think you might like the book “Illusions” by Richard Bach. If nothing else, it has some great quotes that you might like to use for your epigraphs. I’d give you my copy, but I unfortunately already donated all my paper books. There were ten file boxes full of them. We’re trying to eliminate anything that is possible to do without before we move. The less possessions we have, the easier it will be. Speaking of living on the edge …

    • wanda says:

      Okay … now I’m really crying! Thanks so much Ryan. You’ve been a phenomenal proofreader/editor/techie/wealth of knowledge genius guy. I know you’re more of a pragmatic soul, so I’ll take the “You are an inspiration and inspired person” as a huge compliment.

      I will go find “Illusions” at the neighborhood used store … I actually had it in my hand a few months back!

      I look forward to working with you long into the future on many books and projects.


  3. Verna says:

    Dear Wanda, your whole essence reminds me of a quote by Helen Keller: “I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.” I think it pretty much sums up you. Embrace that audacious spirit that you were born with, and continue to utilize it, maximize it, and never lose sight of your brilliance! You are more than a creative writer; you are a soulful, inspiring, courageous spirit. Bless you for sharing and for pointing us all to Shakespeare’s wisdom, “to thine own self be true.”

    • wanda says:

      Well, that brought me to tears! Thank you so very much Verna. That is one high compliment and I shall hold it in my heart to review when the wind is low in my sails.

  4. Terra Mar says:

    Thanks for the achingly open post. Great job. Love the title as well.
    So whatever happened with the curious engineer? Are you happy? Well? Clearly you’re still writing, and that’s great! Write On!

    • wanda says:

      Well, the engineer vanished into thin air! I don’t know what scared him off (I didn’t mention the “situation”) but I think I just might have been a little over the top for such a fellow. (All that salsa dancing in the kitchen while whipping up homemade tortillas with one hand and a margarita in the other hand …)

      Happy? I’m dancing on the edge daily so I have my ups and downs. But overall, doing pretty damn good. Healthy? Yep. I’ve just finally started to regain my energy from the hit surgery and treatments have on one’s body. And it feels good!

      Thank you so much Terra and I’ll keep on writing.

  5. Wanda, I’m with you here. I am losing the function of my only kidney after being poisoned by cat flea medicine 9 years ago. I’m prepped for dialysis and hopefully will pass the requirements for a transplant. Way back when, I told myself I would do neither. However, with help and guidance from two friends, I’m getting through this: Pat Canterbury who is in dialysis and Melissa Mangus, who is on her 2nd kidney transplant. They are holding my hand in cyber fashion and giving me the heads up on what comes next.

    This sort of thing makes you re-evaluate your life. I don’t feel guilty when I push away from my writing to sit in the sun and listen to the birds. I’ve learned to enjoy my food restrictions. I have found a certain piece and even humor. I’m letting my hair grow out the dye jobs and embracing my new look.

    Beautifully written and poignant. Keep on blogging.

    • wanda says:

      Wow Sunny. Sounds like you’re dealing with it in a wonderful way. It definitely does cause one to stop and re-evaluate everything. I am glad to hear you’re stopping to soak up the beauty.

      Thank you for the kind compliment. I wish you the very best in this passage and I’ll watch for updates.

      Angels your way!

  6. Pat says:

    Wanda: You’re my kind of person! Someone who’d ride the underground in Beijing after midnight because the guide wouldn’t let us go during the day and explore Macau because it sounds like fun. Someone who’d ride the Mongolian ponies just to see where we’d go. I agree Life is too short to only see your own side of the fence. When you make it to Northern California we must share a cup of Monkey Picked Tea.

    • wanda says:

      Awesome Pat … a kindred soul. I’d love to meet up in Northern California one day over a cup of Monkey Picked Tea – I’ll put that on the bucket list!

  7. Delores says:

    Congrats on launching your blog! You are an amazing writer. It’s so easy to be drawn into your writings…I just want to keep reading!

  8. Eileen Obser says:

    Hi Wanda,

    I’m very pleased that you started up this beautiful-looking blog. My son set one up for me last year and I still don’t use it! The actual blog is an inspiring personal essay – we learn so much about you, your background right up to the present. The message is so clear. Readers: LIVE! Don’t make excuses or delays. Do-it-now. Keep writing!
    Eileen XXX

    • wanda says:


      I can relate to the “still don’t use it.” I was very reluctant but now I’m thrilled that I dived in and did it. Thank you very much – it’s a huge compliment coming from such an expert writer and teacher!

  9. Adriana says:

    LOVE your blog it is fab – glad to be included – Adriana

  10. Rob Mabee says:

    Great story Wanda! I’m hugely in favor of living on the edge as well. Cancer teaches that to a person! Good luck, good health and great love!

  11. Bev Runka says:

    Thank you Wanda for including me in your sharing. Your thoughts put into words are appreciated-not everyone can do this. Your strong spirit is amazing. Gives me energy as I go about what seems like an ordinary life, although every day is a gift.

  12. Donna Bamford says:

    I am excited for you as this blog is a great idea. You can articulate so well. The sharing is so cathartic. We realize we are not alone. We are all getting through life; continuing to grow as we experience life as it is given to us and as we take hold of it on our terms. You are always sooo inspirational!!!

  13. Marie says:

    Please accept my gratitude (for you) about your gratitude (for life).

  14. RITA BERCAN says:

    I’ve read “The Cuban Chronicles” by this author and it’s a must read book if you are looking for romance and personal discovery. Everyone, at some point in their lives, could relate. A great book for your airplane travels, train rides, and a definite must for that beach destination.



  15. Princess Patricia says:

    Dear Wanda,
    I’m not much of a reader of books but when I finally sat down and started reading ‘The Cuban Chronicles, I managed to read it all in one day! Your book and now the blog about what is real in your life is a sad tragedy but through the sadness you have captured the fun ie. love your salsa dancing in the kitchen (that engineer did not deserve you btw).

    Thanks for sharing your life stories with us. Your writing is your gift and we all love gifts! Keep it up ! I can’t wait to see your book on the big screen and you know that I’ll be seated in the front row cheering you on! You go Wanda girl!

Leave a Reply