A year ago, my life was pretty amazing. And then in an instant my dream was shattered by three little words, ‘You have cancer.’
Hearing those words was like sitting strapped in your rollercoaster seat about to plummet from its heights screaming down the tiny track, surrendering control to a force greater than you. But instead of a few exhilarating minutes, cancer’s rollercoaster can last several months and for some, years.
It’s been a year since I was diagnosed with breast cancer, for the second time. Someone asked me recently if having a first diagnosis better prepared me for the second one. I would say no. On both occasions, I felt completely blindsided and unprepared for what lay ahead.
The year 2020 was equally the worst year of my life and the best one all wrapped up in one. As the unbidden encounter with a life-threatening illness would do, my world pivoted as I slowly fell apart. My health, my business, my freedom, my identity and everything that was once familiar washed away with my hair down the drain.
The good news is that cancer turned out to be the crisis that woke me up to old behavioural strategies and thinking patterns that weren’t serving me and clean the slate to make way for new ways of being. For me, cancer was as much a crisis as it was an opportunity to redefine who I am and re-assess what is truly important to me. In many ways, it has been my re-birth.
Here’s What I Learned From Cancer:
1. Loosen Your Grip
Just like hanging on for dear life to that rollercoaster, I have spent much of my life trying to manage and control just about every aspect of my life. The irony is that as much as you try and control things and file them away in nice, neat boxes, life has a funny way of throwing us curve balls like an accident, illness, divorce, job loss or death to remind us that ultimately, there is a far greater force in control of matters. Letting go of control and surrendering to life’s impermanence was the only way I could endure many months in treatment.
Resilience is a choice.
While there may be a lot of things I can’t influence, I can control my attitude and how I choose to respond to what shows up. Resilience is a choice and a skill that is developed and refined over time. Having cancer has shown me just how strong and resilient I am and that having faith that things will work out for the best is a far greater use of my energy than fearing the worst.
2. Stay True to You
As women we are so good at making sure everyone else’s needs are met. People pleasing comes naturally and so does putting ourselves and our own needs last. It would have been easier for me to get my car serviced than to take the much needed time away from work to seek cancer treatment. In fact, I refused the majority of treatment with my first diagnosis as I couldn’t justify taking time off work to deal with that ‘small’ problem. My residual pattern of perpetually giving and trying to fit in was a sure fire way to honour the needs of others and overlook my own.
Gaining clarity of what is important to you, putting yourself first and learning to say ‘no’ were critical in my evolution. Speak your truth and develop loving boundaries around what you want to have more and less of in your life is key to one’s happiness. Stay true to you and others will follow suit.
3. Surround Yourself With Positive People
I doubt it’s very difficult to name the people in your life who lift you up and those that suck you dry. Having cancer made me want to cherish every day and to fill my days doing things that I love with people that make me feel good. I began to honour myself more fully and became more discerning in who I chose to spend my precious time with.
Navigating a cancer journey shows you who your real friends are. The ones that show compassion and support even in your darkest hours. Those beautiful souls are the ones I cherish most in my life and the ones I most want to spend my time with.
4. Listen To Your Body’s Wisdom
For months and months I had this niggling, ‘hot spot’ in my left breast just under my skin. It worried me but not enough to do anything about it. Until a well-intentioned friend urged me to go and have a mammogram, I was prepared to overlook this ‘sign’ and continue with life as usual.
How many times does our body send us messages that we are exhausted, stressed, burnt out? Our body is constantly communicating with us and her messages become more and more amplified until we are ready to listen, or forced to listen. Unfortunately for me, I had ignored many of them until my cancer diagnosis hit me square in the face and insisted I down tools and heed her call. I have since developed a much more loving relationship with my body and choose to pay closer attention to niggles before they get out of hand.
5. Attitude of Gratitude
Our thoughts are very powerful. In fact, they directly influence how we feel. Choosing what we focus on can bring light or darkness to any situation. Being an eternal optimist, I am always looking for the silver lining in things even in the hardest of times. Even though my cancer diagnosis hit me like a runaway rollercoaster, I chose from the beginning to look for the blessings in it all and to have gratitude no matter how tough things got.
Practising an attitude of gratitude brings focus to all of the beauty and wonderment that life offers us each day. It also shifts our attention away from things that keep us stuck or afraid.
My Ultimate Discovery
The ultimate discovery I made through cancer treatment was my life’s purpose. The beautiful fusion of my education, training and life experiences and combining them in a unique way that will serve others. In the midst of my darkest hours, I created the ‘Healing Journal’, a divine guidebook for women navigating the emotional rollercoaster of cancer. The soul-nourishing chapters have been lovingly written to help each woman with mindfulness practices, self-inquiry questions and journaling pages to more fully understand and heal from cancer. It is the perfect book to gift someone upon diagnosis or navigating treatment. For more information go to: healingjournal.co
Life is fragile and far too short. It should be revered and tended to like your favourite garden. For me, I have shifted from living in a numb, autopilot mode, merely going through the motions and instead of ‘doing’ life, I now ‘feel’ life breathing through me.
Cancer’s unexpected visit was actually the greatest gift that has woken me up to the truth of who I am and set my life on a new and exciting path. As a coach, I struggled for years to pick a niche and claim it. I didn’t want to narrow my choices or the people I worked with so opted to continue working across many areas. With cancer’s second visit, it is now such an obvious and natural choice to help those affected by cancer. Having clarity of my purpose and work as a Cancer Coach has been a wonderful discovery.
Love and wisdom,