My cancer anniversaries are moments to acknowledge the journey. And lessons learned. Surviving three cancers brings many experiences and lessons. Some ugly, some beautiful. With that in mind, I want to share 10 lessons from surviving 3 cancers, focusing on the strength found in this journey.
This new road in life
I thought I had figured out this life after cancer journey. After all, the end of June marks 22 years since I finished treatment for my first cancer, bone cancer. But then I cleared my third cancer last year, marking another new chapter in this journey.
Today is one year since I finished treatment for breast cancer. One year to wander my way through this new world. I’m sometimes at a loss to describe this journey. That third cancer broke a little piece of me last year.It was stunning. Heartbreaking sadness. And an opportunity to set off on a new journey.
Each cancer changed my life. Ugly and beautiful changes. I’ve lived as a cancer survivor longer than I have not. Considering too many deaths from cancer, including my dad’s, I am incredibly fortunate. Blessed. Grateful.
Yes, cancer tried to break me more times than I can count. However, I also found untapped strength, adventures, opportunities, new friends, new confidence and a profound inspiration to throw my arms open to love, laughter and life. Almost every day I ask “what else is possible?”
You can not go through this disease without it affecting you in some way. Cancer makes you face your inner strength, fears, mortality and so much more. But I decided long ago that cancer would not control my life. I will control my life. I promised myself that I would in fact learn from these challenges, help others and appreciate each day. And while I’ve probably learned many more than 10 lessons from surviving 3 cancers, these are some of the best lessons that I keep in mind.
10 lessons from surviving 3 cancers:
Make your story about you.
No person’s journey is the same as another’s because we’re unique individuals. Stop comparing yourself to others. Don’t compare cancer treatments and outcomes. Take a break from wondering why someone’s life seems different or better than yours to embrace YOUR story. Focus on what YOU want in this story. You are the author! Trust your strength, instinct, choices.
Acknowledge the ugly.
The biggest lesson here is that cancer is ugly, but life is beautiful. There will be moments that make you feel like life is shattering. A cancer diagnosis. The death of a loved one. Face those. Acknowledge the pain, fear, emotions. Hiding from the ugly pieces of life don’t make them go away. But it can help you begin to heal.
Hiding in your comfort zone or in a life that’s not working for you won’t help you embrace the life you’re meant to live. It may be easier, of course, but it probably won’t be as fulfilling. It’s scary to take chances on an unknown opportunity or person, to step out of the obligations we place on ourselves. But it’s also exciting to discover a passion, untapped talent, new career path, unexpected love and so much more. I have never regretted trying something or taking a chance on something new. Because even it appears to not have worked out, it’s still a lesson. Learning to rock climb, going on backpacking trips, saying yes to travel opportunities, replying to an unexpected but welcome text message, switching jobs, submitting articles to magazines, buying a bike, sharing my feelings, all of these things and more made me step out of my bubble.
Don’t give up on love.
I’m the first to admit I’m a romantic. And I’ve had my heart broken. It’s not fun. Although when I look back at those heartbreaks, I realize I learned a lot about myself and also what I want/don’t in a relationship. Love may not come in the clean, cute package you dreamed of, or society pushes on you. In fact, that’s good. Because that makes you look for who you really want, not settle when others say you should, and be ready to take a chance on happy love.
Celebrate every step.
Sometimes it seems like life is moving sloooowly, or your goals are still so far away. But as long as you’re moving forward, you’re accomplishing something. Because the small steps equal big strides. The most important thing is to keep moving forward. For instance, when I bike, my tracker is set to acknowledge every five miles because it’s easier to focus on five miles than 30 miles. And each five mile increment gets me closer to that goal. This is also one of the reasons I annually celebrate cancer anniversaries – each milestone adds up to great achievements.
Take a break, from work, social media, news, demands on your emotional and mental needs, to simply sit and focus on you (read my You Do You care tips). Breathe deep, feeling alive. We all need those quiet moments to acknowledge and absorb where we are in life. I admittedly sometimes get so focused on ensuring I appreciate and not take for granted each day that I lose sight of those simple, little things that me smile. So this pause reminds me to check in with myself and what I need.
Be part of the solution.
Help others. Get involved with organizations addressing a cause important to you. Advocate for change (read my blog on simple ways to advocate). One of my favorite quotes is “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.” So be kind to others. You never know what others are facing each day.
The crazy world we live in, social media posts and 24-hour news cycle can make it easy to focus on negative, complaints and all that’s wrong. I fall into this trap at times too. But life is about so much more. I start each day, before I even get out of bed, thinking of three things I’m grateful for. It reminds me to focus on good.
Find your community.
Many people will come through your life. Some will stay, others will go. Sometimes your choice, sometimes they’ll leave without a word. Some will teach us lessons, good and hurtful whether intentionally or not. So choose wisely who will be in your life. Surround yourself with good people. This who lift you up, support, encourage and motivate. Those who fill your heart with laughter, your days with adventure and your life with awesome memories. And be a good friend too.
Find the simple things that make you smile and bring joy. And hold tight to those. For those will be what grounds you in this crazy journey called life.
Some people chuckle at the importance I’ve placed on my cancer anniversaries. You bet I’m going to celebrate life whenever I can! But each of these cancers has also been like a new chapter for me, a blank page to start something new and fresh. And hopefully better. Not everybody gets these type of opportunities so I don’t plan to waste any of them.
And that’s really my message to you today. Choose JOY. You control your life. Not cancer or any illness, not anyone else, certainly not society. Don’t settle, find true love, laugh as much as you can, surround yourself with people who bring out the best in you, don’t waste any minute of any day that we have here. Live fully and splendidly, friends!