23 lessons from living beyond three cancers

Today is a good day. Today I choose joy and gratitude. It has been 23 years of living beyond cancer. In that time, I cleared three cancers, too many surgeries and ridiculous amounts of chemo and radiation that battered my body. I still face side effects, physically, emotionally and mentally. But I am alive! So I wanted to share 23 lessons from living beyond three cancers.

Today, and every day, I choose joy.

Being diagnosed as a young adult

While I am technically no longer considered a ‘young adult’ since I’m over 40, being diagnosed at 21 and living my adult life as a cancer survivor definitely impacted a lot of my life’s paths and decisions. I have lived longer as a cancer survivor than not. And know how truly blessed I am to write that statement.

When I finished bone cancer treatment 23 years ago, I was 22 and bald, and had no idea what else I would face in this new world. While I didn’t know what this new chapter would be like, I did know that life was completely different. And it was mine to embrace. So much happened in these years, many ups and downs, yet I still believe I’m the author and editor of my own life.

When you wake up in the morning, do you choose gratitude? Do you choose to open your arms to the beauty and love in the world? Even on the days I know I will face challenges, I do. Because I am fortunate and blessed to be alive. Especially when so many others who faced down cancer are not. And so with all that in mind I celebrate today. And every day. I hope you do too.

23 lessons from living beyond three cancers

  1. Take care of your body. Don’t take your health for granted. Be proactive in caring for it and never think you are invincible.
  2. Be kind to yourself. You are a beautifully unique, imperfect person. Move at your own pace.
  3. Do random acts of kindness without looking for something in return. Kindness is good for all! (read 10 acts of kindness for ideas)
  4. Stop comparing your life to others’ lives. Everyone’s journey is different so focus on making yours the best it can be.
  5. You do you. What works for you may not be the best for others.
  6. Use your voice for good. Sticking our heads in the sand doesn’t change the unrest and unfairness in our society. Americans, and others, are blessed to live in a democracy where we can use our voices (however, even that democracy is being threatened so pay attention to the world around you). You don’t have to be political to make a difference. Small actions can make a big difference! (click to read five easy ways to advocate for change.)
  7. Avoid the drama. You can support and offer love to others without getting sucked into their emotions and journey.
  8. Connect with nature. The beauty, breeze, tranquility found in nature can help your emotions. And make you better appreciate, and value, the planet we live on.
  9. Find a hobby that you love and embrace it! My favorite hobbies, such as biking, reading and hiking, keep me happy, busy, and balanced.
  10. Step out of your comfort zone, whether trying an activity, new job, relationship, travel or more.
  11. Get out of your community. Because going beyond our own community lets us learn about new cultures, meet people and experience life from different perspectives. These experiences help us understand others better and expand our ability to be kind, supportive and part of positive change.
  12. Don’t keep putting off things to ‘do later.’ You don’t know what time is available. So take the trip, ask her on a date, make plans with your friends, learn a new skill, get the health test.
  13. Find ‘your people,’ and let the others go. We so often spend time and valuable energy on people who clearly don’t reciprocate our feelings, often times overlooking the amazing people who are there for us and willing to be an equal part of the relationship.
  14. Practice gratitude. Changing your perspective to one of appreciation and thanks can help change your outlook too. Focusing on complaining and negativity keep us stuck in anger, fear, frustration, sadness. Shifting our focus to gratitude can also clear our vision to see different solutions and outcomes. (read four ways to spread gratitude.)
  15. Listen to your instinct. Be aware of your emotions, those red flags and other signs that help direct you. YOU are the best advisor to your life.
  16. Not everyone will like you, and that’s okay. Their judgement of you doesn’t matter to your happiness.
  17. Volunteer. Even if you volunteer once a year, helping others provides a different perspective.
  18. We are all privileged in some way. Acknowledge it, appreciate what you have, and look beyond to learn about others and see how you might help make a difference.
  19. Get support. For so long talking about mental health issues was frowned upon. Let’s stop that and embrace the idea of encouraging people to take care of their mental and emotional health! There are wonderful opportunities to get help, from support groups to individual counseling to virtual help and more. (read 6 tips for mental health support.)
  20. If you love someone, tell him/her. Love is beautiful, sometimes scary, fun, and so much more. But also don’t settle because society, family or friends tell you who to love. Listen to your heart (and see #5).
  21. Move your body. Being active and exercising is so important to your overall health. And your health is pretty critical to your life. (read 10 tips to motivate you to exercise.)
  22. Let go of what doesn’t serve you in gratitude and love. Learning to let go of negative situations isn’t always easy but it will benefit you. This isn’t to minimize any of these tough situations or challenge in life. These moments impact our lives and influence our personal story so it’s important to acknowledge. But holding on doesn’t ultimately benefit YOU. In fact, it may make you lose out on great possibilities. (read learning to let go for tips.)
  23. Learn to look at life through a lens of gratitude, joy and love. I look at it this way – life is always moving, we’re always going somewhere. Our decisions and attitudes determine how we move. You choose if it’s forward or stuck in the mud.

While these are 23 lessons from living beyond three cancers, there are hundreds, maybe thousands, more that have come from the ups and downs of this amazing journey called life. I am humbled, grateful, blessed and joyous at being alive today. Do not take a day for granted, my friends. Throw your arms open to life! What will you choose today?

*All photos and content are owned by the author and may not be reproduced without permission.

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