Learning to let go

As a three-time cancer survivor, it would be easy to let the negativity surrounding cancer define my life. As a cancer survivor whose dad died from cancer, it would be just as easy to let survivor’s guilt lead my life. And for a while, these things did hold me down in negative emotions and indifference to moving forward. But then I realized I wasn’t really living. In fact, I was in a way reliving the negativity again and again. Learning to let go helped bring positive outcomes to my life, better health and happiness, and optimism for each new day.

From heartache to a disease diagnosis to financial issues and more, sometimes life’s challenges feel like chains wrapped around our legs as we try to move forward. Learning to let go of these negative situations isn’t always easy but it will benefit you. 

This isn’t to minimize any of these situations or any challenge in life. These moments impact our lives and influence our personal story so it’s important to acknowledge. But holding on to the heartache and hurt from past relationships, fears, anxieties and anger from an illness, disappointment, grief or sadness from a loss doesn’t ultimately benefit YOU. In fact, it may make you lose out on great possibilities. 

An uncertain future can be scary….and exciting.

I get it. Letting go of the past or anything significant is hard. We get comfortable with the known, regardless if it’s good or bad. The future is uncertain. That can be scary and cause anxiety, and that can make us refuse to change ourselves or a situation. We often hold onto the past, people and emotions long after any benefit or lesson. 

What does the refusal to let go or change our focus, consciously or subconsciously, cost us? How can we fully embrace a healthy, happier life?

My dad was diagnosed with multiple myeloma barely a year after my first cancer diagnosis. Our treatments overlapped for a few months. For the next six years he was in and out of treatment as his cancer went into remission, then returned. I got healthier and stronger. When he died, I was overwhelmed with survivor’s guilt for many years. It weighed on me and in some ways blocked me from moving forward. I knew this but didn’t let it go. Until a very good counselor helped me realize I was letting the unnecessary guilt and heaviness overshadow his memory. I was focusing so much on MY grief and negative emotions that I wasn’t allowing space for his love and life. [Read ‘Surviving the guilt of my dad’s death’ post]

So I let it go. And felt a flood of love and positive energy. I, of course, still miss him. Every. Single. Day. But I no longer feel an overwhelming heaviness of grief or wall blocking me from moving forward. He would want me to let go, to embrace all the love and warmth that life brings. 

Some situations and people are easier to let go of than others. Learning to let go can take time. Be patient and kind to yourself.

Here are some simple truths about life:

You will be disappointed by others and you will also disappoint others. You will love and not be loved back. Not all of your expectations will be met. Especially your expectations of others because we are each individuals.

You will face hardships. Life will throw you curveballs and lead you on journeys you never expected. While we can’t always control what happens, we can control our reactions. 

Letting go doesn’t erase the past. It simply helps the past not rule our lives. Releasing someone’s hold on us or the negativity surrounding a situation releases emotions and expectations, allowing us to have space to welcome a different scenario. 

These tips may help you with learning to let go:

If you’re struggling to move past a person or situation, ask yourself why?

Are you scared to move forward into an unknown future? Have you grown comfortable in your situation, relationship or even with your current emotions, even though it doesn’t benefit or help you? Are worried that embracing a happy new life will make you forget a loved one? Are you holding onto the idea of a past relationship coming back? Now pause and be honest with yourself about your reasons. 

Learning to let go brings hope for new days.
Have you trained your mind to focus on the negative rather than positive?

It’s easy to get comfortable with our emotions and behavior. So much that we don’t realize the impact on our daily lives. You don’t recognize you’re stuck in a negative loop because it simply seems like you’re responding like anyone would. Focusing on the gratitude in your life can help change your mindset from negativity, and also benefit your health (I share tips for focusing on gratitude here).

My bone cancer diagnosis took away my ability to ride horses, run and do a variety of activities. For a long time, I was frustrated and resentful of that. But in time learned to let those negative emotions go and instead focus on how fortunate I am to have both of my legs, including the one with a titanium rod in place of the femur. I am still very active, just more cautious. But focusing on the good helps me enjoy the activities I do!

Take responsibility for your actions. 

In every situation, you have a choice. Continue to feel bad about someone’s action or a situation. Or focus on the good. Acknowledge what happened and how it made you feel. But why continue to give thought and energy to a person or situation that you feel wronged you? 

Ask yourself what else is possible?

It’s empowering to focus on what you can control (basically you and your reactions), empowering to see things begin to develop from your ideas, exciting to experience new adventures and fun, calming to the good in your life.

When I cleared cancer last year for the third time, it was of course the last thing I wanted to face. It frankly devastated me emotionally. The weeks between diagnosis, tests, lumpectomy and starting chemo were surreal. I felt anger, sadness, anxiety, frustration and even jealousy at others moving on with their lives while I was ‘stuck’ going through treatment AGAIN. I was a hot mess. 

And then I took a few deep breaths, rallied my positive tribe of friends and family, gathered as much information as I could on my cancer, treatment and cold cap therapy (Read how cold capping saved my hair from chemo) and focused on what I could control. What did I want out of this? I released the bitterness and disappointment, instead focusing on my early diagnosis, saving my hair, staying active and simply living my life. 

I focused on the present and the future. There have been surprising positive outcomes from last year’s treatment. I’ve been interviewed about my cold capping journey, met with legislators to share how research saved my life, mentored other patients, led cancer advocacy workshops and more. My point is that by focusing on what I could control, I opened the door to new possibilities that can lead to happiness.  

Surround yourself with positive, supportive people
Don’t let others influence your emotions and behaviors.

Are you always looking for others’ input or opinions before making a decision that affects your life? Take a look at who you’re spending time with, in person and on social media. Consider surrounding yourself with positive, supportive people. It really can make a difference.

Choose to forgive. 

Yes, your feelings and you matter. Yes, what happened matters. Forgiveness is not a sign of weakness or acceptance of the hurt and negativity. It’s not agreeing with what someone did or what you went through. Forgiving doesn’t mean you forget or welcome the person back into your life if you don’t want to. Forgiveness is the pathway back to love. Love of yourself. Love of life. It releases the connection to negative emotions and empowers you to move on, look at the situation from a different perspective and focus on new possibilities.

Choose to even forgive the disease or situation that impacts your life. It may sound silly but I decided to forgive cancer a long time ago. It’s easy to hate a disease that can rob you of so much. My dad, the ability to have children, giving up my beloved horses, losing friends and so much more. However, this hate and negative emotions began to wear me down. I didn’t want this disease to run my life, control my moods or hold me back from enjoying life. I choose how I’m living my life. I’m grateful every day to be alive and for the opportunities to explore, love, laugh, learn and so much more.

It doesn’t mean I won’t stop fighting this terrible disease or I accept what it does to people. But verbally saying “I forgive you” lifted a cloud and let me move forward (Read my thank you letter to cancer). Because I busted my butt to clear and survive cancer three times. Why would I waste time sitting on the sidelines? 

Time to write a new story

Learning to let go or releasing our expectations and negative emotions opens the door for a new story. Welcome it. Live it. What will you write on those blank pages? 

While each chapter adds to our personal narrative, we choose what defines us. For instance, cancer doesn’t define me. Yes, I am a three-time cancer survivor and choose to share my story publicly to help others. But I am more than a cancer survivor. I went through a divorce but I choose not to let that heartache be the end of my love story. Otherwise, I would be missing out on the love and opportunities that I deserve and want. 

So I instead choose to embrace the lessons and positive from the ups AND downs along my life. I am open and ready for the right of love, adventure, possibilities. I can’t wait to write the next chapters. What are you ready for?

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  1. Letting go and forgiveness is so hard, isn’t it? And just when we think we’ve moved on and have healed emotionally, something happens that triggers memories that drag you back. It’s a process, a journey, isn’t it? And we have to treat ourselves kindly along the way when we have those setbacks.

  2. Thanks for Sharing Heather. there was a couple of years after my Dad passed from his brain tumor, in 2004, that I pretty much didn’t want to do anything around the house (I am a pretty handy guy) i figured what’s the point I am just going to die someday anyway. It took some time and getting back on the bike and involved with the Philly Livestrong Challenge-2007, and with help from my family that turned my thoughts around and made me realize that there were people in my life that needed me and I needed them. Yes, Train my mind to look at the blessings still in my life. I am also thankful for all the people I have met through Livestrong that are part of my yellow family. Thank You!

    1. Thanks for sharing, Nick! Grief often knocks us off balance and makes it hard to focus on moving forward. I’m glad you found your support and blessings. I’m grateful Livestrong connected us too!

  3. Wow…..how painstakingly thoughtful and insightful….and inspirational. Thank you for sharing such a thorough roadmap to well-being under any circumstance.

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