October always reminds me of the season in my life when I had breast cancer. It was after all, a life-altering event! Now that I’m healthy, looking back over that time reminds me of the life lessons I learned. I’m grateful for the reminders as I sometimes have to re-learn these gifts and what they mean in this season of my life. Please take care of yourself and your health and share this with others who might also need reminding.
Each day is a gift
Mortality presents a different level of awareness. I often hear people say they must live today like there is no tomorrow. Yet, when you have to do this without any ability to bargain and put it off, your approach to everything changes. At any point, another doctor’s appointment could change my life.
Never letting go of hope
I understand what it means when someone says that they have lost all hope. I have been there! I walked through very dark moments and can truly grasp how this can make you feel. When hopelessness gripped me and I was trying to run away, I learned the lesson that hope is attainable.
It is so easy to get focused on what isn’t working in our life. When we focus on the difficulties we often lose sight of all the things we have to be grateful for. How truly blessed I am to have a beautiful son after my cancer, a loving marriage, a family and a career that helps people grow and change.
Utilizing my strengths during my weakest time
As I coped, I relied on one of my strengths; a love of learning. I got information, sought out survivors, and learned about health and recovery. I read every cancer article and book, searched the internet endlessly, spoke with survivors, cancer organizations, attended lectures and support groups. This mini Ph.D. taught me so much that I still utilize today.
Life is a journey, not an event
I learned how important it was to practice the statement. There was no quick fix, answer or detour. At the beginning of the journey I would not experience the gifts. We should not have that expectation for ourselves or others. I walked the path and finally came to see it as a monumental journey in my life.
Dealing with disappointment
Because I was only 33, many friends were shocked and frightened realizing if this happened to me then it could happen to them. They had not dealt with tragedy so they didn’t know what to do or say, became distant and didn’t say anything. Others made the situation about them and the effects on them. Even though I was disappointed, I kept searching to find those that could help me. I didn’t shut these friends out, but I did let go of asking for something they were unable to provide.
Letting go and laugh
I came up with a top ten list of the stupidest things people said to me. Such as “If I had to face what you are facing then I would just give up and die.” I learned to laugh at this list instead of carrying it around as a painful reminder. Through letting go with humor and other rituals, I learned this value in everyday life.
Support and connections
We all need support, and caring about others is such a gift. I was able to turn to others to share and to question, be angry, be hopeless, be disappointed. I was able to discuss my emotional, physical and spiritual side. The support I received through the years has been amazing. My husband’s dedication, my doctors, my friends and family was tremendous, even when they were afraid. This is a gift we should readily give every day and also accept.
Application of the serenity prayer
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” How many times I was gripped with fear and feeling unable to get through the moment. Application of this prayer is one way to deal with crushing fear and we need to find the healthy strategies that work for us. Dealing with the fear is important instead of running away, because it will still be there upon your return.
Life is not fair
Countless times I asked, “Why?” I didn’t know anyone my age with cancer. How many times I pleaded and wanted some understanding of ‘why me?’, when all I had done in my life and career was help others. My questions further intensified as I knew that I had already experienced an overabundance of difficulties in life. Had I been forsaken? I came to understand that everyone faces difficulties and burdens and I am no different.
Asking ‘why’ can keep you stuck
Why? Why me? I never came up with answers that were comforting to this except asking different questions such as “why not me?” Asking why doesn’t lead to acceptable explanations that provide comfort. I came to ask different questions. What can I learn from this? What can I do with this experience in my life? These questions had many answers and comfort.
I have come to learn that loss and devastation can become something beautiful and a gift in your life. Of course this is something I learned after a long journey.