Some people straight up refuse to find the gifts cancer can bring them.
I get it. It explodes into our lives and decimates our entire world. It terrifies, horrifies, and brings us to our knees. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t much to be learned and cherished from going through the most horrible thing that you might ever experience.
Cancer is an opportunity to examine a multitude of lessons about ourselves, others, and how life works. It’s a giant truth bomb that brings the truth about everything in your life into very clear focus, showing you exactly who you are, what you value, and the true nature of your relationships.
Remember Who You Were Before Cancer?
I do. I was still my badass, outrageous self, but I was mostly badass on the inside. I wore a lot of fake smiles. Said or did things to make other people happy. Kept my head down in many situations. I was relatively non-confrontational. I didn’t often stand up for myself or make waves. I let people get away with treating me not-so-great, thinking I could change that through my own behavior, or pleading, or trying to fix them. I often handed my power, my truth, my happiness, and my time to others in the name of being ‘polite’ and not making too much trouble.
Then Cancer Blew Up My Life
When I was diagnosed, it was like a bomb going off in my world. Everything was suddenly up in the air and the ground beneath me was incredibly shaky. Would I live to see 40 (yes)? Would I be able to work (yes and no)? Would we go bankrupt trying to afford my treatments (yes)? Would people vanish from my life (yes)? Would I be able to have kids (no)?
It took a while for the dust to settle, but what I learned was that cancer wasn’t just any bomb. It was a truth bomb. It made everything about my life crystal clear. I suddenly saw who I really was, who and what was important to me, that I hadn’t been honest in so many ways and how that wasn’t acceptable any more, how valuable I was or wasn’t to others in my life, and who was willing to show up when things got hard.
Cancer Gave Me My Voice Back
I learned who I could trust with my sharp edges and who didn’t deserve to know they existed. I started standing up for myself and establishing stronger boundaries so that others couldn’t walk over me or push me in directions that felt inauthentic. I learned what I would and wouldn’t tolerate in my life. I learned to ask for what I needed and wanted, instead of just letting others take the lead and hoping I’d be happy with their choices. I finally learned to say no. I stopped doing things I didn’t really have the capacity for, even though others pressured me. I learned what I could handle and what to do when I ran out of energy or politeness or give a damn.
Cancer Empowered Me
I took the lead in my medical care and learned to advocate for myself. I researched everything I was told about my diagnosis, surgeries, and treatments and asked hard questions. I made my own decisions about the surgery I would have – how big my new boobs would be, when I would get them reconstructed twice more, and who I was willing to trust with the job. I decided to take four rounds of chemo, even though I didn’t have to. I literally could have walked away with my hair, strength, and mental faculties intact but I choose to lower my recurrence risk by 7% instead. Some days I regret that choice, others not as much.
Cancer Taught Me to Reevaluate My Relationships
I learned to judge people not by their words, but by their actions. Did they show up for me when I needed them? If yes, they could stay. If not, they could go. Could they show empathy when I needed to take care of myself instead of making it about them? Could they sit with me when the pain was hard to take, when I was struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts? Could they be there when I blamed and hated myself? In those hours, I garnered an uncompromising empathy for others. You never know how deep pain can go until you’ve been there yourself. It’s our duty to hold that space in love for others when they’re in their own darkness. Maybe I could find a way to help others through this ordeal?
Cancer Taught Me Most About Myself
Cancer gave me the opportunity to take a very hard look at myself and how I was showing up in the world. Was I being the version of myself I really wanted to be? How could I be better? How could I reconcile my facade with the real me so I could live a life with fewer yeses when I mean no? A life with less people pleasing and saying ‘everything’s fine’?
On a soul-seeking mission, I enrolled in life coach training in a desperate attempt to learn how to deal with my own thoughts, grief, and suffering about my cancer experience. There I discovered that allowing my feelings, instead of resisting them, helped me process more quickly so I could move forward. I learned that my thoughts about the situation made me suffer and all my negative beliefs about myself could be challenged and changed. I realized that I could help others out of the suffering as well, and that I have an inferno-fueled desire to do just that.
Insert Bad Hair Day Joke Here
Cancer also instilled in me a belief that you truly can find the humor in anything. I made jokes about my boobs, drains, surgical scars, bald head, chemo brain, fatigue, and going broke. If I can laugh through cancer, I can laugh through anything that shows up in my life.
Look For the Gifts
I promise you’ll find them if you look with the right perspective. Sure, there’s plenty of misery to be found, if that’s what you’re looking for. But there’s also so much clarity, love, and hilarity at every turn if only you seek it out. So look for the good. Find gratitude in the little things. Appreciate the clarity of the ultimate truth bomb. You will be the better for it.
Originally posted to The Underbelly.