When we get a diagnosis like breast cancer, many well-meaning people come out of the shadows of our lives, in real life and on social media, and say things like, “Everything happens for a reason,” or “Maybe this is a gift,” and “Maybe there are life lessons to learn here!”.
Maybe those things are true. Or they aren’t. And because we aren’t omniscient, no one can really know.
Here’s What I Know
But what I do know is that you can deal with cancer in two ways.
Option 1: Become angry and bitter and let it define you. In reality, we all do this in our own way for a little while, and that’s ok. That’s the grief cycle. Staying stuck here, though, is a problem.
Option 2: Get back up, find the joys in life, and refuse to let it define you. We are bigger than cancer, if we choose to be. We can overcome to find peace and sanity, even if the prognosis is not good. It’s all in your perspective.
Cancer has taught me many lessons – some I wanted to learn and some I didn’t. But I chose to let it teach me. I chose to get quiet in the chaos and find the peace. I chose to deal with my anxiety, depression, and anger through art, knitting, and quilting. I chose to keep my eyes open for ways that I could be stronger, better, smarter, and kinder.
I chose to let it teach me about grief and how to heal. I chose to let it teach me how to embrace loss and still move forward, brokenhearted. I chose to let it teach me about myself – what I could handle, what I would tolerate, where my boundaries are, and what kind of people are allowed in my inner circle.
Cancer Broke Me
And most of all, I chose to let it break me. Yeah, I said it. Cancer broke me. In so, so many ways and so completely.
But I also chose to put myself back together, piece by fragile piece. It’s a long process, this rebuilding, and one I’m still working on. But I am doing it and it is working. I’m putting myself back together with love, compassion, and acceptance of who I am, what I’ve been through, and what I thought I knew. I get to rebuild myself. I get to say what pieces stay and what pieces don’t fit anymore.
Sometimes I fall apart again. Little pieces slip. The glue doesn’t seem to hold and everything feels precarious. But I always rally and then I start again from where I left off, minus a few pieces, and then get back to work, tinier piece by tinier piece.
What Have I Let Cancer Teach Me?
Many, many things, but this is a short list.
- You have to actively create your own happiness. No one else can do it for you, nor should you want them to. Figure out how to love yourself wholly and completely, through therapy, compassion, coaching, whatever. It takes work and no one else can do that for you either.
- Life is too short for bullshit and pettiness. Cancer taught me that I only have room in my life for real, authentic people who care about me. I expect anyone who wants into my inner circle to come as themselves, nothing more, nothing less. And I work my ass off to return the favor.
- It’s entirely too easy to take your body for granted until it don’t work for you anymore. Eat good food. Get some exercise. Breathe. Your health matters far, far more than you realize.
- That said, there isn’t much you can actually do to prevent cancer, aside from quitting smoking.
- Take responsibility for your own thoughts and behaviors. Act in your own best interests. Don’t let other people decide for you (including your doctors). Be your own best friend. Trust me, you need to have your own back – always.
- You can’t control what other people think, feel, say or do. But you can decide who you want to be in any given situation and act accordingly.
- You only have to answer to yourself at the end of the day. No one else’s judgments, perceptions, assumptions, or demands matter unless you decide they do.
- Don’t do anything you don’t really want to do out of fear, obligation, or guilt. Living in that space of integrity is powerful and that level of honesty feels amazing.
- Whatever you believe about yourself you’ll make true, so you may as well believe some awesome shit. You don’t have to feel confident first in order to act in confidence.
- No one can save you once cancer happens to you (or from anything, really). No one can go through surgery, chemo, or radiation for you. No one can take it away. No one is coming to rescue you. And it’s going to be ok.
You get to save yourself, princess.