Many of you know that I battled breast cancer some years back. And that my cancer experience, along with the lessons I learned during that time (and am still learning to this day), changed me tremendously. It’s what ultimately led me to coaching (and to leave my 18-year long legal career behind).
Last month marked my six-year cancer diagnosis “anniversary”. And I’ll NEVER forget the day of my diagnosis – and how lost I felt. I’ll also never forget having to tell my then six-year old that I had an illness called cancer. Or that the first question he asked me was “mommy, are you going to die?”.
As a breast cancer survivor, I have a love-hate relationship with my cancer “anniversary”.
Obviously, I’m glad I survived and am still here to be with my family and raise my boys (which didn’t seem likely at the time of my diagnosis). Yet I struggle with survivor’s guilt (and wrote about this struggle last year).
My guilt isn’t as all-encompassing as it felt a year ago, but it still exists. And I imagine that it will never go away. But funny enough, I’m okay with that. It keeps me humble and helps me to always strive to do the best I can in life – for myself and for others. I want to feel worthy of being alive when so many other beautiful souls are stolen from this world by cancer.
My cancer “anniversary” always serves up some time for deep reflection.
This year, I was honestly not going to write about my reflections or even mention the big “C”. But I changed my mind. Because, as anyone who’s come face-to-face with their mortality will tell you, going through such an experience changes you and forces some serious life lessons upon you. Lessons that, if embraced, make life more fun, more effortless, and worthier of living.
And these lessons should be shared. I believe with every fiber in my being that you shouldn’t have to face your own mortality in order to get the benefit of these life lessons. And so I’m sharing them with you today.
A few important points/distinctions before we dive in.
I have a few points/distinctions to make before I give you my list of life lessons:
- This list is not all-encompassing. My journey has taught me so much – about myself, about human nature, and what’s truly important. And there is no way I can share all of it in one article.
- The lessons that I’ve chosen to write about aren’t necessarily more important than those I’m not writing about. All it means is that these are the lessons that I felt compelled to put pen to paper at this moment.
- None of these lessons is more important than the others (so don’t attribute any meaning to the order in which they are listed).
- I’ve written about some of these already and am linking to other articles (some of which are housed within this blog and some of which are published elsewhere). You don’t have to go read them, but if a concept is particularly interesting to you, I suggest that you do.
- You don’t have to agree with me. HOWEVER, I urge you to reconsider any gut reactions you have if you don’t. Challenge yourself and ask how your life would change if you adopted the concept into your life and started living your life based on it. I think you may surprise yourself if you do.
- You’ll notice that many of these concepts are infused within just about everything that I write about (although I often don’t highlight them, they’re still there). Sorry if you find them repetitive.
- The list below is just that. I’m not writing a treatise on each lesson learned. This is an attempt to boil each lesson down into a few sentences (or less). So please treat them as such.
- My cancer “journey” includes being a survivor and dealing with the fear, anxiety, and guilt that comes after treatment. Which means that I’m continuing to learn and that the lessons below will likely be expanded upon and/or revised over time. I’ll endeavor to let you know when big shifts occur.
14 Life-Changing Lessons that I Learned From My Cancer Journey (and Beyond)
1. Vulnerability does NOT equal weakness.
On the contrary, it shows courage and mental strength. So claim it when you’re vulnerable (because you will be a lot – it’s part of being human).
2. Your ability to fully love your family, friends, and fellow man requires you to acknowledge, accept, and embrace your vulnerability (especially when you’re most vulnerable).
Loving others requires 2 key things: (a) to be kind and helpful to others (especially when they most need you) and (b) to let others help you (and you can’t fully accept their help if you don’t first embrace your vulnerability).
3. The BEST and fastest way to process and get past traumatic events within your life is to allow yourself to feel everything.
So don’t push those feelings to the back of your mind, ignore them, or pretend they don’t exist. You can’t move on until you feel every single emotion that you’re meant to feel and explore what that means. This self-exploration will help you to decide what to do next and how to move on.
4. You can develop mental strength and resilience – if you want to.
Mental strength has little to do with your genetic make-up, the circumstances you find yourself in, or the people within your life. Whether you’re mentally resilient has EVERYTHING to do with how you choose to show up in the world and deal with what happens to you in life. You choose whether you develop mental strength and resilience (which, to me, is reassuring and empowering).
5. Being mentally resilient doesn’t mean that you don’t get down, feel fear, or feel the same difficult emotions that everyone else does.
All it means is that you face them, process them, and choose how to deal with them – allowing you to pick yourself up and move on more quickly than those who haven’t yet learned that they have a choice.
6. Learning to be grateful isn’t the same thing as putting a positive spin on everything bad that happens (or looking for a silver lining).
It’s about accepting what is and finding one thing that you are grateful for (even something small).
7. There is ALWAYS something to be grateful for.
Always (this is a truth, as far as I’m concerned). So, even when in your most difficult reality, find that something. I promise that it’s there.
8. Taking care of yourself and learning to prioritize YOU is NOT SELFISH.
First, no one will ever prioritize you if you don’t (because you’re the only one who truly can). Second, your capacity to love others is limited by your inability to love yourself (e.g., you won’t fully love others if you can’t learn to fully love yourself).
9. Self-care is a way of BEING (and likely isn’t what you think it is).
It’s not about going to the spa, getting a mani-pedi, or anything else that makes you “feel good” in the moment (or even about eating “healthy” or exercising). Self-care is about how you treat yourself in all that you do and every thought you have. Every. Single. Day.
[NOTE: this is something I’m going to have to write about more later – because it’s SO IMPORTANT to your happiness and fulfillment level].
10. Forgiving other people is primarily about YOU (and it’s a wonderful “gift” to give yourself).
Forgiveness is about letting go of resentment, anger, and all of the negative emotions that you’re harboring within because of the way someone treated you. And it’s about replacing those emotions and feelings with peace. And by the way, if you want to practice impeccable self-care, learning how to forgive is a MUST.
11. Not changing something about your life is often RISKIER than doing something about it.
Most of us have risk backwards (and think we’re living a conservative and risk-averse life when we’re not). I certainly used to think this way. But I now know that it’s OFTEN risky not to make changes (especially if the reason is because you fear change or the unknown – or even what others might think). Besides, change happens regardless (so you may as well be in charge of it).
12. Don’t be ashamed or embarrassed by your scars (but don’t over-identify with them either).
We all have scars (both internal and external). And they’re nothing to be ashamed of. Embrace them for what they are: evidence that you’re alive and battle-tested. But don’t wrap yourself in them either, lest they shackle you. Because your scars aren’t WHO you are (they’re just evidence of the life you’ve lived).
13. Stop putting off what you say you need or want most out of life (and either take the leap or let it go).
If you’re unwilling to make the choice to do it NOW, then you’re likely NEVER going to make the choice for yourself. Which means that this is a “dream” that you cling to but don’t have the courage to go after. And if that’s the case, it’s time to let go of the dream (and replace it with something you’ll do). You’re better off dropping it than pining over it while knowing you don’t have the courage to take the leap.
14. There’s no such thing as the “right moment” or the “perfect time”.
This is related to #13 above, but a bit different. If you keep waiting for that perfect moment to make a change or do something you’ve been promising yourself you’ll get to “tomorrow”, then you may find yourself wishing you’d done it once you’re at heaven’s gate. Besides, if it’s not important enough get started immediately, what’s going to make it important enough tomorrow (or the day after that)? You have no idea how long you have on this earth. It’s time to start living that way.
Final Thoughts (with a “Bonus” Lesson)
There’s one more lesson that I’ve learned. I’m including it as a “bonus” since it’s super-specific to me. And that is:
I’m a mentally resilient super-star, and it’s nothing to be embarrassed about. This is something that I’ve known deep down for a long time, yet shied away from. In fact, any time someone used to point this out to me, I’d try to deny it or change the subject. As though it wasn’t okay for me to own up to it. No more of that (because I now embrace it). Funny enough, embracing it has allowed me to see that I’m great at helping others to cultivate mental resilience within themselves. And it’s changing how I coach my clients – so that they can learn to cultivate this mindset, use it to be 100% themselves (without apology), and leverage it into success on their terms.
So there you have it. What about you?
We all have life lessons that we know to be truths. What are yours? In the comments below, please share at least one of yours with us. Your lessons are invaluable to you – it’s time you share them with the rest of us so that they can be invaluable to us as well.
Until next time…