I’ll never forget the day I was diagnosed. On January 5, I sat on my couch anxiously awaiting the pathology results of my biopsy. They came in, I read them … all I saw was breast cancer. My doctor called and confirmed. I broke down … I was so scared. Was I going to die? What will this do to me? Will my daughter grow up without a mother? How did this happen?! The doctors sat with me for 4 hours explaining my treatment plan, what my side effects will be, the medicine that I’ll have to take … my amazing husband vigorously jotting down notes as I just stared at the wall. So much information – and I couldn’t process any of it. All I could think was – I. Have. Cancer.
Fast forward 10 months later … I’ve been through 6 rounds of chemotherapy, lost all my hair, underwent a double mastectomy with reconstruction, and completed 25 rounds of radiation. The tumor is gone. I am cancer free. WHAT. JUST. HAPPENED.
It’s amazing as I sit here and write this that I have been through all of this and came out on top. No one can really prepare you for this battle. Cancer feels like a prison – you’re stuck in these endless rounds of doctors’ appointments, feeling terrible, unable to be yourself, and losing a lot of your identity. It is as much of a physical battle as it is a mental battle. So why on earth would I be grateful for such a horrible thing?
Cancer changes you. I have always been a positive person and grateful for what I have, but like a lot of us, we get caught up in life. Wishing away time for the next thing we’re excited about, not focusing on what’s in front of us, and sometimes even focusing on what we don’t have instead of what we do. After being diagnosed with cancer, I have completely changed my way of thinking, living, and being. Everyone's journey is different. Here’s what I’ve learned during mine.
There is beauty EVERYWHERE. When you are present – like REALLY present there are so many things that you can see. The world can be an ugly place if you focus on all the negativity, but if you focus on the positive WOW. My senses are escalated, and I use all of them to really BE HERE. Enjoying the moment for what it is. When I’m at the park with my daughter, I notice the trees, the brightness of the leaves, the squirrels chasing each other in the branches, her giggles as she navigates the park. I’m not on my phone – I’m here. I really never saw that stuff before. Being more present really allows me to enjoy life right now.
I appreciate my health. I’ve never felt so terrible in my whole life when I was going through treatment. Getting sick isn’t fun regardless if it’s a cold or something worse – but consistently not feeling well really gave me an appreciation for my health. My doctors told me that because I started my cancer journey strong and in generally good health despite my diagnoses, I would recover faster and stronger. I did not give up on my health – I was determined to come out of this even stronger. I’ve always taken care of my mind and my body – but now it’s even more escalated. I pay even more attention to what goes in and on my body and ensure the same for my family. I appreciate the fact that I can now wake up and feel energized and well enough to exercise, play with my daughter, work a full day, and relax at night. I appreciate that I don’t have 10 different medications that I have to take in order to live. Taking care of my body now will help me fight any battle that comes my way. My body is my fortress – and I’m fighting for it.
I got rid of “stuff” that no longer served me. We hold onto things and people that may or may not serve us well. I decided to clean up my life. I got rid of the people places and things that no longer served me or caused toxicity in my life. If the pants didn’t fit, I donated them. If the relationship was toxic, I said goodbye. If the “things” didn’t make me happy I got rid of them. I said “NO” more, without guilt!! Cleaning up my life and ridding myself of anything that didn’t create happiness made my life so full. I simplified my life, and it has helped tremendously.
I listen to my body. I’m a dancer – and I’ve pushed my body to the max when I probably shouldn’t have countless times. Now, I actually listen to my body. What does it need? Rest? You got it! Pilates and Yoga instead of a HIIT class? Sounds wonderful. A walk instead of a run – I’m all for it. I’m finding that the gentler and kinder I am to my body, the more it reacts and gives back to me. This doesn’t mean I’m not exercising – I’m just listening to my body instead of guilting my way into a workout. I am no longer in pain because I am listening to what it needs, pushing myself, when necessary, but also giving my body the time, it needs to heal from the battle I just put it through. I exercised and moved my body throughout treatment, and it honestly helped me mentally and physically. Doing what feels good is nurturing.
I take care of my mental health. Cancer is a mental and physical battle. Now that the physical part is coming to an end, the mental healing is starting. This is a continuous journey of healing. When I got diagnosed there were so many feelings going through me it was overwhelming and paralyzing. I took the time to unpack these feelings, take them for what they are, accept that they’re there and work through them. Ignoring these feelings only makes them stronger. I am by no means healed – this I know will be a hard journey but I’m ready for it. I journal, I see a professional, I exercise and move my body, I meditate. All these tools are in my toolbox for when I need them. The fear of the cancer coming back is real. The fear of others that I love getting cancer is real. The exhaustion of what I just went through is real. Being okay with your feelings and accepting them helps you move past them. Every day is a new day for me to take care of myself the best way that I can.
I learned patience. I must admit it, I am not a patient person. When I want something done – I want it done now. Just ask my husband ha!! Cancer taught me patience. Patience with the process – with the journey. As I look back perhaps it went by fast, but my mantra was “This is temporary”. I knew with time that this too shall pass – I just have to be patient. Having patience helps you be present with the journey. I can’t say I enjoyed the journey, but I took it for what it was and tried to make the most of it. I had to get comfortable with the unknown and the fear in order to get through it. I learned that breathwork is so powerful and really helps you slow down, focus, and get past the uncomfortable.
I really practice gratitude. I write in my gratitude journal every night and write down something I’m grateful for that happened that day. Some days it’s a big thing like finishing treatment (woohoo!), but most days it’s something small, that is actually big – the way my daughter looks at me, or that kiss I got before she went to bed. Those small things – are really the big things. I let people know that I’m grateful for them, and I take moments throughout my day to pause and reflect. Like right now – I’m sitting outside on a gloriously beautiful fall day writing this story – how lovely!
Although I would never wish this journey upon anyone, and I certainly hope I never have to do it again, I am grateful. I am strong. I am a warrior. I am a survivor. I want to use this experience to make an impact and let people know that life truly is beautiful if we just take a moment and pause. Life is SO FAST and there is so much beauty around us. If we actually live instead of just letting life pass us by, what a life it will be. I am so thankful for my time and appreciate this second chance that I got in life. My time is precious, I will never take it for granted, and I am so thankful that I get to live another day and enjoy this beautiful life that I have.
I want to also take a moment to thank everyone that supported me and my family throughout this journey, especially the Vos community which I am eternally grateful for. Your support and love truly made a huge impact on our recovery. THANK YOU!