10 Lessons Cancer Taught Me
When I was 39 I scheduled a doctor’s appointment to have a lump in my left breast checked. After a mammogram, the doctor said that there appeared to be a problem on my right side. Well, being the expert in all things at that time in my life, I told them there must be a mistake. I came in for the LEFT side. They assured me that everything looked fine on the left side but there were some suspicious looking calcifications on the right. After further tests, I was diagnosed with in situ carcinoma (cancer in the breast ducts). It was very, very early and I went through six weeks of radiation.
During that time, I started reading a lot of books including Dr. Bernie Siegel’s “Love, Medicine and Miracles.” One book that really hit home was Dr. Carl Simonton’s “Getting Well Again.” There were sections in that book where I sobbed because it was like someone had been following me for 15 years and knew everything I had done and said. I learned so much. I changed dramatically and so did my life.
Several years later I was suffering from severe fatigue and terrible bruising. I was diagnosed with hairy cell leukemia. This time, chemotherapy was needed and so I went through that process. I’m proud to say that I’ve now been breast cancer free for 12 years and leukemia free for four years.
I learned many lessons in this journey. I share them with you so hopefully, if any of this fits, you can begin making changes in your life to avoid getting hit with the same two by four that smacked me!
1. There is no someday. There’s only now. There’s a story called “Precious Present” which talks about a mysterious man telling of an elusive present. The point of the story is that being “present” by enjoying the moments in your life is the best gift of all. It’s good to plan for the future, but remember to LIVE TODAY. Don’t put off playing with the kids, using your best china, doing all those things you want to do “someday.” We truly do not know what tomorrow brings. Be aware of what’s happening, really listen to others and trust your instincts. Your life can be so much richer by learning to be present even for just a few minutes each day.
2. Own and express your true feelings. For most of my life, I would do things I didn’t want to do. I always worried about saying no to others. When I got the leukemia I knew that the fatigue wasn’t just from the disease. It was also from 20 years of pent-up resentment for doing things and going places because I felt I “had” to. I’ve learned to express my feelings. Now I say no to things that I don’t want to do. But I also tell people I love them more often. I tell my kids “I’m sorry” when I’ve made mistakes (and I make plenty!) I talk to others about my fears, my depression (which plagued me for years) and my failures as well as my successes. Being honest has lifted a huge weight off my shoulders. Interestingly, in the process of becoming more direct, I’ve become kinder. There’s no resentment when you speak from the heart.
3. I’m not a victim. I choose how I react to situations. Sometimes people ask “Why me?” Except for a brief moment, I didn’t travel down that road. I knew there were lessons I needed to learn. Yes, some days just plain sucked with nausea and fatigue, but I also knew that many others have symptoms 1000 times worse than mine. When you’re open to the lessons, you can move through your situation so much easier and faster.
4. Take care of myself first. When traveling on airplanes we always hear that in case of emergencies to put on our oxygen mask first, THEN take care of others. That’s a major life lesson. If we don’t take care of ourselves first, then we have nothing to give others. I had excellent doctors, but I’ve learned that I need to know my body and what it needs. All aspects of our life are our responsibility. Get to know you. If you feel better after eating protein, eat it. If you need 8 hours of sleep a night, find a way to get it. You’ll function much better because that’s what YOU need…not what a book recommends. It’s the same with emotions (see #2). Speak from your heart. And spiritually, find the path that’s right for you. It all comes together to make a wonderful YOU, and then you can be there for others.
5. Ask for help. Sell the SuperWoman cape on ebay! Asking for help gives others a chance to share their gifts and love. Plus, you’ll weigh less because the “I have to do everything” cape is really heavy.
6. Watch your words and especially your thoughts. I believe that our “thoughts create.” With my cancer, I KNEW I was going to be cancer-free. But earlier in my life I was very critical, judgmental and negative. Watch your words and thoughts for an hour. Did you say or think thoughts like “I’m always tired,” “We can’t afford that,” “I could never do that”? If you keep thinking or saying those things, guess what shows up in your life? Yep…You are tired, you can’t afford that item and you’ll never do that. I challenge you to eliminate the negatives. Guard your words. They are powerful.
7. There is a reason for all things. Many times things happen in our lives and we don’t understand. We are a small cog in a much bigger picture. Just trust and stay positive. As you get older, you’ll smile at how you’ve weaved this beautiful tapestry called “My Life.”
8. Get rid of stress. Stress is toxic and it can lead to serious health problems – physically and emotionally. If you are in a stressful situation, GET OUT of it — whether it’s an abusive relationship, a terrible job, or living in a place or city you don’t like. Stress eventually wins by wearing you out. So read #9.
9. If you don’t like your life, change it! This and #8 are easier said than done, but if you want a happier and healthier life, start making some changes. If you are thinking defeating thoughts, work on creating more positive affirmations. If you’ve always wanted to learn how to play the piano, start taking lessons. If you’ve always wanted your own home business, find something that sounds fun and start it! As the saying goes, “Life is like a buffet table. You can have whatever you want, but you’ve got to get up and go get it.” And go back and read #5 and ask for help from people you trust.
10. Laugh often. Don’t take life so seriously. All of us have challenges. Don’t get upset and angry. Laugh more and know that “This too shall pass.”
11. (Bonus Lesson) Reread these often. Life has a way of intruding and making us forget what we’ve learned. Print this off and re-read it often.
You deserve happiness, love, peace and joy.
Don’t let anyone or anything steal that. Blessings…
Writer – Donna Davis lives in Tucson, AZ with her husband Bill, their two sons and two dogs.