10 Things I Like About Having Had Cancer
Despite the challenges, I experienced some major positives from my cancer journey. Seriously.
Diagnosed with Stage 3 Melanoma in the fall of 2019, I found myself in a constant state of panic.
Inundated with information on treatment options after receiving three different diagnoses, endless stories of hope and despair from people trying to help, and an endless offering of casseroles, I hated it.
I wanted nothing to do with this new normal. My body didn’t feel sick, but my mind was starting to.
For me, the cancer journey wreaked more havoc on my thoughts than on my body.
I spent the first two years of this journey asking “why” questions. I felt like I’d been selected by some force greater than me to spend eternity, or however along a 20% chance (according to Google) of living would buy me, on a lonely and desolate place called “Cancer Island”, party of one. On this island, a slew of mental “Nots” surrounded me and held me captive.
My Mental “Nots”
My “Nots” looked something like this: I will never get to know what it’s like to not have cancer. To not hear the news “you have cancer.” To not fear death imminently. To not sit in a chemo chair. To not fear leaving my children, whom I’d worked so hard to have through the grace of adoption. To not fear making plans, because what’s the point? I even put off buying a new mattress because my Nots told me there was no use in spending the money. These Nots were killing my spirit and logic.
The more time that passed from the date of my original diagnosis (Friday the 13th I kid you not), my fears started to subside and I started to figure out ways to control my thoughts. I did so by turning my “Nots” into “Gots,” or recounting the positives that came from my cancer journey.
My “Gots” – the Upside of Cancer:
I got to meet so many angels through my story
Once the news was out, support came in many forms and often from complete strangers. Several people shared with me their own stories, which were not just supportive but informative. These stories helped me feel empowered to interview the medical professionals I met with, choose what team I would work with, and how to fight for myself. When someone came to me with a story of despair like, “My aunt had that, she died” (yes, this happened more than once) I would tell them “I am sorry for your loss, but that is not helping me right now.” I really did. I wasn’t trying to be rude, but I found it necessary for my own mental wellness. The Angels I met along the way helped give me strength to fight for myself.
I got to learn so much about food and nutrition.
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food,” is the famous quote by Hippocrates. My journey helped me learn how to fuel my body for health and perseverance, which can fight cancer. Resources like Gerson Therapy and so many other approaches really helped me understand how inflammation and poor eating create a breeding ground for cancer. I also gained knowledge about the connection with spirituality and the importance of praying, meditating, and exercise – these became more important and significant to me than I had ever understood previously.
I got to establish a true and deep love for God.
As Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” I started reading daily devotionals, which taught me how to pray with intention and how to gain control of my anxious thoughts. Here is an example of what I prayed: “Thank you, God, for all the gifts you have given me and for loving me. I reject any feelings of anxiety because I know you are protecting me. In Jesus name I pray, amen.” Scripture and prayer helped me believe that God is protecting me and keeping me healthy, and I love him with all my heart.
I got to re-establish a relationship with my mom.
Our relationship had not been that great for many years, but when I got cancer, it changed. My mom spent hours talking to me when I was scared, at any hour of the day. We exchanged many 2 a.m. texts. She so selflessly gave of herself in a time when I really needed her. And while I was working through my fears, we also worked through many of our issues. In such a tender way we were able to truly hear each other and forgive each other. I love you, Mama.
I got to learn how to take time for myself.
A positive change happened when I started setting time aside for my needs. Some of these self-love moments include 6 a.m. trips to the dog park where I watch the sunrise, find quiet time to pray or a private place to meditate. Sometimes I choose to go home over the lunch hour and just sit on my deck in peaceful silence while enjoying my food, or take a trip to Barnes & Noble for a coffee and read a few chapters in a book (I love the smell of the pages of a new book). Or I’ll go to a hair appointment on a Saturday morning. All of these little things are bits of enjoyment that I had forgotten to purposefully seek for myself prior to cancer. I have learned to respect the time I need for just me and each day I start the day with a gratitude statement: “Today I love myself just the way I am.”
I got to learn how to slow down.
Through slowing down, I learned to enjoy every bite of a good meal and to slowly sip coffee. Even when I’m running late for work, I have been trying to wait patiently for my kids to put their shoes on (okay sometimes I do still lose it a little bit). In this way, I try to teach my children to be peaceful and avoid stress, as I’m trying to do, too.
I got to start a blog.
Starting the blog, Purpose Over Fear, helped give me a venue to write and it is leading to a book—writing a book has been a lifelong dream of mine. This journey gave me the story I’d been searching for. The story is not about cancer but more about pushing past fear in whatever challenge you face, including adoption, divorce, career, and even disease—I have experienced all of these. Throughout my life, I have also chased larger than life dreams and I’ve developed tools along the way to face these hills and valleys, and I want to share them with others.
I got to participate in a medical trial for melanoma.
This trial seeks to improve the survival rate for melanoma patients from 20% (thanks to Google) to greater than 80%! Being willing to travel for medical treatment and interview several doctors before finalizing my treatment plan, afforded me the ability to participate in this important clinical research at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
I got to truly learn how to appreciate the gifts in my life.
My grandma used to tell me “Count your blessings,” when I was a little girl. When cancer came into my life, I learned that counting my blessings wasn’t just about acknowledging what was good in my life but honoring the challenges, too. I learned that cancer, like many other tough experiences in my life, helped me grow in my faith. Cancer helped me to be a better wife, mom, and friend. Cancer taught me how to be more present and less distracted. So, when I count my blessings, I now include the hard stuff, too.
I got to identify my purpose.
Through cancer, I have been granted access to the most important life lesson of all, a chance to truly identify and embrace my purpose—understanding why I am here, and what I am supposed to do with my life. Having cancer forced me to dig deep into my soul, figure out what I’m passionate about, as well as seek to help others find their passion, too. This has proven a significant blessing for me.
I wrote part of this article while approaching a scan and then finalized it afterward. Amid writing this article I had to stop. Even this far along in my journey, the fear still sometimes overwhelms me and I must distance myself from it.
My advice for dealing with fear
Through my journey, I have learned what works for helping me deal with fear of cancer, especially when I am facing an upcoming scan. Some days it’s as simple as getting off social media. Some days I must lock myself in my bedroom and pray and meditate. Other days I just pick up the phone and call my mom (thankfully no longer at 2 a.m.).
When these tricks don’t work, I allow myself to cry. I allow myself to feel what needs to be felt with the self-promise that once I am done crying, I must go back to finding the joy in my life. In this way, I have learned how to work through the emotions and to push past the fear.
Hope Has Arrived also offers a good resource on this topic: 10 Tips for Facing Your Next Cancer Scan.
I am happy to report that at the close of finishing this article, my scan showed No Evidence of Disease. I GOT another clear reminder that my body, mind, and spirit are working to protect me.
No matter where my journey takes me, cancer cannot take away the amazing positives I have experienced. They continue to shape how I live.
If you would like to learn more about finding spiritual hope, read Knowing God Personally.