What Cancer Taught Me, The Second Time Around
Updated: Apr 13, 2020
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The first time you came into my life, I wasn’t too phased by you. Of course I fought really hard, went through a very difficult time, but then I moved on. I spent many of the next years in my life avoiding you, ignoring you and never really acknowledging you. The second time you crept back in, I faced you head on. You taught me a lot of different things and I’m very grateful for that. I really analyzed the life I was living and made some changes for the better. If someone told me I could go back in time and take you away, I’m not sure I would. I know that probably sounds insane (hang on, hear me out), but I love the life I’m living and I can thank you for that. I feel so lucky for this self reflection that I’ve experienced these last two years. Here are a few things you taught me that I would love to share with others:
1. Don’t sweat the small stuff
This is a very important one for me. Prior to my second diagnosis, I would get stressed very easily (like many others I’m sure), whether it would be for meeting deadlines at work or dealing with any issues that came my way. I would also get easily upset over things that seemed so important at the time but were unimportant. I couldn’t see that then, but I see it so clearly now. If I ever find myself getting upset, I try to stop and ask if this is worth getting upset over? Life is too short to waste energy on things that will be resolved or forgotten after a day or so. I even find myself encouraging others not to get upset over insignificant things because we should only focus on important things that matter. A book I highly recommend reading is “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck,” by Mark Manson. His book opened my eyes to this idea and I often remind myself “not to waste my f*cks,” as Manson puts it. For example, let’s say I’m walking into the mall and the person in front of me doesn’t hold the door open for me. Rather than getting annoyed and maybe letting out a loud sigh, I try to just brush it off and ignore what happened. I don’t let this person upset me or ruin any minute of my day. Who knows, maybe that person is having a bad day and they didn’t even realize I was behind them? Or maybe they weren't taught how to use their manners growing up? Whatever the reason may be, I try my best not to let something like this phase me.
2. Some things are out of our control
In a moment, everything can change. I’ve learned this lesson more than once. Having gone through cancer, I know how precious life really is, as clichéd as this may sound. Literally, in the blink of an eye, everything was stripped from me and I no longer had control over many things in my life.
The first time I was diagnosed with cancer, I didn’t think too much about why I got sick. The second time I was diagnosed, I spent a lot of time wondering what I possibly did to provoke this illness on myself. I thought about how I used to eat, what I drank, and even how often I would feel stressed or angry. I started thinking about the air I breathe, the city I live in and so many other factors. Then I spent a lot of time dwelling on what I could have done to prevent the cancer from coming back. It is possible that some of these factors might have had something to do with my illness, but I have finally made peace with myself and have come to realize that some things are out of my control and this was one of them. I know that it wasn’t myself or anyone else’s fault. I honestly believe that everything I've gone through has happened because it's supposed to. I know I am meant to help others. When we are faced with obstacles, we can’t blame ourselves or continue to question why these things have happened. I think it’s important to focus on what the situation has taught us and how we can grow from it.
3. It’s okay to say no
In the past I was definitely a people pleaser. I didn’t have too much will power to say no to pretty much anything. I would feel rude or like I was letting people down. I definitely had a serious case of FOMO. I always felt pressure to do things I may not have always wanted to do. I feel like my schedule was always packed with different events and I thought I could do it all. I’ve really realized that I am number one and that I should always put myself first. I think it’s okay to be selfish. I now realize that if I’m invited to go somewhere, but suddenly feel sick, I will definitely say no. Or if I have plans to meet up with a friend after work but I’m too exhausted, I will say no too. Having gone through so much, I can now recognize when my body needs a break. I’ve really developed my own sense of self worth and have learned how to set boundaries for myself.
4. Never take anything for granted
I think it’s important to appreciate the things we have, like our health, on a daily basis. I think many of us (not all) take it for granted. I know I did in the past. We should all stop and take moments daily to be thankful for our health, because instantly, it can be taken away, without our control.
I had a lot of support from many family members and close loved ones during this difficult time and I will be forever grateful. These people really stepped it up during this time and made me realize how much I am loved. I appreciate them so much more now than I ever have. This doesn’t mean I didn’t before, but it just took this experience for me to truly realize this. Some of my relationships have grown so much stronger and I am feel so blessed because of this.
I also look very differently at my job now. I am a teacher and have always loved to teach kids, but never truly appreciated it like I do now. I am so thankful that I have such a rewarding job and that I am able go to work. Not everyone has this privilege. This is something I realized when I was off from work during treatment and wasn’t able to go. Now, when I wake up exhausted and wish I could go back to bed, I remind myself that I am healthy and have the ability to teach kids and hopefully make a positive impact on their lives.
5. Appreciate the little things
It has taken the difficult situations I've experienced in life to make me appreciate all of the beautiful things I have. It's so important to stop and smell the roses every single day.
As the saying goes “Enjoy the little things in life, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things” by Robert Brault. I think we will live happier lives if we all do this, don’t you? I think happiness comes from loving a bunch of people and simple things, not just loving one big thing. It’s a new season of my favourite show starting, hearing my favourite song on the radio as I drive to work, or having my Mom’s delicious dinner with my extended family. It’s the compliment my coworker gives me for doing such a good job with a lesson, or the feeling I have after leaving spin class at the gym. I am so much more open to taking time to acknowledge these things during my day. This is something I love to do before I go to bed. I challenge you to try this too!
I really don’t understand why we experience very tough times in life, but I do know that these experiences make us stronger and can give us a different perspective. Thank you cancer for opening my eyes up to seeing so many wonderful things I didn’t quite always see before. It’s unfortunate that something so difficult gave me this reminder, but I feel truly blessed and hope you can take the time to evaluate the life you are living too and be thankful for your blessings!