It happened on a sunny day in September.
I was playing with my son who accidentally hit me with his elbow. It really hurt!
Two days later I went to see a doctor. I was sure it was a hematoma. It turned out…
… It was cancer!
A very agressive form.
My whole world collapsed.
Mentally I said goodbye to my family and dear friends (stage #1). I was planning out my funeral (really!) and was reflecting on what to do in this short time I thought I would still have to live.
Then I started to rant. I was full of anger. “Why me???” A question I kept asking… without reply (stage #2).
Then I calmed down slowly and started kinda accepting things as they were (stage #3). “Cancer is not a pleasant thing to have but hey – isn’t it why doctors and treatments exist?”
I wanted to live. I decided to take up the fight.
I put my full trust in my doctors and nurses and the chemotherapy and…
I felt really sick. Really really sick.
I was sick for a full three months…
At the beginning, somebody told me this:When you come out on the other side, you'll be grateful for the person it allows you to become. Click To Tweet
Well, after 9 months of struggle I did come out on the other side (yeyyyyy!). And I am grateful for the person it allowed me to become.
My life has completely changed during these 9 months. My perception completely changed. My whole attitude changed. Nothing was left untouched by cancer.
I learned to:
… slow down and put aside business, even if I was super passionate about it.
… ask and accept help – and I will NEVER forget all that positive energy I received from people around me.
… do more self-care, something I neglected for long time (well, to a certain extent).
… appreciate even the tiniest things in life (have you ever felt grateful for having eyelashes or being able to walk?).
And more than that!
So let me share with you my personal learnings from my cancer story, triggered by a presentation I’m putting together to support cancer patients on their path.
Lesson #1: Do fun things
When you’re challenged with health, it is so important to do pleasant and fun things to keep up moral.
Having cancer or other similar illness is a serious thing after all. So we tend to remain serious – the worst thing you can do, even if it’s an understandable reaction!
Include as much fun activities (adapted to your situation) as you can, so you have the occasion to laugh and build your optimism.
I for instance tried out once bumper cars. I never did it in my life and it was so much fun. I totally forgot about my nausea while riding and trying to hit my son’s and husband’s car.
So what can you add to your life that is fun or that makes your health situation lighter?
Lesson #2: Set a stretch goal and visualize it
What do you do when you want to travel?
You pick a destination, gather info on it, book your travel and then start dreaming about it, watching pics, reading reviews… and planning around it. Right?
Why would it be different in the midst of adversity?
When I started chemotherapy and felt really bad with all the side effects, I needed a goal, a vision I could hold on to.
So I decided we would do a family trip to Norway in February, a vacation destination we would never do normally. After months of being in and out from hospital, leaving my familiar environment and moving to a destination with no hospital on the spot was not an easy decision to make.
Spending time with huskies, reindeers and whales, enjoying arctic landscape, the Northern lights and big cold temperatures in my state was a stretch for me. But also something that kept my spirit up in very difficult times.
Not everyone has the budget to travel when paying treatment. Your stretch goal can be anything really.
I for instance used my better moments to learn Russian and Italian on Duolingo, a free language learning portal. Those small achievements made my day.
So what goal can you set that sounds stretch but also rewarding? Plan it out. Stick to it.
Lesson #3: Get help
This one was particularly hard for me.
Normally I’m the person people come to for help. So it was not that evident to go and ask for help myself.
But I needed it! So I did it.
I normally would have never sent my husband to the supermarket three times a day, to bring me something I had craving for at that moment.
But not being able to swallow anything at that point for over a week, I just had to learn to express my wish and ask, even if it sounded totally crazy.
If your health is challenged, jump over your shadow and reach out for help. Family, friends, doctors, nurses, psychologists, online or physical communities, support hotlines – there’s a whole lot of people out there willing to help.
But you need to ask for it.
Lesson #4: Listen to yourself
Everyone has a different way to cope with trauma and serious illnesses.Only YOU know what's the best coping mechanism for you in times of adversity. Click To Tweet
Check in with yourself often. “How am I feeling in this moment?” And act on that feeling. Act on those needs.
You cannot ask for help if you’re not clear what you need.
When I was diagnosed, all my doctors instructed me to abandon my dance business. I wouldn’t be physically and mentally fit for it anyway. But I reconnected with myself and my heart said – I need my dance group. I need the regularity of my dance classes. I need to see those smiling faces.
So despite their recommendation I continued giving dance classes. And you know what – even when I felt like half dead, when Sunday came, by magic I pulled myself together and showed up and taught my dance class. Then went back to my misery, but at least I had one day in the week when I did something for myself that made me happy.
Now, having kicked cancer’s ass, I’m pretty confident that this activity was a life saver for me. Without it I wouldn’t have been able to keep up moral and fight cancer.
So my conclusion is – it’s not the time to bend yourself when you’re challenged with your health. Look at how you talk – the “have to’s” and “should’s” you’re using in your language are good indicators of doing things that are not in alignment with your needs.
Be your biggest supporter. Listen to yourself. Truly.
Lesson #5: Appearance matters
That moment when you look into the mirror and you feel like an alien from a faraway planet… (Yep, it does happen at some point when you’re in chemotherapy.)
And it’s not too helpful for your self-confidence.
So how you show up matters. For you and for others.
A little bit of make-up, the right clothes – and you feel much better.
When being ill, it’s easy to neglect yourself, stay around in pyjamas the whole day and don’t bother about your look.
But every time you pass in front of the mirror, that’s going to be another slap on the face.
You don’t feel good? Fake it! Make a small effort to look good so you will feel good.
Lesson #6: Surround yourself with others than cancer patients
Allright. This was one of my major problems in my journey to health. The whole system was against me in this point.
My doctors wanted me to sign up for gym classes for cancer patients. And for excursion with cancer patients. And presentations for cancer patients. And make-up classes for cancer patients.
I get it that these were all set up with the aim of providing support for cancer patients and create a bond and a forum where they can exchange views and talk about their journey. And it’s surely useful to participate in one or the other activity.
But it was NOT for me!
When I have cancer, I DON’T want to be surrounded with other cancer patients only. I want to see a glimpse of the ‘normal’ world, too…
…A world where there is no cancer.
So I avoided all these programs and went to normal gym classes. Went to dance seminars for ‘normal’ people. Did excursions with family and friends. I hosted my own dance event. I taught dance classes.
I talked to people from the outside world, who had NOT the faintest idea what I was going through.
It did me good, to be among ‘normal’ people.
So although there’s a lot you can share with others who are in the same shoes as you, don’t get drained by keeping company exclusively with them. Try to bring in some normality in your life so you can take a break.
Lesson #7: Banish negativity
Consider this scenario. You feel sick. You ruminate on it all day. Then all kinds of negative things happen – you miss the bus, there’s a long waiting time with your doctor, strangers cough at you and shout in your ears on the street. Your spouse comes home and after a hard day’s work they have to take care of you. They feel down and in negative mood. You go on social media and you read about complaints, accidents, illnesses of your “friends”. You switch on TV and you see the latest catastrophes happening in the world.
How can you ever get positive after this?
The key is – banish negativity from your life. Everything and everyone negative.
Unfriend or unfollow people sharing negative stories on social media (or simply avoid social media).
Don’t watch news.
Don’t watch thrillers or bloody crime stories. Watch travel documentaries instead, with beautiful and inspiring landscapes.
Throw away your regular newspaper and read happiness and mindfulness magazines.
Avoid negative friends. Spend more time with positive and supportive people.
You name it. Just notice how negativity creeps into your life and wipe it out. For once and for all.
Replace them with positives and you’ll notice the difference. Guaranteed.
Lesson #8: Reframe
Being ill sucks. I get it.
But there are some small techniques you can use to trick yourself out so you feel better.
I used to rant and ruminate a lot, feeling sorry for my misery for hours and days and weeks. Until I realized how it was not helpful. I was caught up in a downward spiral – and that’s the last thing that you need.
So observe yourself and stop the chain of negative thoughts.Move from problems to solutions. Reframe your question. That's how you get unstuck. Click To Tweet
Don’t say “I’m sick.” Ask yourself – “How can I move towards more well-being?” or “What can I do to feel better?”
Don’t say stuck by establishing facts about yourself. Instead of “I’m anxious”, go to the next step, “What can I do to overcome my anxiety?”.
Can you see how it’s a much more empowering shifting your focus to solving your problem than on ruminating on them?
Now over to you – Have you been challenged by your health or other adversity that had an impact on your life? What lessons did you learn? Share with us in a comment below.