In November 2011, less than 2 months shy of my 34th birthday, I was diagnosed with boob cancer.
It sucked, obviously.
I was a year and a half into being a full-time coach, and it was thankfully going well. Luke had his eye on becoming a freelancer, and we were trying to have a baby. Y’know, normal things for a young family in their early-to-mid-30s.
Thankfully my Stage 2 diagnosis turned into a Stage 1, and while I had to have two lumpectomies, four rounds of chemo, a boobal removal (aka bilateral mastectomy) and two additional surgeries for my implants, I got through it.
In June 2012 I was declared cancer-free. Once all the treatments and surgeries were done, I saw my doctors every three months. Then every six. My plastic surgeon told me last summer not to come back for a year.
Luke and I lived our lives. He went freelance. We adopted our daughter. We decided to move to the ‘burbs and put our apartment on the market. Y’know, normal things for a young family in their mid-to-late-30s.
Then, last month, I showed my oncologist a bump on my chest that I had noticed a week or so earlier. I was at my six month visit, and she sent me to imaging, fully expecting it to come back as a fat deposit. Imaging took an ultrasound of the bump, and then my lymph nodes, and immediately scheduled me for a biopsy the following week. I went to my oncologist in tears, scared of the immediacy the radiologist seemed to have. My oncologist, who sugar coats nothing, gave me strict instructions not to worry. She was still expecting fat, and I got negative thoughts out of my head by putting them in a balloon and sending them away in my mind.
Positive thinking didn’t help, though.
The results came back positive. Malignant. The lump and a node had cancer.
Four months shy of my 38th birthday, I was going to have to fight again.
In the past three weeks since I got that awful phone call, I keep thinking about the Begrudging Life Lessons I learned the first time around.
We all have them, actually – those life lessons you didn’t ask to learn, but were forced on you anyways because of some hardship, challenge or trauma.
You’re actually kind of pissed that you learned anything from the ridiculousness that was thrown at you. But yet, there they are.
When I think of my Begrudging Life Lessons – thanks, cancer! – here’s what comes to mind:
Everything is temporary.
It’s changing, moment to moment. As cliche as it sounds, you have to learn to roll with the punches and embrace the uncertainty. There are no crystal balls in life. It’s all fluid and nothing is guaranteed. And with that…
Don’t plan more than a quarter in advance.
A couple weeks before my first diagnosis in November 2011, I planned out all of 2012 for my business. When it comes to planning and organization, I’m super Type A and would rather have everything laid out than, um, not. But obviously, all my plans were put on hold and the days I spent planning were preeeeeetty much a waste of time. Ever since then, I’ll do business planning for the quarter I’m in and the one that’s next, so I’m never more than 6 months ahead of myself. And yes, I’ll be adjusting my plans for the end of 2015 and getting ready for Q1 of 2016 as soon as I get my treatment schedule next week. I know it’ll include less one-on-one spots than I would normally like, and possibly the inclusion of a new group program. If you want the 411 first, sign up at the bottom of this page.
Your health is preeeeeeetty much the most important thing.
You can have your dream business, a loving family, a beautiful home, and they can help you heal…but if you don’t have your health, then all those things take a back seat. If you have a job that’s making you sick, or something that’s more within your control, please think of the longer-term impact and do what you can to get yourself well.
It all comes back to happiness.
I’ll soon be renewing my coaching accreditation, and I’ve enrolled in continuing education classes so I’ll have the hours I need. In the class I attended right after my current diagnosis, we were talking about following our intuition as coaches. The leader led us through an exercise where I had to ask my intuition a question, and wait for the answer. I asked how I can take care of myself during this time, and my mind starting listing The Important Things: exercise, clean eating, meditation. And then the voice stopped, and gave me one word: happiness. I know it was my intuition speaking, because my busy brain would usually never give me such a heart-based, simple answer. Now I have a singular focus for how I can best take care of myself: do what makes me happy.
You are your own best advocate.
Don’t keep quiet when something isn’t right. Don’t take “It’s probably nothing” at face value. Don’t wait for someone else to make the choice for you as to whether you should get that screening, be put on that project, or take on healthier habits. You have the right and responsibility to make sure you get what you know you need. My 2011 diagnosis came because I had shooting pain to a large lump in my breast, and was told repeatedly that “pain means it’s not cancer” and that the lump was “so large so quickly” it also meant that it wasn’t cancer. My current diagnosis blindsighted my world-renowned oncologist, who is thankfully so conservative and aggressive she ordered the tests anyway. In both instances, I had to be the one to speak up. I also became the one to change my diet, my exercise habits, and the products I use. You have to advocate for yourself each and every day, not only when something is off.
Many things are out of your control, but your response is a choice.
I obviously didn’t choose to get cancer – once or twice – but how I deal with it emotionally is my choice. I often get comments on my positive attitude (and ukulele tunes!) through all of this, and I flash back to something that was asked of me when I was a cashier at Barnes & Noble in 1998. I was usually the one asking my customers about the books they were buying, or- at the very least – smiling during their transaction and telling them to have a nice day. Another cashier asked me why I was always so nice to the people I was checking out. Why did I smile? Why did I engage with them? I didn’t need to do any of that. And that person was right – it wasn’t part of my job. But my job was what made up a large part of my day, and why would I want to be sour for those six-ish hours? It was my time, and I chose to be engaged and friendly just like I choose to remain positive and upbeat during such a trying time.
Learn how you want support, and where to get it.
I personally feel strong when I share what I’m going through and get messages of kindness and support back. I know others who choose to stay quiet, and keep their challenges to themselves and their immediate family. Both of those things – and anything in between – are okay. It’s important, though, to know what you need and where you can go to get it. Support and community is so important to get you through trying times and big transitions. Don’t turn away from getting the help you need so you don’t have to feel so alone.
What are your begrudging life lessons? I’d love to hear them in the comments!
I might still be tired post-surgery, but I didn’t wanna cancel this webinar on Friday. It’s me leading by my Community example! Come join me – it‘s live, free, and has plenty of time for Q&A.