People that I meet today have no idea of my recent breast cancer journey. I just don’t “look” like someone who has freshly been through what I’ve been through. In case you’re new to this site, I had months of “scorched earth” chemo followed by a series of big and painful surgeries and over 15 hours or more of general anesthesia. In other words, tons of drugs, trauma, drama and tears – yet today people are surprised that I’m so recently out of such a grueling experience. If you told me a couple of years ago that I could survive something like this as well as I have, I’m certain I would have laughed at you. The truth of the matter is, as I’ve stated many times before, my cancer diagnosis was like a huge barrel of lemons that I tried everything to avoid but that got dumped on me anyway.
Honestly, what’s most astonishing to me is that I’ve learned to become more than a breast cancer survivor – I really feel like I’m a breast cancer thrivor. It’s an ongoing journey, and one that I deal with every day. But, it’s a choice I make daily – I don’t just want to survive. I want to thrive! Does anyone else feel like I do?
As my third annual Breast Cancer Awareness month as a cancer survivor/thrivor is coming to a close, I have been reflecting on my cancer misadventures – and the true adventure this journey has become. I’m still writing blog posts about practical tips I learned during my cancer treatment. Recently I shared (and relived) my experience with cold caps during chemotherapy. It was hard, and I actually cried while I wrote the post. But, I hope it helps women who are making this journey after me. Though “surviving” was more my mindset at the time, that experience is part of my thriving journey because I can share my experience with others, and hopefully, help them as they walk this path. It also reminds me of the great support I had from my family, friends and medical team.
Thriving through Family & Friends
Even at such a low point as during chemo, my loving husband was right there with me. My children would fly home from their busy adult lives to be with me. My friends and colleagues were there with me too driving me to appointments, walking me for my exercise, and covering patients in my medical practice. What’s more, you, as my patients, my readers, and my community, were there with me too. What’s even additionally lovely is that all of you are still with me, and our relationships have deepened. For me, these relationships have been such a nourishing and refreshing drink of sweet lemonade from the barrel of lemons!
Thriving through Nutritional Health
Another area that I’ve been reflecting on related to my cancer story is how health and wellness are so integrated into my lifestyle choices today. As I’ve admitted before, I’ve always had a penchant for healthy living and nutrition. In fact, when I was first diagnosed with cancer, one of my friends said “How dare cancer grow in a body so filled with antioxidants and vitamins from all those fresh veggies you eat.” Well, it did, doggone it!
I’d like to think I should have been a fortress against cancer, but again, when you’re handed so many lemons, you have to re-evaluate your overall life strategy. As I did this, I became even more committed to eating a diet that promotes health, vitality, and of course, beautiful skin! I’m more passionate than ever before to encourage others to embrace this lifestyle too. Since people always ask me what I’m “doing” when they see my vitality after cancer, I created a simple guide with a pyramid concept for making positive diet choices each day. I recently published it as a free mini guidebook called “How to Eat Your Way to Beauty and Health.” In it, I explain why I advocate a Mediterranean Alkaline diet. To make it practical and actionable for readers and other people struggling with health issues like cancer, I’ve included a 14-day recipe model to get you started. It’s helped me thrive, and I believe it can help you too!
Thriving through Inner Peace
My third reflection has been based upon how I have changed as a person. For the record, it doesn’t matter how much you read, how many questions you ask, or how many videos you watch – you cannot be prepared for a cancer diagnosis or the treatment that follows. However, as you go through the new and seemingly insurmountable experiences, you learn new things about yourself. You learn your limitations. You learn to make modifications. And ultimately, you learn what’s really important.
In an article called “Become a Cancer Thrivor by Putting Your Health First,” that was recently published by our friends at PearlPoint, I addressed a few of the important lessons I learned throughout my cancer journey. As I summarized:
When you are sick, taking good care of yourself is important. But when you are well, it’s important too. Life feels very different when lived at a healthy pace with priority given to activities that replenish and restore you and with limits placed on things that deplete you. It took an avalanche of bad cancer news to get me to finally develop a sensitivity to my limits and needs, including a new openness to being with and sharing with the people in my life. The tempo of my new “Post Breast Cancer” life produces much less adrenaline. I’m also able to live with a deeper sense of what I need to restore and balance the needs of my body and mind. I’m a not just a Breast Cancer Survivor, I’m a Breast Cancer Thrivor.
So, is it possible to make sweet lemonade out of the unwanted barrel of lemons that come with breast cancer? Absolutely! Strive to go beyond being a Breast Cancer Survivor and become a Breast Cancer Thrivor. Understand that breast cancer is not the only cancer to thrive your way out of, but it was just the cancer “booby prize” I was handed. Anyone else have an experience like this or know someone who has? Let me know in the comments!
During this Breast Cancer Awareness month, I want to encourage support for a wonderful organization called FORCE that fights breast and ovarian cancer. Help victims battle the fight by supporting this very deserving cause! For more information into how you can help, click here.