What Breast Cancer Taught Me

In case you didn’t notice, it’s October, the month of pink, breast cancer awareness month.  I’m pretty aware of this horrible disease and could go the rest of my life without any more awareness.  It’s something that changed my life completely and is still working through me.  It started with the physical part of me: surgeries, chemo, medicine for the next ten years.  Now, breast cancer is working on my mental state.  Here is what I’ve learned and I’m still learning.

Nothing is certain in life. There is no guarantee that I get tomorrow.  Of course I’ve always known this, we all could go at any moment, but as a young person, I thought I had a few more decades before my body started falling apart and I had to get on a first name basis with my doctor.  My cancer diagnosis showed me that life really is short and there is nothing I can do about it so I better be living my best life, ever.

Get happy. I spent so much time worrying and unhappy.  I worried about things that most of the time never happened, but sometimes they did.  I was unhappy with different parts of my life. I wasn’t where I wanted to be career wise, so now I’m on the right track. I didn’t feel whole emotionally, so now I’m working through my issues.  I realized my attitude mattered and I could sit on a fence avoiding decisions because I was fearful of what might happen or I could make the choice and see what happened next. I try to do one thing every single day that makes me happy.

Just say no. I learned to say no to things and people because that was my right. It is possible to say yes too much.  It’s ok to be the mom who brings paper plates to the school lunch because I don’t want to cook.  I can say no to someone because they aren’t really the kind of person I want to be friends with, anyway. It’s OK to say no to boring people and things. Sometimes, I just want to stay home and watch Girls because I have a few hours to myself.

I can’t fix, please, or control everything and everyone. I spent years trying to be in control of everything and everyone around me.  I ran my home beautifully. The bills were paid, house was clean, kids were mostly orderly. I was in control…but not really. Cancer took that idea of control from me.  I couldn’t control my own body, how my relatives and friends reacted; I could barely control how I reacted to the news.  I couldn’t fix the people around me who weren’t acting the way i thought they should. Losing control was the best thing ever for me. I realize now that I need to focus on what I can change and let the rest of life just “be.”

I’m important. I spent a lot of time focusing on my kids and other people.  I rarely spent time on me. Now, I realize that I’m important and I need to take care of me. It’s OK to buy that shirt or those shoes. I can go out and have fun with my friends, while leaving the kids behind. I love my boys more than anything and I have learned that if I’m taking care of me, I’m taking care of them.

Some things aren’t worth it. Don’t stay mad, don’t stay bitter, don’t feel guilty. I may have screwed up a lot of things in the past, but they are in the past. I have had people wrong me and hurt my feelings, but it’s just not worth staying mad. The past is the past and while I can remember what happened and learn from it, I refuse to stay angry or bitter or feel guilty. Learn from the mistakes, make better choices in the future, and don’t stay angry.

Live, live, live. Don’t wait until next year to start working on that project. Don’t wait until the kids are grown to start traveling. Don’t wait until you are more settled to go back to school. I was always putting things off and there were always too many reasons I couldn’t do something. I’ve learned there is never a right time. If you want to be something or do something just do it, just be it, today. I’m still in the process of reevaluating my life and making sure that I’m headed in the right direction.

Breast cancer took a lot from me, but it also taught me a lot. I may not have nipples, but I’m pretty excited that I’m finally brave enough to start living.



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