I’m four years cancer-free this month.
Wow. A great achievement indeed, given that four years ago I had (many) moments of fearing the end was here. You would think that I, as a cancer-survivor, would be better than anyone at self-care.
Spoiler alert: I’m not.
When I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer four years ago, I made all sorts of deals with myself. If I survived this:
I would become a vegan!
I would work out everyday!
I would make time for myself!
I’ve witnessed other people making similar deals with themselves when going through a hard time. Can you relate? We feel inspired by fear to make sweeping positive change. But we always fall back into old patterns because big change takes time.
Don’t get me wrong, my grand plans for a healthier life lasted a little while. Cancer was a forced pause button in this certified workaholic’s life. I would never have chosen to slow down, but recovering from surgery made me take a step back. I didn’t have a choice. Doctor’s orders.
So, there I was, recovering from surgery, left alone with my mind. The problem is, my mind never shuts off. (Just ask those closest to me who truly know the inner workings of my mind.) So I turned to writing. I hadn’t written for pleasure in years. Once I entered the working world, I “lost time” for some of my interests, and writing fell to the wayside. But because I had nothing else to do, I started blogging for fun. People actually started following my journey, I made a small impact on my corner of the world, and the entire process was frankly cathartic. I had found something that brought me joy and peace. Pressing the pause button, even if it was involuntary, opened my eyes to this new passion. It helped me document what I was going through. It gave me room to talk about fears, pain, terrors and ultimately begin to heal from this terrifying moment in my life.
When I returned to the office, I vowed to continue writing. I had achieved a small audience of people who were actually interested in what I had to say, and I just knew in my heart that I would continue this writing process.
I didn’t continue.
Life went on, I got back into the swing of working, and I forgot about blogging. It’s taken me three years to make it a priority again.
My cancer diagnosis made it abundantly clear to me how fragile life is, and in the wake of it, I made sweeping promises to myself to make real changes in my life. After such a serious health scare, I didn’t have a choice but to prioritize my health. I was a bit embarrassed for a long time at how quickly that life revamp ended. But not anymore. Because the biggest thing I’ve learned in these four years is that big change requires time. Sustainable change requires time. In the age of social media, it often feels like everyone else has it all figured out—like we’re already losing the game just because we are still learning.
Here’s the secret: everyone is still learning.
Many of the changes I made immediately following my scare were not sustainable—like going vegan, working out everyday, or spending a perfect amount of time on self-care. The changes that have been sustainable were the ones I worked at a little bit every day, and the lessons I’m still working through. Here are some of the things I’ve learned in the past four years.
Time is limited. I feel frustrated when I hear people say they’ll take take that trip or quit their job later in life. Or don’t spend because you need to save save save. Of course I know retirement is important. Of course I know I need to be on a budget. But life is too damn short. This is something I really haven’t forgotten in the past four years. Not once. I encourage others to start chasing their dreams today. If you dream of visiting a foreign country, start putting away money now, even if it’s not a lot. You’ll get there eventually (but not if you never start). I have to admit: I am still a little shocked at my age. When I look at my kids and see how old they are, I sometimes wonder if I am too late to do things I wish I did when I was younger. But I don’t want any more regrets. The time is now.
Slow down. I wish I had given myself permission to slow down more proactively, because no one is going to give you that time for you. I discovered my passion for writing when I was forced to press pause on my life, but I could have accomplished that had I made more space for silence. Today, I’ve recognized the true importance of this, so I create time for meditation. I practice the art of doing nothing. If I’m being honest, I only manage 5-10 minutes, but that’s better than nothing. Don’t feel bad if you’re not there yet though. I stopped blogging for three years, despite having the clearest wake-up signal ever. My cancer scare was as though someone was screaming at me from the heavens that there is more to life than just work. Some days I hear that message loud and clear, and other times I’m still working 17 hour days. It’s all a balance. I just signed up for a half-day retreat that sounds amazing. Do I technically have the time to leave my business behind? Not really. But I’m making the time. We have to slow down if we want to lead more fulfilling lives.Celebrate small wins. If you take nothing else away from this blog, know this: big change happens from daily baby steps. If you slip up on your way to achieving a goal, that’s okay. If you fall back into old patterns, forgive yourself. I’ve fallen back into the same old patterns hundreds of times over. I try to celebrate anything and everything that moves me forward, even if it’s as small as saying no to a meeting I know I don’t have the bandwidth for. Celebrate your wins for where you’re currently at in your life.
Cancer is scary. And life-changing. It forced me to dig deep and ask myself what was going to stir up real change in me. I needed to face questions I frankly didn’t want to know the answers to. And what if you discover you aren’t sure what is going to make you happy, like I did? That’s a frightening realization. All I can do is move forward as best I can every day with what I have.
I would never tell anyone I have it all—far from it. But I do learn a little bit every day. That’s enough for me.