How to Thrive in Life after Surviving Cancer

“Have a little faith in your ability to handle whatever’s coming down the road. You have the ability to overcome all challenges. Be confident that you can make the most of any situation. Even if you didn’t want it or ask for it, even if it seems scary or hard or unfair, you can make something good of any loss or hardship. It is possible to learn, grow, assist others, and even prosper from it. The future is unknown, but you can know this for sure: Whatever’s coming, you got this.” ~Lori Deschene

Isn’t it amazing how some days are etched in your mind forever and other days are just lost in the wind? December 27, 2006 is the day I will always remember. It was the day that I learned I had breast cancer. While breast cancer is common, being twenty-six years old with breast cancer isn’t that common.

So here I was, twenty-six years old with breast cancer saying to myself, “Well f*ck, that sure throws off the plans I had for basically anything.” I quickly fell into fear, worry, and “why me?”. I will spare you the details of treatment; it wasn’t any fun. I lost my hair and my dignity and fell into depression when life returned to “normal.”

No matter how normal it may seem, I was actually living it. It was not normal. I didn’t know how to live without a doctor’s appointment to go to. I mean, all I wanted was an end to the endless appointments and here I was without them, and I couldn’t figure out what to do.

Because I felt exhausted, I took a lot of naps. Well, it turns out I wasn’t exhausted; I was depressed. It was me alone, wondering when my breast cancer would return. It was like I’d never experienced despair before. Who was this person I became? The person who sat in their pajamas all day while I worked from home—yep, that was me.

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I wanted to scream, “I survived cancer, now what?” Where was the manual on how to live after cancer? Do you have any suggestions for me to get back on the path of living? As if nothing had happened, I go back to my old routine. I was tired of saying to myself, “But I’m supposed to feel better, right?”

As I was overwhelmed by the number of lab draws and appointments that came my way, it became difficult to stay positive and optimistic as well. I continued to do my job and walk the dogs. Life just didn’t seem real, and depression overwhelmed me for days or weeks at a time. I fell asleep after a quick nap, but my body wasn’t healing and my mind was going downhill.

My experience of readjusting to my life after a difficult transition was different than I had expected. Rebecca, my dear friend asked me if I would like to do a half marathon. My visceral response was “No.” Then I learned the race took place one year to the date after I finished chemo, so I thought, “Heck yea, take that cancer!” It was perfect timing. My first half-marathon was my goal, so I kept one foot ahead of the other.

My motivation was to continue running whenever I could. Pre-cancer running was my main mental health remedy. It was also starting to work after the cancer. It was not uncommon for me to drag myself along the running track and return home within minutes. There were also days when I felt superhuman and that was so satisfying.

Rebecca and I both crossed the finish line hand-in-hand and were greeted with Mexican food and margaritas, which are my go to mental health remedies.

Therefore, why am I so inclined to share my experience? It’s not just about cancer, depression, running, and margaritas. It’s about making something good come from something bad. 

I learned many things from cancer. Controlling what I could was the most important lesson. This meant taking the long route home and not waiting in traffic. It also involved taking chances like climbing in Utah or fly fishing in North Carolina.

I can’t say I am exactly happy I had cancer, but I can’t imagine life without it. It’s a love/hate relationship. The experience was one of growth, and I learned that hard times can be overcome. It helped me to remember that I am truly alive.

There’s no guide for cancer survivors. There is no time machine that will take you back to before the diagnosis. And there aren’t any quick ways to restore trust in your body.  It’s a journey that you must figure out for yourself, one minute, hour, and day at a time.

Acceptance is key to a better self.

In the first year following cancer, I learnt more than in any of the 26 years before it. You don’t need a cancer journey to do this.

You only have one life. Live it to its fullest. If cancer is part your journey to health, don’t despair. There are many people who can help you live again. It is possible. You will be able to live again by taking small steps at a time. It will be difficult to stop falling back, but it is possible to take big steps forward.

A life filled with purpose, happiness and gratitude can be yours. Don’t merely survive cancer, thrive after cancer! Are you ready? Let’s do this.

Brynn Barale

Brynn helps long-term breast-cancer survivors lose weight and not die so that they can enjoy a full-fledged life. As a holistic coach for weight loss, she supports clients in their quest to live a healthy life.  Recently, she celebrated her 15th year of cancer-free living. To work with Brynn, visit her website or check her out on IG @wildflower_health_coaching and Facebook at Wildflower Health Coaching.

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Tiny Buddha published the post How to Survive Cancer in Life.

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