Once you hear the dreaded “C-word,” and move beyond the shock and terror of a scary health diagnosis, there is another reality to face: your psyche has been forever changed. For many, a loss of innocence occurs, where you discover life as you knew it will never be the same.
Few people, even those closest to you, can fully comprehend the significance of this life-altering moment, and the psychological impact of facing mortality, perhaps for the first time.
“No one wants to hear about your cancer healing journey,” a loved one once said to me. “Start writing about happy things.”
Many people, fearing they could “catch” what you just “got” stay away, if not physically then emotionally. It takes a lot of stamina, courage and compassion to listen to someone wobble their way through a life-threatening disease.
A good friend who I met at the Mind Body Program for Cancer at Massachusetts General Hospital five years ago when I was first diagnosed with breast cancer told her grandchildren this: “I’m not contagious, I’m courageous.” I later asked, and was granted, her permission to share those brilliant words and insightful commentary.
Still, it’s been estimated that upwards of 96 percent of cancer survivors fear recurrence. Trusting your body to stay healthy requires a certain type of vigilance and continual reframe of thoughts, after you have been thrown such a huge curveball.
Sure, I am happy to be alive, and I no longer accept that gift lightly. I take risks to live in the moment, seize the day, and shake up my life in ways I may never have done before getting diagnosed.
I downsized to a small seaside community to experiment with my bucket list item of living in the city, as I had never done that before. I loved renting my condo in walking distance of bookstores, the ocean and local shops and boutiques. Then, I packed up again to move cross-country in an adventure of the heart—a choice I would have never made before cancer.
Simplicity and living from authenticity became my new priorities. As a result, I claimed myself as a creative person, temporarily living a Bohemian lifestyle, versus holding onto the picture-perfect looking, but an outdated image of a suburban housewife raising two kids, singularly, post-divorce.
At the same time, I also committed to an extra level of care about all I think and do, what I eat, who I associate with, what types of environments I place myself in and the types of thoughts and beliefs I allow to enter my mind.
Some days, it has felt like a second full-time job taking responsibility for maintaining and improving my health. Yoga, hiking, participating in energy healing circles, learning to grocery shop and cook in new ways, meditating daily, and journaling are extra activities that make up my life now.
For all the effort, I have gained a new vibrancy for life. In some ways, it is sad cancer was my wake-up call to live from a greater sense of gratitude, love, and worthiness and do things I may have never done before my health was challenged. I wish I learned to step it up to a higher vibration of living an easier way. However, the courage and resiliency I acquired as a result of facing my health challenge head-on can never be taken away from me.
Yes, my psyche has been forever changed. On the plus side, I tolerate less trauma and drama and choose life every day. I still have moments of doubt about my longevity, for I’ve learned through being caught off-guard by a cancer diagnosis that there is so little control we have over our lives.
My positive actions of self-care continue to matter. Yet, there is a plan far greater than I can imagine or manage. A deepened faith has become my daily companion.
My health is my responsibility; my mortality is not. I surrender. That is the biggest leap of trust ever!
5 tips upon hearing a cancer diagnosis:
- Pause, retreat and ground yourself before making any decisions. Turn off your cell phone, stop discussing treatment options with others, and go within to ask for guidance. Center in love versus fear.
- Trust in your body’s innate ability to heal and align with others who hold that possibility for you.
- Focus on the end result of how you want to be living your life three, five, ten and twenty years from now.
- Start meditating daily, at least 20 minutes.
- Begin a spiritual practice whether it is going to church, praying, or reading the Bible or other consciousness-raising literature or philosophy.
For additional support in developing a mindset for LIVING, I invite you to check out my latest book in development, “Cancer as a Love Story.”
If you would like to be placed on the ANNOUNCEMENT list when the book is published this fall, OR, if you would like to receive a copy of “The 8 characteristics of long-term cancer survivors,” please email me at [email protected].
Please put the words “hope and support beyond cancer” in the subject line of the email. I consistently will be sharing more about the latest in neuroscience, to help you learn leading-edge ways to train your mind to calm and heal your body.
With love and hope, Gail.
May this second photograph, of the butterfly in the garden, also taken by my friend Catherine Russell in Newburyport, MA, help you find light in the darkness of a diagnosis.