I Survived Cancer but I Forgot to Notice Life


You hear it all the time..."Cancer taught me to live in the moment." For many people that may be true. And in a round about way, my Hodgkin's Lymphoma did teacher me to notice life. But it almost two decades for me to get there.

My story starts a bit differently: I survived cancer, but I forgot to notice life.

I survived 6 months of chemotherapy, followed by 5 months of remission, followed by 6 more months of emergency surgery, blood clots, more chemo, radiation and even a bone marrow transplant.

I survived gaining weight, losing weight, cajoling my veins to cooperate even when they didn’t want to and tearing my hair out as I drove down the highway.

And although technically I get to wear my survivor hat with pride – there was a bigger lesson for me to notice. Because in my 18th months of life as a cancer patient – surviving took the place of experiencing life.

Don’t get me wrong. I am thankful to be a survivor. It probably sounds very privileged of me to complain about surviving...and I’m not complaining. But after 19 years, it finally hit me – my survival came at a cost.

The cost was awareness. Feeling. Sensation.

You see, I spent most of my 18 months as what I call a “silver linings” girl. I was optimistic. Hopeful. Determined.

But also – in denial.

And while optimism and looking for silver linings are a good coping mechanism, my inability to tune into how I was feeling and what I was experiencing on a sensory level – left an even bigger imprint than any cancer-related surgery ever could.

It was easier for me to be hopeful than to admit that I was scared. To admit that I was angry. It was easier for me to cherish the fact that I didn’t throw up for the first round of chemo than to feel the taste of vomit when I did eventually start puking.

I was so focused on the outcome of becoming a survivor, that I missed my own journey to get there.

It isn’t that I don’t have any memories. I do...of Frappuccinos brought to me by friends. Of deciding that I wanted a Luis Vuitton purse after seeing someone with it in an elevator. Of sucking on special lozenges that the nurses saved just for the chemo patients.

The shiny objects and mission-focused objective to get to remission were all well and good, but I’d missed the part about actually allowing myself to feel and to simply BE in the moment.

Because here is the thing. I NOW know that acceptance does not mean waving a white flag. It simply means that you are allowing yourself to feel all the feels. To immerse yourself in the sensory details, even the scary ones that hurt and are uncomfortable, as a way to ground in the moment.

Acceptance is an acknowledgment.

Denial, on the other hand, is a weapon of mass self-destruction.

By not allowing myself to feel fear or any of the crap that {I assume} I was feeling – I shoved all my stuff down. And I don’t know about you...but shoved down stuff has a way of coming back up. It isn’t pretty.

My fear came back, years later...cloaked as distrust, insecurity, and self-sabotage. Stories of not being good enough and my personal favorite elephant in the room: “It is only a matter of when not if.”

I’m not saying that those same fears would not have come back anyway...because well...I’m not THAT special. But I know without a shadow of a doubt that my inability to experience the moment left me even more vulnerable and unprepared.

A friend likened it to trapping myself in a bubble of my own making.

As much as I coach myself or am being coached by others through sticky thoughts that range from body image to friendship to the sustainability of my business, the root of my stories goes back to when I was sick. It is like going to the gynecologist as a woman over 40 and the doctor blaming every possible symptom on age and menopause. Every single limiting belief that causes me to stumble goes back a limiting belief that comes not from my childhood, but my life between April 1997 and June 1998.

But so does the learning. Like when I realized that everything I need I already have inside me. Or that falling is good for you because it offers a chance to celebrate the process rather than wait for the outcome.

It is ironic. At the time I was sick – I desperately wanted to be a teacher. (And a mom...but that is a different story. Luckily, I got to be both). All these years later, I’ve finally learned that there is no greater teacher of acceptance (of anything really) than your own body. While it is true that sometimes a headache is just a headache, tension in my chest or stomach are always a sign for me to stop, breathe, notice and wonder.

And maybe even more importantly, letting yourself feel, even when the feelings involve doubt, fear or sadness – does not make you weak. Noticing, feeling, being aware – whatever you want to call it – doesn’t mean that you have to bury yourself in a rabbit hole of self-pity.

Acceptance is power. Acceptance is healing. Acceptance offers an invitation to show ourselves the gifts of compassion and gratitude. And...acceptance is strength.

Through acceptance we have choices.

We can choose to be reactive or proactive. And I’d argue that depending on the day, there may even be a case for both options. But wouldn’t you rather have the choice? I would.

You don’t have to have cancer or be a survivor to learn to live in the moment.

Technically, you don’t even need to practice yoga or meditate (though, guess what? They help!). You just need to allow yourself to feel. To notice the sensations in your body. To notice the emotions you are feeling. To notice the thoughts that keep playing on repeat in your mind.

And maybe even ask yourself just one simple question. “What am I afraid of, right now?”


Want to start making friends with your stories instead of letting them rule you, or living – as I did – in denial? Join me for a FREE webinar on June 6th where I'll share what I've learned about practicing acceptance so that you can live more and judge less. Register even if you can't make it live...I'll be sharing the recording with anyone who registers in advance!

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