Exactly seven years ago this month, I was undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer. The life lessons from breast cancer I’ve learned have shaped me in nearly every way — and often surprising ways.
Receiving treatment during breast cancer month was surreal. I remember walking into a supermarket and seeing pink balloons flying around everywhere as if in preparation for a party.
I remember seeing Windex bottles adorned with pink ribbons, mere inches away from warning labels that the solution’s toxic ingredients can kill — and probably cause cancer — if ingested.
Cancer changed me, just like it changes everyone. But some of these life lessons from breast cancer will likely surprise you.
Because of cancer, I discovered the meaning of life, which thankfully ended my chronic existential crises. I released a lot of the toxic stories weighing me down.
And it put me on a path here, to blogging and creating life-changing online course experiences to help you touch your own tenacious inner spirit, wisdom and un-ending sea of self-love.
This story is proof that our greatest blessings can come from our most terrifying moments if only we have the courage to face our fears. If only we have the courage to believe.
We must allow our own spirit to show us its greatness. Once you begin to rely on this spirit, and not your small-minded self, your entire life will change.
Here are a few surprising ways breast cancer changed my life:
1. It made me more shallow.
That’s right. I used to be a total news junkie, with CNN on in the background 24/7. I spent all day tensed up, wondering how I could save the world, and also feeling like it was my responsibility to do it.
I had chosen my career as a news journalist based not on passion, but from that feeling of responsibility. And it made me miserable.
I went from this drive-hard person to sitting on the couch all day recovering from chemo while watching the Kardashians.
During commercial break, I enviously eyed the luscious lashes shown in mascara commercials and vowed that when my lashes grew back, I’d buy some really awesome mascara.
And today, I do. I love Tarte mascara — it’s an environmentally friendly brand that makes my lashes look awesome.
And when I’m feeling tired or overwhelmed with life, I shamelessly curl up on the couch and fall into the lives of the Kardashians or the Real Housewives or whatever other reality tv show is on.
Because it’s fun. And it makes me happy. It’s okay to enjoy mindless pop culture.
2. It made me want to make money.
Entry-level newspaper reporters with no connections — like me — typically start off in small towns. My first big-girl job out of college was in a town of 1,500 people and I made $10.50 an hour.
By the time I moved to Arizona, I was making slightly more and felt down right wealthy. I was good with money and had no problem paying all my bills, but I literally counted every penny.
This indulged my inner martyr, like I was doing the world an awesome service trying to save it all while making no money.
Wanting to earn more felt wrong, like because there were legitimately poor people in the world, I should stop myself from making money. Because I wasn’t worthy of having things if other people didn’t.
When I got sick, I realized that I wanted to buy nice clothes. I didn’t want to live in a crappy apartment.
And I wanted money to pay for the best-possible medical care if I ever got sick again. (Thankfully my insurance at the time was truly wonderful.)
So after I got better, I quit my job… to sell houses and make money.
Everyone talks about appreciating sunsets after life tragedies, and I do. But my life lessons from breast cancer showed me more how I wasn’t allowing myself to fully appreciate my life.
Real estate stressed me out, but this knowing that it was safe to enjoy money continues to influence my life. (Even if I’m still working on my money story.)
3. It taught me that the purpose of life is to feel.
After each treatment, I stayed at my husband’s, who was then my boyfriend, apartment. He lived close to my doctor’s office, and I was living in a small mountain town about 90 minutes away.
I’d crash on his couch for a few days and then drive home, back to work.
The first treatment I didn’t know what to expect or how long the recuperation time would be, and I left to drive home a little too early. On the windy road up into the mountains, I was feeling really out of it, like I shouldn’t be driving.
My mind entered a sort of altered state as I thought about my life and wondered what the point was. Why all this suffering?
And suddenly I realized — the answer emanated from the mountains and poured into my being. The purpose of life is to feel it all. To experience. To be alive.
And that’s it. All that time I had been looking for outside meaning, and I’ll admit, I still do. But I always come back to this message. We’re not here to save the world or even to save ourselves. We’re here to be ourselves.
We’re literally just visitors on Earth. We hang out for a while with the birds and the trees, and then we leave. It becomes a dream.
Have you seen how beautiful the Earth is? Those magical places of ethereal waterfalls or other-worldly rock formations that give you that feeling deep, deep down — this is way too intricate and special.
There is without a doubt something larger than us out there.
Being alive on Earth is an incredible experience. We get to to touch this beauty with our hands, to smell it with our noses. To see it with our eyes.
Our souls are magical and full of love, and being human comes with all sorts of challenges.
But that is the price we way to experience this. And as I would later learn, the more you open yourself up to your pain, the more you open yourself up to the beauty.
4. There is always magic. It doesn’t forget us. We only forget it.
When I was younger and super adventurous, I moved all around — at one point living in a tent on a fruit farm on Maui and taking the train cross-country to move to Portland, Oregon.
I lived my life like Hansel and Gretel, always searching for signs the universe left me, which I considered bread crumbs to the next destination.
Then, I grew older and life felt more like drudgery. I stopped doing things that I wanted to and started doing things I felt like I had to. Because adulting. And the signs disappeared.
I chalked this up to growing up and life just not being the fun mystery that I envisioned as a young girl.
But then something crazy happened.
On that drive home after my first chemo treatment, I stopped at the grocery store, pitying myself for having bad luck.
Wandering around, not sure what to eat, feeling very overwhelmed, lonely and sad, I spotted a woman wearing what looked like a cap covering a bald head.
I kept peering at her out of the corner of my eye. I wanted to talk with her, but knew if she wasn’t bald from chemo, the situation would feel pretty awkward. Eventually, I realized I didn’t have much to lose and approached her.
“Excuse me, but are you bald? Do you have cancer?” I asked. She looked at me in surprise as I quickly explained that I had just returned from my first treatment.
This angel of a woman took me in her arms, gave me a hug and exclaimed over me — “I can’t believe you’re driving!” The feeling of being so alone evaporated as finally, I found someone else who understood what I was going through.
Later, she connected me with a support group in the area, but that moment of connection was the proof I needed that even in the darkest of places, a crack of light always sneaks in.
I hope that…
some of these lessons inspired you. Maybe illuminated a few possibilities in your own heart to give up what you think the world wants of you and do what makes you happy, what brings you joy.
Whether you want to dance or sing or do makeup or make clothes or be a botanist — every single thing in this life is magical. Even mascara. No matter what you do, make sure it feels right. Make sure it makes your heart sing.
Because you are here for a reason and this life is short. That’s not to say that we’ve got to make it all happen, today. But know that your desires were placed in your heart for a reason. And this life is your opportunity to explore what that would feel like.
It’s a long journey, the one of following your heart to create a life that truly resonates. It’s not easy, and maybe I’ll share more of this journey later. But it matters. It matters.
Sending you lots of love as you go out in the world today. Live from your heart. You won’t regret it.
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