Cancer Revealed a New, Improved Me

A lot of survivors write about lessons learned from cancer and how grateful they are for them. As a glass-half-full kinda gal, I relate to this school of thought more than the blogs and social media posts I’ve seen lately adamantly insisting that cancer is not a gift or something to be grateful for. While I agree that I am not happy to have been diagnosed with breast cancer, like any trial and tribulation I’ve endured over the years, it’s changed me. The impact it’s had on me has not been entirely negative, and I like who I am more afterwards. I guess I can, and do, appreciate the experience to some extent. Honestly, I’d be pretty ticked if something of value hadn’t come from it because it sucked. So I embrace the lessons it served up, and I incorporate them into my daily life as much as possible.

Here’s what I learned:

Erase people if needed

I bet you’re nodding your head right now. You know what I mean, don’t you! True, if I say this to the wrong person, sometimes I get “the look” like I’m cold and heartless. But, you know, I don’t feel called to be anyone’s doormat, and I certainly don’t feel called to spend any of my time wrapped up tightly in others’ drama. Quite simply, if it’s emotionally exhausting, requires too much physical energy, or steals my joy, it’s gotta go – and that applies to situations AND people. The moment I see things going south, I bail. After coming face-to-face with my mortality, I panic when any sort of drama reveals itself. All I can think is that I’m losing valuable, precious time that I will never get back. And so I walk away. I don’t look back. I don’t investigate or probe further to see if I can fix it. I just erase. And guess what? It’s not even hard anymore. Maybe the first time or two it felt weird not giving someone another chance, but before long, it seemed perfectly okay and even my right.

Keep co-workers as co-workers

My biggest lesson during cancer was that my co-workers were people I shared work space with and NOT my friends. I get a lot of looks on this one, too, but after some pretty hurtful things were said and done behind my back while I was fighting off cancer, I cleaned out my social media, emptied my social calendar, and deleted every last one of them. I won’t allow anyone I work with to be on my social channels. I don’t hang out with any of them after hours, and I don’t consider them my friends. Once I retire, or once they quit and move on, if I like them at all, I’ll let them into my personal friend space. But until that moment, they are simply co-workers. I can still like them, enjoy them, laugh with them and appreciate my time with them. But I must say that my life has been simpler since I decided to keep it entirely professional in 2011.

Do as much as possible

I jam pack my days with fun plans and adventures. And just to make sure I’m making enough memories, I keep myself accountable by recording the stuff that I do. I like to look forward to upcoming events, so I make plans constantly. I try to pick one thing a month that brings me great joy, and I put it on the calendar. Sometimes it’s an activity. Sometimes it’s a travel destination. Sometimes it’s something HUGE, and other times it’s something simple that I’ve been meaning to do. Whatever it is though, I challenge myself to live big. Each morning, when I wake up, I like to know that I’ve got something ahead. It puts a spring in my step and pops me out of bed. And each night, when I go to sleep, I know I’m one day closer to whatever dream I’m dreaming.

Do as little as possible.

Ha ha. I know I just said to do as much as possible. But after cancer, I also do as little as possible. What do I mean by that? Well, here’s a great example. Pre-cancer I was a slave to my yard. I spent hours planting, mowing, edging, fertilizing and making things Martha Stewart-esque. But let me tell you, once I was home from the hospital, I quit that. I hired someone to cut my lawn, and I stopped knocking myself out. Because it just wasn’t that important to me anymore. Those hours I spent in the Texas heat trying to keep things alive – not worth it. The blood, sweat and tears – not worth it. I’d rather go to the gym and work out, hang out with my husband, Jack, go out with friends or take a nap. I really stopped caring about things being perfect and just let it go. The same went for the house. Nobody is ever going to accuse me of keeping an immaculate house, that’s for sure, because I stopped spending so much time making sure everything was perfect. At the end of the day, I’d rather spend my hours doing things I love vs. things I feel I must do. And I lay around when I feel like it. Zero guilt there, too.

Seek opportunity

The worst someone can say is “no.” I open myself up to opportunity. I don’t say no to the absurd or the unimaginable, and actually, I invite that into my life. Since cancer, I’ve appeared in a breast cancer survivor photo shoot for a catalog, written this blog, learned to rally race a real-live race car, competed in 5 bodybuilding competitions, gotten married on a glacier in Alaska on the popular reality show, Say Yes To The Dress, rescued multiple shelter animals, became a legitimate published author in books and magazines, started my own web content writing and social media managing side business, gone vegan, expanded my travel horizons, and honestly, a whole lot more. I don’t shut the door on anything that make me uncomfortable before asking myself the question, “Has the average person done this?” If the answer is no, then I kinda feel compelled to do it!

So what have you learned? Has this experience shaped your life in ways you never imagined it would? Have you found your power? And if you have, are you actively using it? Yes, with Breast cancer comes long-term effects and anxiety, and if I could undo it, I would. But since I can’t, I’m happy that it could be the catalyst for change. And I’m grateful for the personal growth, self-awareness and new, improved me.

Victorious Val

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