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5 Lessons I Learned From Cancer

I wouldn’t have anticipated that my cancer diagnosis would lead to increased vitality and wellbeing, but strangely enough, it has.

I wouldn’t have anticipated that a cancer diagnosis would lead to increased vitality and wellbeing, but strangely enough it has. Eight years ago, I was super stressed, overweight, eating poorly, rarely exercising, and putting a priority on everything but my health. Now, I am not cancer free, but my general health is the best it has ever been and I have found a deeper connection within myself. I would like to share some of my discoveries with you.

1) Changing my diet made me feel so much better

One of the first things I did when I was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer was change to a plant-based diet. Within three weeks, I lost weight, had a glowing complexion and much more energy. It was a remarkable transformation. And that was just the beginning. So whether you have a medical diagnosis or not, choosing foods that make you feel good is so important. If you’re eating processed foods, think about ditching them in favor of fresh and organic. If you’re not a cook, learn some simple recipes. Anyone can make an interesting salad from a recipe online and your body will drink in the nutrients and you’ll feel the benefit.

2) I had to prioritize myself

When I was diagnosed, I was caring full-time for my mum, who had suffered a stroke and could no longer live alone. I was happy to do it and it was rewarding helping her adjust to her new situation and re-learn some of the skills she had lost. But after a year of getting up four or five times a night and being constantly on call, away from my home, friends and work, I was exhausted and unsure of how to extricate myself. The diagnosis brought clarity. It was her life or mine. I chose mine because my life depended on it. I committed to giving my mind, heart and body exactly what it wanted when it wanted it. If felt very selfish in the beginning, but then I learned if I couldn’t help myself, there was an intrinsic dishonesty in trying to help someone else. And the result was I became more joyful, which in turn I could pass on. How could you help yourself more?

3) Going to bed earlier allowed deep, uninterrupted sleep

I used to be a night owl. Not now. My best sleep happens if I go to bed at 10pm. And I can appreciate the early morning, which I’ve always known in theory is beautiful, but now experience more often for myself. The body repairs during sleep and the majority of healing happens when the body is at rest. So it is one of the most important factors in healing. What suits you best? Could you improve the quality of your sleep?

4) I can trust my body to be working for my best interest

The tumor has been like a barometer for me, making sure I’m taking good care of myself physically and emotionally. It demands my attention. It is external and needs to be dressed twice a day. It bleeds easily, so I have to take care not to lift heavy things, do too many downward dogs or let anyone hug me too vigorously. I need to address difficult situations in relationships so that stress doesn’t build up and linger. I need to walk in nature, have time to myself and meditate to stay connected deep inside to ensure I’m nourished spiritually. Before cancer, I skimped on all these things. Are there small, regular actions you can take to make sure you’re attending to your body’s wellbeing?

5) My spirit speaks through my body

I found my own breast cancer. In fact, it was a spiritual experience. A good friend of mine had just been diagnosed and the news crept under my skin. One morning, after a wonderful night’s sleep, I sat on the edge of the bed. Out of nowhere, a little thought crept from one side of my head to the other; ‘I can’t do any of this like this any more’. And the atmosphere in the room went deep and silent. And I knew something important was happening. I sat there awhile and then went to the bathroom, where I saw in the mirror, a perfectly round depression on my right breast, as though a pound coin had been lying there. And I knew in that moment what I had and why my friend’s diagnosis had affected me in that way. Because of this experience, I felt engaged, not as though some random thing had happened to me. If I’d created it, perhaps I could un-create it. I felt empowered by this thought. I had to make changes and there was a sense I was being called to a new way of being and living. Have you had a deep experience, where you have felt called by your core?

I am grateful to my cancer experience and would not have missed it. If you have a diagnosis or know someone close to you with one, I would encourage you to listen out for the invitation that it offers. For each of us it’ll be different. But what may at first feel like a death sentence, can turn out to be a life-saving prescription.

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