Purpose//

Cancer Taught Me to Live Life Fully and Fearlessly

Getting diagnosed with stage 4 cancer at the age of 40 pushed me out of hiding, and kept me from failing to live a purposeful life.

Martin Steinthaler/ Getty Images
Martin Steinthaler/ Getty Images

In November, two years ago, I was at the jumping pillow with my kids, at the foot of the Blue Mountains in Australia. We were in a flow state; I was chasing my son Jack, who was five years old, and my daughter Eloise, who had just turned eight. I can still remember how much they laughed, and how warm that sound was. It was a beautiful sunny day.

I took a break to catch my breath and, out of habit, reached out for my phone. There were several messages from my doctor. I called back, and she sounded weird. She said it was about my blood test, and I had to go and see her. It usually takes at least a week to get an appointment with her but she insisted that I had to come tomorrow, any time would be fine. I felt I had been given a warning that tomorrow, a tsunami was going to hit us. I had until tomorrow to enjoy life as I had known it, with innocence.

Tomorrow came. I played it down, put the kids on the school bus, and went to the doctor alone. I don’t remember much of what she said. Then, I went home and called my husband. I was alone with the diagnosis. The commute from Sydney to our home in the mountains was one and a half hours. I had one and a half hours to face cancer on my own before my husband would be home. My heart and my mind were racing, I was dizzy, and I wanted to scream, but I could not even cry. I was fearful.

Then there was the CT scan. We dared to hope it would not be too advanced. But it was stage 4. Jack asked, “What’s stage 5?” Silence. We started to look “stage 5” in the face.

We started to feel less and less hopeful, as more results threw all our plans out of the window. The bone marrow biopsy showed that 38% of my bone marrow was cancerous and we were told there was no cure for this type of blood cancer.

First, the diagnosis amplified my fears: fear of the medical interventions, fear of pain, fear of death, fear of leaving my babies behind. However, there was another fear that started to emerge and overshadowed all the others: the fear of leaving this earth without having shown up fully, of having failed to live the fullest possible life because of my fears. I was going to die without having been fully alive. Surrounded by my old fears and the new ones, I took my first step in the open and I never looked back.

The truth is: We all have fears. The difference is that some of us are paralysed by them and some of us act anyway, despite our fears. Nobody is fearless, but we can choose to act fearlessly.

I used to let my fears run my life. I grew up trying to avoid trouble at all costs. I was in the habit of making myself small: Not being seen meant not being exposed. This made me feel safe. I never thought that that the real cost of this defence strategy was a half-lived life.

Following my diagnosis, I realised how much more I wanted from life. More than anything, I wanted to be fulfilled in my relationship. I had not given myself a voice, and since I was responsible for speaking up, I could change that. It was not easy, because I had always been paralysed by a fear of confrontation. However, once you are facing death, confrontation does not look so bad!

I started loving my husband fearlessly. I no longer avoid conflicts. When I have something to bring up, I face him until I know I have been heard. I make my fulfilment in the relationship a priority and I stopped giving in, just to keep the peace. As a result, my resentment disappeared. The peace we are enjoying now has deeper roots than the temporary respite I used to achieve with all my compromising.

Cancer made me fearless in love and in life. I had been a stay-at-home mum for almost 10 years. I had been thinking about stepping into what I knew was my purpose for a few years, but I could not find the courage to do it. I used my children needing me as an excuse not to show up for myself. Now I run a coaching business from home. I am still there for school pickups, but I had a deeply fulfilling day while my children were at school.

Had I not got cancer, I would have lived a longer but unfulfilled life. I told my husband that I prefer six months of the life I have now than 40 more years of unfulfillment. As it turns out, it seems that happiness is good for your health, as my cancer markers have reached an all-time low last month!

If you want to live your life fearlessly, I would like to invite you to look at your fears first. You need to know them well. If you repress them to the underground of your subconscious, they can threaten your foundations. Keep them in clear sight at all times, like old enemies. You don’t need to act on them. They just are, no matter what you do.

Feel the fear and do it anyway. Choose to be a warrior. The battle is worth it: The expression of your true self is at stake. Believe me, there is no time to waste in self-doubt; you have a job to do and a purpose to fulfill. I can’t promise you there won’t be pain, I can only say that this is your battle, the one you were born to fight. Nobody can fight it for you, so you’d better show up and give it all you’ve got.

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

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