I’ve been doing some Sunday reading today and came across this article by Dr. Lissa Rankin (@lissarankin) called 10 Things I Learned From People Who Survive Cancer As I read through it, I saw a lot of myself, a 3-year breast cancer survivor, in the list.
1. Be unapologetically YOU.
People who survive cancer tend to get feisty. They walk around bald in shopping malls and roll their eyes if people look at them funny. They say what they think. They laugh often. They don’t make excuses. They wear purple muumuus when they want to.
I was on track for this part of my personality before breast cancer, but after I joined the rank of survivors, this became my unwritten mantra. I am who I am. If you don’t like it, there’s not much I can do about it, and I won’t come crying after you to get your approval. I don’t need it.
I may be “weird,” or “eccentric” or “unique” but I’m ME through and through. I would not have it any other way.
2. Don’t take crap from people.
People who survive cancer stop trying to please everybody. They give up caring what everybody else thinks. If you might die in a year anyway (and every single one of us could), who gives a flip if your Great Aunt Gertrude is going to cut you out of her will unless you sell out your authenticity to stay in her good graces?
If you know me, then well, you know this is true. What I’ve found is, the less crap I take from people, the less crap that lands at my doorstep. It’s no fun for crap-slingers if you can easily deflect their crap.
I used to be the posterchild for People Pleasers. I am no longer that person. The freedom of being me and the freedom of not having to run myself ragged making other people happy has made me the best ME I can be.
I live my life authentically regardless of what everyone else thinks about it.
3. Learn to say no.
People with cancer say no when they don’t feel like going to the gala. They avoid gatherings when they’d prefer to be alone. They don’t let themselves get pressured into doing things they really don’t want to do.
I brought back a “NO!” button from New Jersey that, when pressed, screams a series of obnoxious, “NO!”‘s. It isn’t that saying “NO!” is obnoxious but people often hear the word “no” as an obscenity because they aren’t getting what they want. Believe me, people who want you to say yes all the time don’t like hearing the definitive no.
I’ve had to say, “NO” quite a bit since my cancer treatments. Life is not the same for me. Many of my likes and preferences of how to spend my time have changed. I have new limits on my time and energy. I will not apologize for being “selfish” with how I live my life. I will protect my health and my time fiercely.
4. Get angry, then get over it.
People who survive cancer get in your face. They question you. They feel their anger. They refuse to be doormats. They demand respect. They feel it. Then they forgive. They let go. They surrender. They don’t stay upset. They release resentment. But they don’t stuff their feelings.
Yes, yes, and yes. Grudges and resentment dissipate quickly with me now. Well, more quickly than it once did. Forgiveness is freedom.
Do I get angry? YES, but I no longer stay upset. I don’t let idiots ruin my day, and sometimes my days are full of idiots. Happiness is a choice and I choose it, liberally.
I demand respect from others because I earn it, and because I am worthy of respect. I carry myself as being worthy of anyone’s respect. If someone disrespects me, yes, I get pissed off, but I have to let it go. If someone does not respect me, it speaks volumes more about their character, and I do not live my life trying to fill the “They Like Me! They Really, Really Like Me!” column.
5. Don’t obsess about beauty.
People who survive cancer no longer worry about whether they have perfect hair, whether their makeup looks spotless, or whether their boobs are perky enough. They’re happy just to have boobs (if they still do). They’re happy to be alive in their skin, even if it’s wrinkled.
I am extremely comfortable in my own skin. I’m only halfway through my weight loss goal, but I’m losing weight for my health, not because I want to be skinny or look a certain way. I’m 45 for goodness sake. I’m beyond the “dress to impress” stage of my life.
I’m toying with the idea of stopping coloring my hair. That may take a couple of years still, but it’s on my mind every time I go under the tin foil. It’s not a beauty thing, it’s not an age thing. My hair color is one of the last “constants” I have left, even if it is from a bottle. Stay tuned.
6. Do it now.
Stop deferring happiness. People who survive cancer realize that you can’t wait until you kick the bucket to do what you’re dying to do. Quit that soul-sucking job now. Leave that deadbeat husband. Prioritize joy. Live like you mean it—NOW.
I went to Maui this year on my vacation – it was on my bucket list. I remember a conversation I had with my brother, who, at 35, lay in a hospital bed while leukemia slowly stole him from me. He told me, in essence, to live from the bucket list rather than wait to fulfill it at some random point in the future. The future, he’d said, may get cut short. I promised him I would, but it took my own cancer diagnosis to bring my life into laser focus and I polished off the bucket and I’m ticking things off the list.
7. Say “I love you” often.
People who survive cancer leave no words left unspoken. You never know when your time is up. Don’t risk having someone you love not know it.
Whether it be, “I love you,” or “I appreciate you,” or “good job,” or “thank you,” or “that really pissed me off,” just say the darn words. You may not get another chance. People might be inclined to say I leave very little unsaid these days. I do not want to leave this world without people knowing exactly how I feel.
I’ve also learned the art of exactly what words to leave unspoken. At times, it is wiser to pull the barbs back into your head and let the wisdom of your silence speak instead.
8. Take care of your body.
People who survive cancer have a whole new appreciation for health. Those who haven’t been there may take it for granted. So stop smoking. Eat healthy. Drink in moderation. Maintain a healthy weight. Avoid toxic poisons. Get enough sleep. Above all else, prioritize self care.
Self care is not selfish. I know, more than anyone else around me, what I need to do to take care of myself. I don’t overdo much of anything with food or alcohol and I am trying to reduce my weight to reduce my recurrence of breast cancer risks.
I do, however, tend to push my boundaries with the pace I try to manage. Sometimes I still feel invincible, but my body quickly reminds me I am not. I am more quick to retreat into self care than I ever have been even if some people do not understand why because their bodies are still strong and have been unaffected my major, life-changing health events.
9. Prioritize freedom and live like you mean it.
People who survive cancer know that being a workaholic isn’t the answer. Money can’t buy health. Security doesn’t matter if you’re six feet under. Sixteen hours a day of being a stress monster is only going to make you sick. As Tim Ferriss writes in The 4-Hour Workweek, “Gold is getting old. The New Rich are those who abandon the deferred-life plan and create luxury lifestyles in the present using the currency of the New Rich: time and mobility.”
This one can still be a difficult one for me. I do work a lot, but I enjoy my work. I also leave work at work and I know how to disconnect from it. I guard my weekends like a ruthless warlord.
10. Take risks.
People who survive cancer have faced their fears and gotten to the other side. They know life is for living because they almost lost it. True aliveness and real joy lie in taking risks. So go sky diving if you want. Bungee jump. Hang glide. Spend your savings. Live like you might die tomorrow.
The word I used to live by was, “hope.” I have transitioned to the word, “FEARLESS.” Yes, I still have fears, but I face them, head on, and I try new things all the time. New foods. New styles of clothes. New music. New activities. New languages.
What’s the worst that could happen? I fail? I have found that failure isn’t that big of a deal – it’s part of the process. I fall down? I get dirty? I get bruised? Cut? Embarrassed? SO WHAT. I still wake up the next day and from that failure I know I’ve learned something or know it is a stepping stone to something better.
What if the worst doesn’t happen? What if I succeed? What if I learn something new? What if I get to do something I’d never dreamed I’d get to do? What if eating jellyfish wasn’t all that gross and was actually good?
Fearless is a much better way for me to live.
I challenge you to live as if you have been given the best gift you could have ever received – a second chance. You might not get a third.