When I was diagnosed with cancer, my world turned upside down. Even when I found out later that the diagnosis was a mistake and I was perfectly healthy, my life had already changed forever. Here’s what the experience taught me.
Learning to forgive is difficult but essential. I spent months dealing with intense anger at the doctors who misdiagnosed me. My resentment was preventing me from being overjoyed at the fact that I was healthy and not dying of cancer. When I finally came to terms with what happened and forgave the people who had made mistakes, I was able to embrace my life again.
Things never go according to plan. You can be a happy, healthy, young person one day and find out you have a 50/50 chance of living to see another year the next. You can have your whole life planned and be making moves toward your goals only to discover that you’ll never get the opportunity to realize them. In the end, the most important thing isn’t ambition or work ethic but flexibility, because you just never know how things will turn out.
Cherish the people you love above all else. Learning that you may only have a few months to live really puts things in perspective, and if there’s one thing that becomes clear, it’s that the people that you love are all that really matter. It’s easy to lose sight of their importance when you’re swept up in daily life, but as soon as you’re forced to take stock of your entire world, you realize pretty quickly that love is more important than any of the other things you may be chasing.
A sense of humor can get you through the most challenging situations. Cancer is probably the least funny thing in existence, but laughter will make it more bearable. When I got my diagnosis, the last thing I wanted to do was laugh. However, after a few days of debilitating fear and confusion, I sought comfort in comedy. Sometimes the only way to cope with horrible situations is to laugh.
Most people waste a lot of their lives on unimportant things. Until I got my cancer diagnosis, I thought I was happy. I had a job that I was hoping would launch me into the career I wanted. I was saving up for an apartment in my favorite city. I went to the gym five days a week. But when I found out I might not live much longer, I realized that I’d been living for the future and not the present. It helped me notice the little, everyday things that bring joy. Now that I know I don’t have cancer, I’m still living in the moment and it’s changed my life.
Coming to peace with the fact that we all die will make your life 1,000 times happier. Most people are terrified of death, which is good because life is a gift. But everyone will die someday, and spending your whole life trying to ignore that fact means that you won’t fully appreciate how precious every single day is. When you learn to accept that death is inevitable, it makes you see life for the miracle that it is and live with gratitude and intention.
The people who stick with you during the good times won’t always be there for you when the going gets tough. One of the hardest parts about the whole experience was that some people in my life couldn’t handle it. All you have to do to be a good friend to someone with an illness is be there for them, but some of my former friends couldn’t even do that. When times got tough, I learned who my real friends were.
Just because someone means well doesn’t mean you have to accommodate them. The opposite end of the spectrum are the people who overcompensate for their uncertainty about how to approach you by going overboard. Some people became very pushy, trying to prove how much they cared. Eventually, I had to set very clear boundaries. Even though I was grateful that they were there for me, I needed to focus on my own needs and not validate them at my own expense.
You don’t have to be strong. I’ve always been in awe of cancer survivors running marathons and facing their illness with bravery, but you can’t have that mindset every day. Some days I was terrified and had to lean on my friends and family and let myself be supported. Sometimes we can’t be the toughest version of ourselves, and that’s OK.
You can’t choose your life but you can choose how to live it. The experience of being told I had cancer changed how I approach life. I used to believe that through hard work and ambition, you could achieve anything, but now I know that life works in mysterious ways, and we often end up somewhere we never expected to be. Because of this, I’ve learned to embrace the uncertainty and hold onto the things that bring me the most joy.
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