The 10 Changes I've Made Since Becoming Cancer-Free
It’s been seven months since I had my breast cancer surgery – a bilateral mastectomy to be precise. It has been one big ole wild journey, and I guess one that will not end anytime soon. The reason doctors generally don’t say, “You’ve been cured” and prefer the term “cancer-free” is because once you’ve had the disease, you are at greater risk from getting a recurrence (though the likelihood does lessen as time goes on).
This little piece of knowledge could really depress me if I let it. I could constantly be on edge, checking myself daily for any changes, getting paranoid from the tiniest niggle or ache, but I choose not to. Instead, I am seeing the opportunities to live a healthier, fuller and more fulfilling life. I am embracing the gifts cancer gave me.
My life has already changed dramatically since April 28, 2017, when I was officially charged with DCIS and invasive breast cancer. As I lean into the changes I know I need, I vindicate my spirit and choose to live life on my terms.
I am now…
1. Following a plant-based lifestyle. This means different things to different people but what it means for me is I no longer eat meat or dairy. Instead, my diet is filled with natural produce from the earth and fish for my essential fatty acids and vitamin B12 (although I am working on weening fish out in 2018).
2. Minimizing social chatter. Those who know me on Facebook or Instagram, may have noticed I am not as present as I used to be. That’s because I have deleted these apps from my phone. Oh my gosh! This has been a Godsend! My clarity of thought has improved, I do not get anxious as easily, I am much more focused and I get more done! After all, did we not have rich and fulfilled lives before the existence of these mediums?
3. Avoiding toxic people. Negative energy is just not for me. I know not everyone is as upbeat as I am, especially when you have gone through a major health challenge. My problem isn’t with people who are down but with people who seem intent on killing any ounce of joy you share. There is not much worse than allowing a soul vampire to suck your positive energy dry. I need to be uplifted at every opportunity.
4. Indulging in music therapy. My soul has been soothed with some serious vocal and musical delights. I have attended quite a few of “Reed Bass Presents…” events here in Birmingham, U.K. Reed Bass is a band that knows how to bring cathartic vibe to a gig. I cannot tell you how healing these sessions have been. I have sat there, sometimes with tears flowing down my face as the melodies and the golden voices of vocalists such as Nat Chards, Ola Brown and Sapphire Sings reached my core and coerced me to feel emotions again and released the numbness I used for protection.
5. Being mindful of my thoughts. I am not going to sit here and pretend everything is OK; it’s not. I have had some really dark days (and still do), when I allow my mind to think about the dire possibilities — i.e. the cancer returning, having to have another operation or worse still, leaving my daughter without a mum. Or sometimes, I try and reconcile what has happened to me. Some days I still find it difficult to believe I had cancer. It’s weird. But lately I have had to remind myself of the energies I am attracting when I think about these things. I believe you attract the energy you focus on the most. I want to live a life full of fun experiences, magical moments and lots of happiness. Therefore, I actively choose to think about the endless positive experiences coming my way to think the right elements into existence.
6. Partaking in pilates classes. I used to think holistic classes such as yoga and pilates were boring. As a former Zumba instructor, I was used to loud music, high-impact jumping and pumping. That certainly has its place, however what has been so lovely about pilates is I have been able to show kindness to my body while still challenging it. It’s going to be a while before I can bounce (I’m still healing from the operation), so pilates offers me a way of staying toned in a way that will not interfere with my healing. Plus, the relaxing environment and serenity leave me feeling renewed and chilled out.
7. Not caring so much about what people think about me. I have just gone through the most traumatic experience of my life, and for the most part, I was very public about it (as it helped me to deal with the enormity of it all). Compared to this, most previously little stressful events, now feel like an ant scratching a giant’s foot. They just aren’t relevant.
8. Being completely present when playing with my daughter. Prior to my diagnosis, I was guilty of using a double consciousness when spending so called “quality time” with my daughter. Half my mind was in the activity in which we were engaged, and the other half was in: work, my list of chores, who I needed to email next, etc… It wasn’t fair on her. Now, I put down my phone, turn off the TV, I actively listen to all the important words coming out of her mouth and I dedicate chunks of time when I am completely hers. What played in my mind many times when I first found out I had cancer was, “I can’t leave her.” So why would I choose to be here and not be present in her life now?
9. Meditating. I am conscious of the fact that stress can lower the immune system and that when it is lowered, you are at greater risk from getting a disease. So, meditation offers a great way to de-stress. When all is quiet, I sit on my sofa or bed, switch off the lights and either listen to some meditation music or sit in silence. This leaves me feeling clear of the brain fog and much more relaxed. I have on occasion woken up with stiff crossed legs.
10. Following my dreams. When I was at my mum’s house recovering for weeks on end, I spent a lot of time thinking about what I really wanted to do. For a few months after that, I dismissed those things as pipe dreams, but now that I have started to seriously focus on that which I truly desire, I’m already starting to reach for those dreams. Writing was one of my many dreams in which I am now actively indulging.
I am choosing to see the opportunities and heed the warnings I have been given. Having had cancer will not define me. Instead I choose to let it be the catalyst that steered my previously chaotic and unfulfilling life back to its rightful course.
Editor’s note: Please consult a physician before making diet changes.
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