Can Cancer and Happiness Co-Exist?
Last summer I had many plans and a calendar filled with work and play, friends who were coming to visit, speaking engagements and client workshops around the world, and a plan to launch our new Happy Life Happy Work online course.
Most of those things never happened.
In July 2022 I received a phone call after a routine mammogram telling me that I had breast cancer. For a moment it felt like the earth cracked open beneath me and I disappeared into a big black hole.
I have lost both my parents to cancer, so, sadly, I know what that disease can look like. The first few minutes after I got the message, all I could think about was how I would be able to tell my daughter and prepare her for the road ahead. Then I called a friend. Hearing my own voice say it out loud, only made the black hole wider and deeper.
Afterwards I went outside and looked up at the blue sky, trying to digest what the doctor had told me. For a moment my mind was spinning, I felt nauseous, and envisioned it all playing out in the worst possible way. Then, suddenly, a strong and determined voice inside of me said “No! This is not going to be my story. Cancer will not defy me, define me, dominate my life, or take away my joy.”
I called my friend back and said: “Forget everything I just said. I’m changing the storyline. I will choose to look at this as an experience I will learn from and, hopefully, one day be grateful for.” I had no idea about what awaited me, if the cancer had spread, how serious it was, or what was going to happen. All I knew, was that I was going to be fine.
And thankfully, today, I am.
I was lucky. The cancer hadn’t spread, they were able to remove it, and three surgeries and a month of radiation therapy later, I am now, officially, cancer free. And, as you can imagine; incredibly grateful, happy, and relieved.
But there’s more.
As I’ve become even more aware of the fragility of life, and the importance of living here and now, I’ve also been reminded of the Stoic philosophy that says there’s only one thing we can control in life, and that is how we respond to what happens to us; to choose our mindsets.
There’s a saying that we teach what we need to learn. I have been teaching others about the power of mindsets for two decades now, but when this happened to me, I needed to become my own teacher for a while; to focus on what I could control, to play best-case-scenarios in my mind, and to remind myself that happiness is a state of mind.
Looking back at my 7 months with cancer, it certainly had its difficulties, but it wasn't all bad. It may sound strange, but most of the time I was actually pretty happy. Of course, there were times of fear, frustration, and pain, and days when I just wanted to retreat from the world – and did. But the majority of the time I was living my normal life; I worked and traveled, immersed myself in creative projects, and had fun, while allowing myself to slow down a bit and enjoy, and be grateful for, all that is wonderful in my life.
In addition, it was incredibly inspiring, meaningful, and energizing to work on the Happy Life Happy Work online course, which my team and I started developing before I received the diagnose. The programs's philosophy, messages, and meditative self-reflection exercises have reminded me of the important things in life; my personal purpose and my values, my ability to trust my inner voice, the power of self-empowering mindsets, and the importance of pursuing a life of passion and joy.
Who would have guessed that the course we developed would end up becoming my own survival guide? Not me. But I'm happy it did.
Today I am only grateful for all the things my experience with cancer has taught and reminded me of:
- Life is short and fleeting. Life is NOW.
- Life is a continuum; it’s not all good or bad, but we can choose what to focus on.
- Sometimes the greatest beauty in life can be found in the middle of our struggles.
- The only thing we can control in life is how we respond to it.
- By writing our own storyline, we can shape our own reality.
- Cancer and happiness can co-exist.
- Life is beautiful. Life is magical. And I’m happy to be LIVING it!