Lessons learned – four years cancer free

My colleague Agi asked me recently, “so what have you learned from cancer?”

I replied, “I always thought it was about stress – cancer was a lesson on how to avoid stress.”

But it’s become more than that. Cancer has taught me many things. Some I always know and act on. Others I need a kick up the butt to remember!

Here’s my top five lessons learned, courtesy of cancer:

1. The only person who can say ‘no’ is you. Even though your colleagues may see you overloading yourself with responsibilities, jobs, and obligations, AND they know you’ve been through cancer, only YOU can say ‘no’. Don’t wait for somebody else to take responsibility for your life – not even your adoring husband can do that – you’ve got do it for yourself. So stand up firm, believe in the primacy of your own life, and say ‘no’ to what does not support you in thriving.

2. What’s the point in worrying? Actually, that’s my husband Rob’s motto. He’s the happiest man in the world (you can tell as he hums in the shower every morning). It’s a great lesson and I really needed it when going through cancer. You can live in worry, or you can live in positive expectation. Either way the future is unknown, so might as well feel good about what’s coming instead of dreading it.

3. The small things really matter. Saying thank you, a warm hug, paying for someone else’s coffee, knowing the squeejee guy’s name who waits for you on the corner to wash your car windows, jonquils that bloom on your birthday, friends who love you enough to call you even when you haven’t called them in six months, notes from appreciative readers that make your day, your husband who makes dinner every night. (ok, that’s really a big one, but it still counts!) These little moments make up the quality of your life each day – seek them out. Give them out!

4. The big things really matter. Did you forget to celebrate? Milestones can whip past you faster than a grasshopper strapped to an airplane. It’s easy to get caught up in the busy-ness of life and leadership – make sure you stop and appreciate your achievements. Rewards are a good thing too. Shopping at Ondina’s is an excellent reward – I can feel my wallet burning a hole in my pocket right now with her more than 50% off sale happening… Don’t fancy a trip out? Snoozing on the couch with a favourite book, mooching around in your jammies after a sleep-in, and taking a weekend off to simply ‘be’ are also excellent rewards.

5. From time to time you will get caught up in old patterns. Be ok with that. Don’t beat yourself up. Ships, airplanes, and YOU are often off-course as they make their way to their destination. So if you find yourself fretting about the ‘old stuff’ – like how big your butt is, or whether the people at your new job will like you, or bedroom cupboards that need fixing, or the fact that the ‘&$@#’ printer won’t print – it’s ok. This too shall pass. Get over it, or pay someone to fix it for you – butt included.

Lastly, life is a creative experience, like pottery – some experiences are gorgeous; others are like lumps of pooh that have been dumped on the spinning wheel. Just clean up, have a laugh, and go again.

Life is too short to get wound up, drink bad wine, and eat cheap chocolate. To your delicious life!

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