I’ve shared very little publicly about what transpired for me and my family in January 2017. My mom and I were both diagnosed with ovarian cancer, just 27 days apart.
It was an extremely dark time in our lives. My mom’s disease was much more advanced than mine. My cancer was a more indolent, rare form – the earliest someone can even have cancer with it actually officially being diagnosed with the “c” word. I got away with just surgery and escaped the need for any other types of treatment. My mom however, had a much more invasive surgery, followed by 4 1/2 months of chemotherapy.
For a while, my life felt like an emotional roller coaster. How did this happen to me? To her? How did our family have such bad luck? Where did we go wrong? Aren’t we some of the healthiest people we know?
About 3 1/2 months after my surgery, I wrote about how I was healing myself emotionally, and the role outdoor adventure played in that healing. I recently re-read the post, and I felt proud of myself for really taking the time to process my emotions, and to seek help through therapists, spending time with friends, getting outside, and making joy a priority.
But something I read in my own words struck me deeply and made me sad, and I suddenly felt a strong desire to share how I’ve changed and what I’ve learned over the past two years.
I wrote: “I now have to live with the anxiety that my cancer may someday come back, and that I’m also now at a higher risk for other cancers.”
Reading this a few days ago made me shudder. Not because it brings back the same fear though – it’s quite contrary to what you may think.
Over the last year, I’ve discovered that what I wrote approximately 21 months ago was a belief, not a truth. Yes, statistically speaking I may be at risk for a recurrence or some other diagnosis, but I am not a statistic. I do not have to live with fear. Living with fear is a choice, not something that I am required to do because I have certain lab results in my medical records, because I have “bad” genes, or because my doctor tells me I should be scared.
Easier said than done, right?
Early in 2018, I started reading lots of personal growth books and listening to spiritual and self-help podcasts. There seemed to be an underlying message in many of them – to truly thrive in life, you need to let go of fear, and lean into love. I knew fear was not serving me in any way. But how the heck was I supposed to learn to let go of it?
After experiencing a minor but benign health scare in April, I realized I had a choice. I could go on living the same way I had been living my entire life, letting myself get trapped in the cycle of fear, or I could make a commitment to making a major change in my thinking and emotional patterns. I contacted a life coach that I had met at a live event a couple of months prior…we chatted about my goals, she coached me a little bit for free, but I still wasn’t 100% sure I was ready to take the leap. She suggested that I ask the universe for “a sign” that it was the right decision for me, so I did. She said it would come in the most unexpected way possible.
A few days later, just before I was supposed to give her my answer, I was having dinner and margaritas with an old friend at a dive Mexican restaurant. I walked into the bathroom, and scrawled on the wall someone had written “Until you change your thinking patterns, you will always have recycled experiences.”
Hot damn! If that wasn’t a sign, I don’t know what is. Basically what I already knew about my fearful thinking patterns showed up on the wall of the ladies’ room at Holy Frijoles. I sure wasn’t expecting that!! But I knew then that I had to move forward, stepping out of my cycle of fear, into a new woman, emotionally and physically healthier than ever before.
For the next 12 weeks I worked with Ginny in one-on-one coaching sessions over the phone. I loved talking to her; she was like a good friend, a spiritual teacher, a therapist, and an accountability partner all rolled into one. She accelerated my learning about the power of my mind, my emotions, and manifestation. Could I have done it on my own? Possibly, with discipline. But I wouldn’t be where I am today.
What tools have I learned in order to let go of my fear?
- Meditation – I started meditating as my mom was first going through her initial diagnosis process, and it helped me to keep some level of calm through my own trauma. However it took months of practice before I realized a deeper benefit – the ability to notice my thoughts, notice my emotions, and notice sensations in my body – and to pause before letting them spiral out of control. Noticing what’s going on in your mind and body is incredibly empowering – because you realize that you have a choice as to how you react to situations.
- Focus on what you want, not what you don’t want. The Law of Attraction states that like attracts like, or you get what you focus on. So if you focus on fear, you get more fearful feelings, and you get more fearful experiences. I am a full believer in this concept. If you had asked me 3 or 4 years ago what my biggest fear was, I would’ve replied “cancer”. Did I manifest my disease through fearful thought patterns? Maybe, on some level. But that’s another (controversial) topic for another day.
- Gratitude – this goes hand in hand with focusing on what you want. Giving thanks every day for all the wonderful things in my life makes my life better, moves me away from negative emotions, and moves me into much more positive ones. Some days it’s the simple things for which I give thanks – indoor plumbing, heat, nutritious food. Other days it’s the things that REALLY feel abundant – my thriving business, my semi-nomadic lifestyle, my loving husband, my freedom, my beautiful home, my deep friendships. The key is to really FEEL the feeling as I write out each thing I’m thankful for, which makes the experience so much more powerful.
- Visualization – I use a visualization tool called scripting in which I write or speak as myself in the future, but in the past tense. So for example, I might write five years in the future and say, “This past weekend was AMAZING! We mountain biked 40 miles of singletrack each day, and sat around the fire drinking wine each night, looking up at more stars than I have ever seen before. I feel so vibrant, healthy, and full of life, and I am SO thankful to have had perfect health for the last seven years!” Again it’s all about the FEELING that the writing generates. It has the power to release fear, and allow you to step into BEING the person you want to be (i.e. vibrant, healthy).
- HAVING FUN! I started really focusing on choosing joy over everything else as soon as I had physically recovered from my surgery. It was the beginning of an important step in taking control over my life and my health. Making fun a priority has decreased my overall stress levels, made me feel more relaxed, deepened my connections with friends and family, and has made my life infinitely better.
All of these tools together help me to feel confident that I am going to live one big, beautiful, amazing, healthy life for several decades to come. All of these things help me to let go of fear, and step into the most powerful, positive emotion – love. Love for myself, love of my life, love for the people around me, and love for the world.
Do I have days when I still feel fear? Of course. Do I occasionally catch my thoughts spinning out of control? Yes – I’m human, and our brains like to yap at us. But through this inner work, I’ve trained myself to let go of those fearful thoughts, and it’s truly been empowering!
Back when I was still in the thick of the emotional pain associated with my diagnosis in early 2017, I came across a book in which the author spoke of the “cancer personality” – and I fit it to a T. He described this personality type as someone who is a worrier, a perfectionist, and who is a serious people pleaser (basically someone who is fearful). For a while I thought I was doomed to my personality type, and destined to a life of disease.
What I’ve learned though is that this just isn’t true – unless you let it be. You have the power to change your thoughts, your emotions, even your personality. You get to write your own story – you can choose to live your dream life, free from fear and full of love.
Two years after my diagnosis, I have a lot of thoughts on fear and how it can be detrimental to our health, hold us back from our dreams, and collectively negatively affect the world around us. But the flipside – the side that is so much more powerful – is the myriad of infinite possibilities that open up not only at an individual level but on a global scale. What if everyone chose joy? What if everyone let go of fear? What if everyone chose gratitude and leaned into love? I believe our planet will be a much healthier, happier, peaceful place when that happens.
What are you doing to lean into joy today?