Top of woman's head is shown as a person tending a garden. Turquoise clouds, rain, and sunshine hover over the garden against a marigold background.

Learning from Cancer

Three years ago in June, my world was turned upside down. My path that I had planned diligently and deliberately was turned on its head. For the first few months, I was frozen with fear and anxiety. Not only did I receive a devastating diagnosis, but my whole future was now up in the air. There would be no future vacations, there would be no watching my children grow up, there would be no retiring with my husband in Florida. There would be no Masters degree, no future promotions or new positions, no further advancing in my career. In my mind, my trajectory stopped with lung cancer.

What has my path taught me?

And yet here I am, almost three years later, and I feel that I’ve learned more about myself and grown as a person in the last three years than all the years before. What have I learned? What has been my growth?

  • I've learned it's okay to be vulnerable and need help. People want to help in any way they can because its a way that they can be a part of your journey. I've learned to let them in, in whatever way feels comfortable. Not only has this helped me, but it is also a wonderful gift that I am giving to THEM! They feel good knowing that they are helping in a small way, and I am able to spend my time and energy differently.
  • I've learned that it's okay that not everyone knows how to show up when dealing with cancer. At first, this was really hard for me to overcome. I felt rejected, resentful, and hurt. How could there be complete strangers who wanted to help me by cleaning my house, but other friends would barely acknowledge I even have cancer? I've learned to forgive them. I've tried to remember that I was once naive to the needs of cancer patients too. I try to remember that illness and death are uncomfortable topics for most people, and our instincts are always to avoid the uncomfortable.
  • I've learned that it's okay to share your story and show people the ugly side of cancer. So many people think that cancer looks a certain way. No hair, emaciated, sleeping all the time. Some people look okay on the outside but are suffering on the inside. I've learned to be okay with sharing how I am feeling on the inside. Knowing how cancer really feels is important to share, there are too many people that truly have no idea. If people cannot handle it, that’s on them, not me!
  • I've learned that my life still has meaning. My illness does not take away this meaning. While my career path has changed, I've found other ways to find personal fulfillment in my life. I now volunteer for a lung cancer foundation and advocate for lung cancer research. I spend more time with family and friends. I create memories with people that are important to me.
  • I've learned that being scared is okay. The idea of death and dying is scary. The thought of leaving my young children terrifies me. The thought of not being involved in their future is sometimes more than I can wrap my head around. I've learned to honor these feelings, to name them, and to let myself process them. They are valid and they are real. By doing so, I've also been able to make plans for when I am not around for ways that I can still be an influence on their life.
  • I've learned that you cannot get time back. I've learned to spend time with those that you love, that lift you up, and that make you feel good. I've learned to not waste time on toxic relationships or people that hurt you. Time is limited, spend it wisely.
  • I've learned to create MEMORIES. My children aren’t going to reminisce about the big present I got them at Christmas. They are going to remember the time we went on a road trip and donkeys licked our car or the time that we went canoeing and Dad fell out of the canoe, or the way I hugged, the way I laughed, the way I told jokes. I've learned to invest in these moments MORE.

Tell your story

How has cancer changed how you spend your time and energy? Have you had to reset your priorities? What has risen to the top? What has fallen to the bottom?

Editor’s Note: We are extremely saddened to say that on April 1st, 2023, Julie passed away. Julie’s advocacy efforts and writing continue to reach many. She will be deeply missed.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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