There are some things I wish I would have known; things that would have allowed me to see the possibility of the future without how it relates to the past me. These things would have allowed me to let today in, and tomorrow, and the next day. If I could go back to before cancer and tell myself what I didn't know I would feel, this is what I would say.
1. You don't always have to be positive.
There are some days that you will feel broken and that's okay. We don't have to always be positive. We can sit with our pain. We can mourn for our losses. We can have a bad day.
2. Put new ways of thinking in harmony with life.
Our instinct is to put ourselves back together the way we were before cancer. Accept that your life may not fit back together the way it used to. Cancer can leave you with some pretty major changes in how you want to experience life and what you feel is most important. So it's quite understandable and normal that we need to make changes to pull the past you and the new you into alignment.
3. It's a process without a timetable.
Healing isn't an event and there certainly is no magic wand. It's something you have to sit with and it takes time, a lot of it. We have to remind ourselves that it's essential to feel our pain before we can know that we want to leave it, and it doesn't always happen in a linear way. Some days you will feel wonderful and other days getting out of bed will be tough. It's three steps forward; two steps back, but just keep moving.
4. There is no one-way to heal.
There is no formula or timetable. We all heal differently. Each of us comes to cancer with unique life experiences and those are entwined with how we deal with our emotional pain and ultimately our healing. What works for one person may not work for another. We must find our own way not to let our cancer be in charge and to stop defining us and directing our actions.
5. Reconnect with who you are outside cancer.
Some days you won't remember who you were before cancer. It can be so all consuming. One day it will just be a part of you, not the defining part. Depression has a way of drowning out all the things you love. Take the time to remember what you loved and discover the new things that capture your heart.
6. Embrace your impermanence.
For a while you may not be able to see the future. You may not want to make plans or imagine life twenty years down the road. Life can seem too chaotic and unexpected to make plans, but accepting that we have a finite amount of time can feel empowering. You can either let it paralyze you or move with it. Moving with it allows you to have peace in a world where just existing can be stressful.
7. Connect with other survivors.
If you find yourself feeling unknowable to friends and family reach out to people who can relate. Cancer can make our somewhat frivolous culture seem ridiculous and that in itself can be isolating. It's helpful to have someone who "gets it". Finding out you aren't alone is empowering; a source of strength that pushes us forward towards healing. The most dangerous thing you can do is to isolate yourself in your our own pain.
8. Be gentle with yourself.
It's hard to be kind and gentle to a broken self. You may find yourself just wanting to dust off all the pain, but struggle finding a way forward. It's beyond frustrating that we can't just get over it by sheer will, but be kind to your self. Be gentle; you have been through a lot. You can't rush healing.
9. You don't have to live everyday like it is our last.
Realizing we have a finite amount of time can leave us feeling like we have to make the most out of everyday, but every day can't live up to this pressure. Some days we just have to get the house clean or groceries bought. The mundane parts of life don't stop just because we all of a sudden realize the nature of life is that we could die any moment. You have to move forward striking a balance between feeling alive and living in a constantly moving world.
10. Grieving allows you to heal.
You should grieve for what you have lost. Don't hid from it because you feel it makes you seem ungrateful to be alive. Hiding allows grief to grow. You can have a grateful heart while also grieving for all the things that have changed or that you have lost.