Before cancer changed my life, everything seemed to move at such a fast pace that often times it was hard to take a moment to breathe deeply, clear my mind, and enjoy myself. I was so occupied with life's daily challenges and juggling what seemed like a million things that I continually put these tasks ahead of myself.
It wasn't necessarily intentional -- but it was the result of the omnipresent buzz saw of distractions that made up most of my daily life, which very well may be the case for you too. I continued to lie to myself that I'd make more time for things tomorrow, but tomorrow turned into a week, a month, and sometimes even a year.
As soon as I was diagnosed, this course came to a sudden halt and this mindset quickly disappeared. Cancer (rudely) reminded me that I must take some time for myself -- my life depended on it. It was imperative for me to define what was truly important and figure out how to carve out time to dedicate to myself. I started to take short reprieves from my day-to-day by engaging in activities like yoga, massages and bike rides. These activities helped bring my life back into alignment -- I started treating the time I allocated to myself with respect. This 'reset' was how I started my cancer survivorship and has been a huge part of my health strategy for the past five years since I've been cancer free. During this time I've kept my eyes out for any experiences and new perspectives that would allow me to grow -- not only as a cancer survivor, but also as a woman and a citizen of the world.
When Erena Shimoda approached my team at IHadCancer.com about combining her talent for underwater photography with our passion for helping cancer survivors, I was immediately interested. It was so unique and fit well with my new philosophy. I knew that this once-in-a-lifetime experience would allow other survivors to focus on themselves for the first time in a long time -- and I was eager to share such a valuable opportunity with them.
Together we set out to find 10 interested cancer survivors of all genders, ages and cancer-types and provided them with free underwater portraits. The goal was to take the survivors outside of their element and into a place where any emotional scars and/or the physical limitations of cancer became secondary to what they were experiencing. I have been in awe of the photographs that Erena has shown me throughout the past few months but it wasn't until I was able to participate myself that I realized just how much of a transformative experience it is.
As I was immersed in a few feet of water, holding my breath with my eyes closed, I became entrenched in living in the moment -- the distractions which usually plague my mind were no longer present. I allowed myself to be consumed by the experience and focused on controlling what I could. I was forced to let go of what I couldn't control and to work within the constraints of my new environment.
This experience was not all too dissimilar to cancer. As cancer survivors, we are constantly confronted by physical, mental and emotional challenges. An opportunity like this allowed me to put myself at the forefront and be who I wanted to be. It allowed me to continue to discover myself and find new strengths I wasn't able to see before. For me and my fellow survivors it proved to be cathartic -- a form of a healing that we never imagined, but felt so right once experienced.
Below are a few of the photos from my session as well as many of the others -- you can see that even though each of our experiences and perspectives vary, we all confronted our challenges and rediscovered our strengths. It turns out that stepping outside of your comfort zone sometimes starts with jumping into a pool.
Mailet Lopez is founder of IHadCancer.com