10 Things I Learned From People Who Survive Cancer
As a physician who interviewed women who had survived breast cancer for my art project The Woman Inside and who studied patients who experienced spontaneous remissions from cancer as part of the research for my book Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself, I discovered that those who had overcome cancer shared one remarkable thing in common. They had all faced death and made a conscious decision to live every day like it might be their last.
The more interviews I did, the more I noticed that these people were living differently than most of the people I knew who had not been diagnosed with cancer. Curious what I learned?
Here’s what these courageous people taught me about how to live.
1. Be unapologetically YOU.
People who survive cancer tend to get feisty. They walk around bald in shopping malls and roll their eyes if people look at them funny. They say what they think. They laugh often. They don’t make excuses. They wear purple muumuus when they want to.
2. Don’t take crap from people.
People who survive cancer stop trying to please everybody. They give up caring what everybody else thinks. If you might die in a year anyway (and every single one of us could), who gives a flip if your Great Aunt Gertrude is going to cut you out of her will unless you sell out your authenticity to stay in her good graces?
3. Learn to say no.
People with cancer say no when they don’t feel like going to the gala. They avoid gatherings when they’d prefer to be alone. They don’t let themselves get pressured into doing things they really don’t want to do.
4. Get angry. Then get over it.
People who survive cancer get in your face. They question you. They feel their anger. They refuse to be doormats. They demand respect. They feel it. Then they forgive. They let go. They surrender. They don’t stay upset. They release resentment. But they don’t stuff their feelings.
5. Don’t obsess about beauty.
People who survive cancer no longer worry about whether they have perfect hair, whether their makeup looks spotless, or whether their boobs are perky enough. They’re happy just to have boobs (if they still do). They’re happy to be alive in their skin, even if it’s wrinkled.
6. Do it now.
Stop deferring happiness. People who survive cancer realize that you can’t wait until you kick the bucket to do what you’re dying to do. Quit that soul-sucking job now. Leave that deadbeat husband. Prioritize joy. Live like you mean it—NOW.
7. Say “I love you” often.
People who survive cancer leave no words left unspoken. You never know when your time is up. Don’t risk having someone you love not know it.
8. Take care of your body.
People who survive cancer have a whole new appreciation for health. Those who haven’t been there may take it for granted. So stop smoking. Eat healthy. Drink in moderation. Maintain a healthy weight. Avoid toxic poisons. Get enough sleep. Above all else, prioritize self care.
9. Prioritize freedom and live like you mean it.
People who survive cancer know that being a workaholic isn’t the answer. Money can’t buy health. Security doesn’t matter if you’re six feet under. Sixteen hours a day of being a stress monster is only going to make you sick. As Tim Ferriss writes in The 4-Hour Workweek, “Gold is getting old. The New Rich are those who abandon the deferred-life plan and create luxury lifestyles in the present using the currency of the New Rich: time and mobility.”
10. Take risks.
People who survive cancer have faced their fears and gotten to the other side. They know life is for living because they almost lost it. True aliveness and real joy lie in taking risks. So go sky diving if you want. Bungee jump. Hang glide. Spend your savings. Live like you might die tomorrow.
Are you doing these things? Or are you waiting for a life threatening diagnosis to test out how much you want to live? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
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