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A Cancer Survivor's Perspective on No-Shave November
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Tough Time of Year? Cancer Survivor Chooses Happiness

Two-time cancer survivor offers ways to work toward happy.
PUBLISHED November 01, 2017
Barbara Tako is a breast cancer survivor (2010), melanoma survivor (2014) and author of Cancer Survivorship Coping Tools–We'll Get You Through This. She is a cancer coping advocate, speaker and published writer for television, radio and other venues across the country. She lives, survives, and thrives in Minnesota with her husband, children and dog. See more at www.cancersurvivorshipcopingtools.com,or www.clutterclearingchoices.com.
I am hardwired as a glass-is-half-empty person. Two cancers, beginning with breast cancer in my 40s, did not exactly lighten my attitude. I didn’t want to be gloomy, especially when the popular notion at the time was that your positive attitude (or not) contributed to your ability to fight cancer. Yikes. With time (and therapy), I have gradually learned that “happy” is an inside job. Happiness is a choice. For me, over the years, I have learned some tricks to help me, as a cancer survivor to become happier.

Choosing happiness takes work, but it is worth it to me. Time will march on regardless of my mental state, so why not work to improve it? Certainly, I would rather spend what time I have feeling better and enjoying more, rather than feeling worse and being sadder, right? There are many choices available. I strongly encourage you to pick a few and choose to regularly practice them. Make them into personal habits. It helps – honest!

Read positive information. Don’t shun all the self-help “happy books” and articles available. Do be discriminating. Don’t waste time with the platitudes or things you already know. There is lots of great information out there to help us choose happy—more than a glass-is-half-empty cancer survivor might think. Do your research, read the reviews online and pick wisely, but do pick.

Internalize nature. Do connect regularly with nature—whether it is walking on a walking path, park, city block or sitting outside, or even sitting by the window regularly looking out at the day. Focus on your senses and what you see, hear, smell and feel. Get a break from your “worry brain.”

Consider a limited diet of news, especially when so much of it is negative. Don’t sit and read or watch depressing news. Choose to take breaks from it or choose to simply skim headlines. Monitor and manage your mental input.

Try a limited diet of frightening or unhappy recreational movies, television and reading. While some of it may be “entertaining” on some level, we all have certain images engraved in our brains and we can’t later un-see them. It is like junk food—maybe a little appealing initially, but once it is eaten, it is in there.

Make choices that lead you to be happier. You spend time with whom? Some people drain our energy; other people inspire us. Be a careful steward of your time. You live where? Check out National Geographic Explorer and best-selling author Dan Buettner’s search for the happiest Americans by location. You do what? Do you give yourself time to regularly pursue your personal hobbies, interests and passions? Do you feel uncomfortable—too hot or too cold? Do you grab the blanket or sweater, adjust the room temperature, or, in cold climates, invest in your own comfort by getting a remote car starter? Yes, you are worth happier choices!

How do you think? Do you engage in negative self-talk and thinking? Careful! You are listening to yourself! Knock of the self-beating! I am really good at it and still have to mentally remind myself to knock it off. Stop it! Every thought choice and life choice you make every day impacts your mental state. Do you take the short ugly route or the slightly longer more scenic route?

My grandpa who lived happily to 99 years old often said two things to me: “Prepare for the worst but hope for the best.” And, “You have one little life, Barbie. It is yours, and how you live it is your choice and yours alone.”

Moving toward happier is a long road and I am on it for the duration. When I look back some day, I want to see positive choices and happier moments. There will always be negative things in life. That is part of the world. Still, there are positive things we can choose, too.

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