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February 15, 2020 – Jane Biehl PhD

Finding Joy Again After Breast Cancer

Finding joy after a cancer diagnosis can take time. With intention and a little work, it’s possible to find that which you may have lost.
 
PUBLISHED February 01, 2020
Bonnie Annis is a breast cancer survivor, diagnosed in 2014 with stage 2b invasive ductal carcinoma with metastasis to the lymph nodes. She is an avid photographer, freelance writer/blogger, wife, mother and grandmother.
After I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I felt like someone had let the steam out of my sails.  Once a happy go, lucky person, I turned into someone I didn’t know. Going through surgery, tests, and treatment, I was unable to focus on anything other than making it through the day. I didn’t smile much back then — because I had nothing to smile about. I was hurting and I wasn’t sure I’d live to see tomorrow.

One day, while resting on my sofa after an extremely difficult day, I was watching television. I don’t remember the name of the show, but it was one of those self-help type shows featuring a Japanese woman named Marie Kondo.

I watched intently as Ms. Kondo gave hints and tips on decluttering a home. With great precision, she worked diligently to help the homeowner rid her home of clutter. I almost laughed when Ms. Kondo said something in Japanese and a translator interpreted the message. “Only keep things that spark joy,” she said. How can things spark joy, I wondered? 

Intrigued, I watched the show until the end and was fascinated by the principles Ms. Kondo put into place. That show made me wonder about my life. Where had the things gone that sparked my joy?

The more I thought about the question, the more determined I was to figure out when I actually lost my joy. It had to have been somewhere along my cancer journey. 

Before being diagnosed with cancer, I laughed multiple times a day. I was able to find joy in almost anything. My outlook on life was healthy while smiling came naturally for me. But after cancer, things were very different. 

No longer did I find joy in the people or things I used to love. To be honest, I didn’t have joy anymore and I didn’t care. I was sick and tired. My heart hurt. I knew I wasn’t myself but didn’t know how to fix it, and then, something changed. That statement about finding things that sparked joy began to fester. There had to be a way to get my joy back.

A friend recommended I try a new hobby, so I did. If there was a way to spark joy in my life, surely a new hobby could help. I visited a local art studio and began to take some classes there. I tried painting, jewelry making, and leather working. While I was active, my mood became elevated and I found myself smiling just a little. As I was keeping my mind and hands occupied, I didn’t think so much about bodily aches and pains. It felt good!

That’s when I began looking for sparks of joy and I found them in the simplest of things – reading a book, listening to music, taking a walk and enjoying a cup of tea.  All of sudden, it seemed joy was everywhere!

The thing I discovered was that cancer hadn’t freely taken my joy, I’d given it permission to take it without even realizing what I’d done. 

Finding joy after a cancer diagnosis takes effort. What brings a spark to my life may not touch yours at all, but I think Ms. Kondo has a good idea. And if you’re looking for ideas that spark joy, there’s an organization called Lights Out No Lycra that sounds interesting. It’s a concept I could really embrace. Who wouldn’t like dancing in the dark where no one could judge your efforts? Just thinking about it makes me smile.

Whatever survivors can do to bring joy back into their lives after cancer, they should do it, with help or without. Ms. Kondo says we should “Cherish the things you love. Cherish Yourself.” And I agree with her.

Joy brings hope and hope enhances life. Why be miserable if you don’t have to be?
 
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