Becoming comfortable and complacent in the world of breast cancer is an easy thing to do, and learning to thrive can be a challenge.
At the beginning of 2016, I wrote an article describing a revelation I’d received from a movie line. The movie was “The Shawshank Redemption” and the line that impacted my life can be described in a nutshell as get busy living or get busy dying. While I had good intentions of taking that advice and implementing it in all aspects of my life, I have to admit, I didn’t do a very good job of it. At best, I gave a halfhearted effort to reclaiming my life and taking back all breast cancer had stolen from me. A new year is upon us and with the new year comes a long list of resolutions. I really want to learn how to get busy living. But I don’t want to just live, I want to thrive. But what does that word really mean?
When I think of the word thrive, I think of gardening. I’m not an avid gardener, but several years ago, I did try my hand at planting a vegetable garden. I didn’t want to cheat and use established plants, I wanted to start from scratch and plant seeds. I had no idea what I was doing, so I did a lot of research. After I’d equipped myself with gardening knowledge, I went to a local garden center and purchased the specific type of seeds for my zone. These seeds should grow well in our southern climate, I thought, as I studied the planting depth and watering requirements for each type seed I’d purchased. Preparing the soil took a long time. I needed to amend it with compost, lime and other nutrients to ensure a healthy environment for the tiny seeds I’d soon deposit into the soil. I dug narrow furrows in the prepared soil and finally was ready to begin planting. Very carefully, I placed the seeds according to the instructions on the back of the packets. I gently covered them over with the loose soil and watered them well. Days and days passed before I began to see tiny green shoots popping out of the soil. I was pleased! My first vegetables were underway. I cared for those little seedlings until they grew into mature plants. I continued to water and fertilize them until they yielded my first harvest. I was surprised to find some of the vegetables continued to grow and yield even after several pickings. They were not only living plants, they were thriving. The environment I’d provided for them was conducive to healthy growth. As I thought about my garden, I realized plants needed specific things to help them produce well and continue growing. I needed specific things to help me grow and thrive, too. What kind of things did I need to live well and thrive? I had no idea but I knew I needed to find out.
The dictionary defines the word “thrive” using the following verbs: to grow vigorously, to prosper or to flourish. As I read those descriptions, I knew I had not lived my life that way in some time. Instead of thriving, I had settled. I had accepted my fate with breast cancer and simply resigned myself to living under an umbrella of ill health. My vision had narrowed. My focus had become so attuned to medical tests, doctors and all things cancer related that I’d stopped living. I was just existing. In order to change my situation, I needed to discover how to help myself get better. I needed to figure out what would encourage my spiritual and mental growth causing me to thrive. I began to make a list of things I felt would be helpful and here’s what I discovered:
In order to move out of my current status and shift from just existing to thriving, I was going to have to take the first step toward growth by surrounding myself with like-minded people—people who could understand my situation the best would be other breast cancer survivors. I made a commitment to attend classes provided by my local cancer wellness center. By placing myself in proximity to other women who’d experienced the trauma of cancer, I knew I would share a common bond. We could encourage each other and share our stories as we attended classes together. Making myself step out of my comfort zone would cause me to grow and this would surely put me on the path to thriving. This choice would feed my emotional health.
I also needed to strengthen my body so I’d feel better physically. I needed to radically change my diet by eliminating as much sugar as possible and I needed to incorporate lots of healthy fruits and vegetables. It was also important to include some form of exercise. Walking is my exercise of choice because I can do it anywhere at any time. Just like the garden I’d planted, I also needed lots of clean water and precious sunshine. Staying hydrated would help my body detox on a regular basis and the sunshine would provide a beneficial form of natural vitamin D. I also needed to get vital doses of good quality sleep. By choosing a regular bedtime each night and by making my bedroom darker and cooler, chances are I’d sleep better. I also needed to eliminate stress from my life. By learning to say no and feel OK about saying it, I could learn to set healthy boundaries that protected myself. These choices would benefit my physical health and well-being.
The last thing I knew I needed to implement in the New Year was possibly the most important tool for learning to thrive and that was learning to accept myself in a loving and caring way. I needed to accept myself just as I was without putting undue expectations or limits on myself. If I could manage to do that, I knew I’d be making the wisest of choices.
Learning to move past cancer isn’t an easy thing to do. There are no manuals or detailed instructions like there are with gardening. Each person has to find what works best for them, often through trial and error. One piece of advice I’d like to give myself and others who might be reading this article would be to keep moving and growing. If we remain stagnant, we become like the Dead Sea. Nothing can live there. Water flows in but never flows out. In fact, the Dead Sea is so filled with dense salt that humans can actually float in the water with no effort at all! But, if we become like a mountain stream, constantly moving, changing and flowing new life will sprout up all around us and we’ll not only water those around us, we’ll find we are thriving, too.
I want the new year to be different. I want to move forward with anticipation and hope. I don’t want to live in the past or in the land of “what if.” My goal is to learn to thrive and I think that’s a very worthwhile goal for someone who was handed a death sentence a little over two years ago. Won’t you join me? Please don’t choose to let cancer control your life. It’s your life, so get busy living it!