Figuring Out Life After Cancer During the Holidays


About four years ago, I wrote a post called "All the Answers" where I discussed the weight of uncertainty after cancer.

Steve Rubin image

I had started turning my health around, which was a blessing, and yet I also felt unsettled by not knowing what to do next. There wasn’t much of a plan in place other than my focus to continue healing each day.

This type of unhelpful pressure can be especially brutal around the holidays. For years, I felt torn because I love my family and friends and of course want to be with them during the holidays! But then when you start hearing about the successes, the progression, the accomplishments of everyone around you — it can be a real gut punch while you’re on such a different wavelength.

At least during treatment, I felt like my situation spoke for itself. Then, as time moved on and my condition began to improve— as I began to look more normal, healthy and capable on the outside, I noticed myself becoming more self-critical. There was this inner perfectionist voice that couldn’t quite tolerate my current status; it didn’t feel good that I hadn’t caught myself up to speed on traditional goals and milestones in the real world — things like career, starting a family, travel, etc. And I didn’t even have a clear plan!

I learned that life after cancer is a whole new playing field after treatment. Your identity has gone through massive change and now it’s time to figure out who the new you is and to find your way. And for me, this process was NOT easy. Fear around rebuilding is real and its ferocious.

I’m still very much a student and work in progress, but as the years have passed, I have the privilege of experience that I can share with others now going through what I’ve been up against. And what I can share is as much as I wanted to control everything, life unravels as you go. The best thing you can do is learn to accept that and let go of what you can’t control.

This is a daily task, by the way. Sometimes an hourly task, sometimes more. The scary waves of thoughts, doubts and insecurities can come in intensely, but when you come to understand that it’s not so much you, it’s what any human who’s gone through major trauma should anticipate, it can become much easier to manage.

The next piece of advice is to keep making adjustments. Keep experimenting. Keep failing forward. It may all be a blur for a while — at times, a painful, disappointing, awkward blur.

And then one year, the holidays show up again and you won’t believe all the progress you’ve made.

This year, I created a coaching program and am helping others heal from cancer. I picked driving back up because I live in NYC and haven’t needed a car, but it felt like something to brush up on. My wife traveled earlier in the year and we have exciting life plans headed into 2024.

But the biggest thing is I’ve learned is to accept that just like the earlier stages of fighting stage 4 cancer, where I set out to defy a less than 10% survival rate, I won’t always get validation or reassurance that what I’m doing is “working” right away or that success is assured.

I continually try to remind myself (daily, sometimes hourly, sometimes more) that I am following my heart just like I did with treatment, I am making constant adjustments, and doing the best I can… And usually that’s been the recipe for good things happening.

I remind myself that all I have to do is be a little better than I was yesterday.

One day at a time.

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