I’m Not a ‘Cancer Warrior,’ But I Am a ‘Joy Warrior’

I’m giving cancer’s “battle language” an update and focusing my survivorship plan on emotional wellbeing and honesty.

Being on the receiving end of advice — good, bad, worst — is a way of life once cancer enters the picture.

It’s hard when you look like “the cancer patient” in a group of friends and acquaintances. Everyone has something to say (or, even worse, they say nothing at all) and much of what they have to offer is advice. In my case, most of the advice centered loosely around fighting cancer and maintaining my stubborn attitude.

READ MORE: Stop Saying Cancer Is a ‘Battle’

What I actually adopted to live better with cancer, instead of the stubbornness and the battle language that is so commonly used, was to name every single emotion I was feeling and then lean into it by just feeling it. Doing this gave me a chance to truly accept emotions that felt unacceptable. I could feel sad, scared and angry without also being hard on myself.

It wasn’t and isn’t easy, though. There are times when someone close to me will tell me that I’m feeling sorry for myself or that I’m dwelling on things that are unhappy and out of my control.

No one wants to be told they are wallowing in self-pity, even if that wallowing lasts only minutes.

Beyond being open to difficult emotions, I began to see that I could still find all the happiness and hope I held before the cancer diagnosis. If anything, I felt those emotions and other positive emotions even more powerfully once I started acknowledging them.

My happiness about attending a pancake breakfast with my then-12-year-old child definitely felt different when I knew the average prognosis for someone with metastatic breast cancer was three years. Bittersweet, yes. But also, just sweet.

Self-care can sometimes sound like selfishness, but don’t fall into that trap. If taking a nap or painting your fingernails or lying in a hammock reading books returns you to yourself, how is that selfish? It takes nothing from anyone else to show love to yourself. Living with that mindset doesn’t come naturally to me, but I know it has made a difference in living with the difficulties—known and unknown—that cancer delivers.

I’ve been doing this for nearly eight years now. That’s a lot of “naming emotions,” and sometimes I fall back into the habit of only looking forward instead of looking at right now.

But I consider this the foundation of my so-called survivorship plan, and like most survivorship plans it is ongoing. Yes, I need all the things related to heart health, chemo-induced neuropathy, exercise, plus I need my regular targeted therapies for cancer. But to live with cancer for the long haul, beyond being absurdly lucky with treatment response, your mind game must be strong.

I get strength from all corners of the world I inhabit: my husband and kids, family, friends, all the places I live and visit and from the people there with me. I try to seek out the social media posts and people who remind everyone that there is a beautiful world here if we want it.

It’s online that I find #joy and #joywarrior surfacing over and over again. One of my online friends once told me that I am “here for joy” and the power of that has stuck with me.

Cancer takes a lot and takes away a lot, so giving yourself a moment or more every day to pause and name that joy (or wonder or longing) is a gift. #JoyOut

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