Since being diagnosed with breast cancer I've changed my life massively. From the products that I use, to the diet I follow, I live my life very differently after cancer came along to tip my world upside down.
When people would say ‘put up a good fight' and ‘beat cancer', I never quite got what they meant. I mean, how can I fight it? It's not like it's standing there in front of me waiting for me to land the first punch.
But a year after first being diagnosed I understand how to fight the beast. Well, I kind of made up my own way of fighting it I suppose – and all I can do is hope that that's good enough to see the back of it for good now that my treatment is over.
So I thought I'd share how my life has changed since my cancer diagnosis – maybe you could be inspired to make small changes to your lifestyle – they're all good trust me!
1. I take my meds!
I have ten years to go with my ‘adjuvant treatment’ – that’s the after care you receive after undergoing the big treatment like chemo and radiotherapy. Every day I take a cocktail of pills made up of a hormonal therapy drug (letrozole) and vitamins C and D, and every month I head to the doctors to have an injection to lower my oestrogen levels (zoladex). Once every six months I head to the hospital to have a bone infusion (zometa) – and that’s all my adjuvant treatment. I have separate treatment for a condition I developed after chemotherapy called lymphedema (swelling in my arm caused by a compromised lymphatic system), which includes daily massage, wearing a compression garment and regular appointments for extended lymphatic massage.
It’s a lot to take on, especially as I’m a young 44 year old, but I realise that it’s important to carry on taking my meds as they’re there to prevent the breast cancer returning and to give me the best chance of survival. I fought hard to get the drugs that were right for me – doing countless research (and thanks to my mum for helping with this) to ensure that I would get the best course of treatment for me.
The only thing that I haven’t got my head round is having lymphedema; I’m going to live for a year with the condition to see if there’s any improvement – and if not, I’ll look into surgery. For the rest of it though, I’ve got my daily routine of pill taking and now it’s second nature to reach for them first thing in the morning.
2. I watch what I eat more closely
I’ve always had a sweet tooth – and I’ve still got a sweet tooth, but while I was undergoing chemotherapy everything tasted awful. This helped me in two ways (1) I lost more weight (2) It got me thinking about using food as medicine to heal. And so, thanks to this book recommended by my friend Susie, I started my research. I discovered the foods that I should be eating more of.
These so-called ‘aromatase inhibitors’ are high on my go-to list of foods most weeks and include (but are not limited to) walnuts, green tea, lemons/limes, red grapes, avocados, garlic, onions, apples, white button mushrooms, sprouts, cauliflower, tomatoes, broccoli, carrots, bell peppers, raspberries/blackberries and butternut squash.
I have abolished red meat from my diet for good, eat more organically, cook more slowly in general and have embraced cooking from scratch. Of course I still have a sweet tooth – and I indulge once in a while in a stash of sweets, chocolate or cake, but overall I maintain a healthy, balanced diet that I know is giving me all the vitamins and minerals I need for my body to heal.
3. I have adopted a morning routine
What kickstarted a new way of waking for me was a book called The Miracle Morning, which I wholeheartedly recommend. It was suggested to me by one of my customers and I couldn’t put it down. It basically advocates that you get up an hour earlier every morning and dedicate that time to becoming a better person.
The hour is broken down into six ten-minute segments known as ‘savers’ – silence (for meditation), affirmations, visualisation, exercise, reading and scribing (writing).
I have to say, waking up to a calmer more fulfilled morning has been really beneficial. My days are no longer rushed; I know exactly what I want to achieve that day: I’m focused, energised and full of intention. If you haven’t given it a go, you really should try it for a week and see what you can achieve that you wouldn’t have otherwise.
4. I use non-toxic cleaning products
Let’s get one thing straight: I love cleaning. I sometimes think I’m in the wrong job! I get a lot of satisfaction from cleaning and tidying as I live by the mantra ‘tidy house, tidy mind’.
And over the last year I’ve switched from using toxic chemicals for cleaning to ones that are more natural. I’ve got a few of my own concoctions (white vinegar and baking soda are godsends and essential oils are fab for adding scents!), but I’ve largely switched to using products such as Method (this one is my fave) and Cleanology – not only do they smell great, but they’re kind to the environment and not harmful to me or my lungs.
Whenever I pop to the supermarket I’ll have a look to see if the non-toxic products are on offer; they’re usually a little more expensive than the regular cleaning products but they’re sometimes reduced, so it’s worth a look.
5. I indulge a little more – on myself
It’s not just important to have a healthy body; having a healthy mindset is key to a happier life – it’s a proven fact! Since overcoming cancer I’ve realised that I need to take time out for myself – to relax, meet friends, shop, enjoy a bath, have a massage – and just enjoy a more balanced lifestyle in general.
The key enjoyment factor for me has been my love of reading; I love getting lost in a book and this was fuelled when my dad gave me ‘Chicken Soup For The Soul’ books to read when I was a kid. Perhaps that’s why I became a journalist – my love of reading and writing was rolled into the perfect profession.
BUT…reading for a living is a lot different to reading for enjoyment and relaxation. And after having some time to reflect on what makes me happy while undergoing my cancer treatment, I knew I had to return to reading for personal fulfilment. And not only is reading relaxing, it’s also important for self-growth and learning – I devour business books to inform and educate myself, self-help books to ensure I’m growing and looking after myself and fact books to boost my memory and learn so many new things.
I think it’s sad that people choose not to read; knowing how much books can educate, inform and help people learn and grow; those who choose not to open their minds to self growth simply because they believe they can learn nothing new from reading have a lot to learn.
It’s summed up perfectly in this quote by Confucious: “No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance.”
6. I choose friends carefully
Ever since I was dumped (practically at the altar) by an ex who quite suddenly decided that eight years with me was too long, I have chosen my friends very carefully.
Having lived in a ‘relationship bubble’ for most of my 20s, I realised that I didn’t actually have many great friends; I practically had to start all over again when it came to building friendships. But I was wary; getting hurt by someone I loved dented my ego and hurt my pride. And so I made a pact with myself all those years ago: (1) I wouldn’t settle for second best in a relationship (2) I will choose my friends VERY carefully.
And following these two rules has meant that I’ve ended up with a man that I not only adore but is also my best friend AND it’s meant that my close friends know the real me – not just my hopes and aspirations but also my weaknesses and fears.
When it comes to all relationships, I choose honesty above all else. I wear my heart on my sleeve – there are no grey areas with me, no second guessing what I really mean – I’m just your average ‘straight down the line’ type of girl who is as honest and open with my friends as I can be. And those who live by the same sentiment and who I trust? They’re the friends worth hanging on to – and I’ll always have their back.
7. I say no more
Having cancer gave me an excuse for saying no to many things. People were much more understanding of why I wasn’t able to make it to their party/outing/get-together. But then I realised that I shouldn’t need to have an excuse; surely I can be comfortable enough in my own skin to be honest with friends and tell them that I just “didn’t fancy it”.
This is no reflection on them of course – and friends who know me well will realise this, but I’ve come to the conclusion that life is too short to be doing things that we don’t love or appreciate.
Naturally there are times when this is unavoidable, but on the whole, why not make sure that live my life to the full – even if this means disappointing a few people along the way?
There will always be people who’ll try to take advantage of the kind nature in others. This is something that I have experienced many times – and continue to experience with some people. They’ll use excuses such as they “don’t have time” to do something and ask me to do it instead. They know that I’m efficient, keen to please others and like to get a job done.
But these are the sort of people who haven’t worked out that they control their time. Instead they are too busy procrastinating or getting distracted rather than getting their head down and doing the job themselves – and their priorities are all wrong. I’ve become wise to their ways – and using the expression “Being cruel to be kind”, I’ve learned to say “no” to these types of people. They have to learn to do tasks themselves on their own time. They don’t have time? Get up an hour earlier and MAKE time! They don’t want to do that either? Then their priorities, objectives and goals are all wrong – simple as.
8. I travel more
Travel is one of my biggest passions. It’s not the actual travel I enjoy, but rather being in another destination, experiencing a different culture, observing its history, traditions – and its people.
I could sit at a café abroad and people watch all day long. I find people fascinating; their way of life, their mannerisms, their beliefs… Every one of us is different and yet we’re all the same; we want similar things – food, love, familiarity, reassurance… but our outlook on life can be hugely different. And because of this I believe that we can truly learn from one another. That’s why I’ll never tire of travelling – of discovering new lands, new sights and different people.
At the time of writing this I’m supposed to be in Mexico; the lockdown prevented this from happening. The other trip I had planned was a weekend in Slovenia in June – fingers crossed I can make that, but if not we’ll just have to reschedule.
“So much of who we are is where we have been” once said a wise man called William Langewiesche.
9. I spend more time outdoors
There’s something about nature and being outdoors that is so good for the soul. I guess I’ve always known this, but it wasn’t until I started looking into mindfulness while undergoing my cancer treatment that I realised how powerful being amongst nature was.
This was further instilled when I started going to healing; they talk about being grounded with the earth to receive energy – and it turns out it’s not all cock and bull; I recently read that soil contains bacteria that is a natural antidepressant – and I don’t know about you but I always feel calm and contented when I’ve been out gardening and have rid the garden of a few weeds.
But if gardening is not your thing, just a simple walk in the park is enough to perk you up and make you feel like you’re ‘at peace’ and ‘in the moment’. You can breathe in the wonderful fresh air and feel like a tiny speck in the universe; and that’s the beauty (and power) of Mother Nature.
10. I volunteer to help others
I genuinely believe that giving is better than receiving and I’ve always been a very generous person. I derive great pleasure in giving gifts – and one of the greatest gifts of all is time.
Making myself available for the school PTA or helping packing shopping bags to raise money for charity – just ask and I’m there. Volunteering, helping people or even teaching offers such a ‘feel good factor’. I had signed up for two charity events this year (I was planning on getting my fitness back big time!), but I’m not sure if they’ll go ahead now.
That doesn’t mean that I will stop helping others – I believe it’s one of my purposes in life – especially after overcoming cancer and launching a new business and working full time while undergoing treatment. Having used many coping mechanisms and having had that experience I’ve a lot to share with others – and, as we all know, information is knowledge.
11. I live simply and consume less
I’ve always known that when I tidy I feel less anxious. In fact, I wrote a blog post on how tidying can help relieve stress. Since receiving my letter from the NHS telling me that I was at ‘high health risk’ from the coronavirus, I’ve made it my mission to declutter my lifestyle starting with my home. This not only made me feel better, it also kept me from getting bored while housebound.
At the same time, I was reading Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic Of Tidying and it all made complete sense to me. I realised that my life was cluttered with too many things that I didn’t need or want. I spent the first two weeks of lockdown going through every room with a fine toothcomb, putting things aside for charity and selling those that I could. In fact, in the first two days I earned £40 just by selling unwanted DVDs and books.
And afterwards, as I looked around my home I realised that I took great pleasure in the fact that it was uncluttered and I was surrounded only by the things that I love or have special meaning to me. This new lifestyle means that I save money as I’ll only ever buy something that I need or that I really love and will use straight away. There’s no more hoarding lotions and potions, clothes, make-up, ornaments, books and everything else, never to be used again! Living simply and within your means and abolishing the ‘quick retail fix’ mentality that many of us are used to definitely enriches your life.
12. I don’t take my family for granted
When we come to lie on our deathbed most of us will realise that all that really mattered in life was our loved ones and being happy. The moment I was told I had cancer (and I didn’t know my fate), all I could think of was my family. I was wracked with guilt and I just wanted to tell them how much I loved them and how happy they made me.
Getting cancer was a huge wake up call. It opened my eyes to living a better life, being true to myself, reducing my stress levels and ultimately doing what makes me happy. Being healthy (in mind and body) is a HUGE part of this – and woe betide anyone that tries to scupper my chances of happiness; life is too short for that and I have my priorities just right.
Ask anyone who has been through a long-term illness or life changing experience and they’ll tell you that health, family, friends and happiness are an integral part of living your best life. If one of these things is out of kilter – aim to fix it and get back on track – and don’t let anyone stand in your way of what you want to achieve. It’s your life – we only have one shot, so make it a good one!
What circumstances or experiences have made you look at improving yourself and your life?
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