I wrote an article about a month ago called ‘Better off almost dead?’ I explored the concept of the life half-lived due to avoiding change and how it’s possible to be better off if life throws you challenge that forces you to change. I even suggested that it’s not hard to find stories about people who say that a life threat (such as cancer) was the best thing that ever happened to them because it forced them to get serious about what was important in life.
Since writing that article I learned that one of my very own clients at Integrity and Values went through that experience when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. I asked Alison to be my very first guest writer so that others may learn from her wisdom the way that I have. If you survive a life threat but learn some valuable lessons, the experience may have been worth it. If you can learn those lessons from someone like Alison without having to go so close to the edge, even better…
Owing up to Cancer by Alison Bentley
There’s many a time that I’ve been afraid to own up that in 2004 I had an aggressive breast cancer diagnosed.
It’s been in the years following the completion of a year of treatment, that I found it unbearably painful to acknowledge. Yet there was a sense of something not quite right when I would tear up in moments of telling someone. Then in horror I would gulp it back and shut up. I can see how I’ve been uptight for the last 8 years – hiding it.
So today and from here on, I own that I had cancer diagnosed and I’m so proud as I got to have the best year of my life and see myself as someone totally extraordinary. I learned many valuable lessons and to not accept and share my experience is to waste what I learned.
I became someone who was pure of heart, confident, wise and vulnerable, inspiring and inspired. I was love for my family and friends and colleagues and everyone along the street, at the hospital and the wards – for the first time in my life I did not have judgments. I had love and acceptance. Yes some friends disappeared and some people avoided me and some were confronted. That was ok; it was them, not me.
I became focused and persistent and did more smiling than ever. I was a consistent demand on my team to do better than their best because I wanted their expertise and help to restore my life’s longevity statistic, in fact I was imagining going all the way to 150 years.
I learned to trust. It was clear who was on my team, and we were a big team, of professionals, family, and friends, colleagues and even strangers. They were all playing the game I had imagined for myself, but it was not about me. Now that was a cool distinction to live.
I learned the value of true listening. I listened respectfully to my team’s expert knowledge and they listened respectfully to me. They gave me their very best and I took it gratefully and followed exactly. I was honoured with their focus and commitment and passion.
I never gave up. My team never gave up. Eight years on, no one has given up. When you’re faced with a challenge like cancer you find the strength to do whatever it takes with no guarantee of a successful outcome.
I got very responsible. I was the one with cancer and I was the one who got up every morning regardless.
I bounced out of bed during the week because there were people depending on me turning up. On the weekends I would find solace in a warm bath and cry out all the fear and tiredness and let it release away. This was my version of end of week drinks at the pub. I loved my private time and my bath.
I got in touch with my body. I trusted and honoured it with care and attention, listening to what it was telling me. It was either full on or full off. No pretending and this was magical. I became clear that I was no longer bound by what I might miss out on. There was nothing to miss out on. I had everything I needed as I needed it.
I did what ever it took; I had a promise and a commitment to something big, my life and those who believed in me. I learned that I was capable to turning up for radiotherapy every day at 7am, 5 minutes early with a smile; cheerful and grateful to the nurses and technicians. I focused on leading the way for them to have a great day too.
Everyday I attended work with energy and gratitude. Every day I ate well and every day I took all my potions and pills without fail. Every day I thought about what I needed to achieve that day. I saw that there was nowhere else to be and nothing else to achieve. I got clarity about my life.
I got to love having no hair and laughing with the men at work who shaved what little hair they had left. The joke was that mine would grow back and theirs would not. I learned the benefit of seeing the humourous side and it was fun.
I learned to be myself and accepting of who I am. This led me to ditching my wig which was so hot and prickly and ultimately a denial of myself and what I was living with.
I learned to live a life of simple choices and only 3 things mattered and got my attention.
- Be generous with my friends and family and share the journey.
- Be courageous at work to fulfill the dream of unbelievable value for our customers, distributors and team.
- Honour my life and my body to nuture and heal – to be the light and follow my heart – not my head.
It was in my darkness that I got to see the magnificence of the light that I am and can always be.
Through cancer I found myself. It was mine and I won.
Many thanks to Alison for sharing her wisdom and Integrity and Values for introducing me to such a wonderful person.