In 2009 I was living the New York dream. I had a successful wine and food public relations firm, organized glamorous events, hobnobbed with famous chefs, and traveled the work drinking great wine and dining in the best restaurants. And I was making money doing it! Life was delicious!
And then I discovered small round lump in my left breast during a self examination in the shower at a hotel in Tuscany in July the same year. My heart sank life a deflated soufflé when my ob/GYN delivered the news a few weeks later after a barrage of tests that I had a “positive carcinoma” – a.k.a. breast cancer.
My father always told me to “think positive.” So the idea of a “positive” test delivering negative news was hard to digest. But I refused to let cancer sour my life or my attitude.
People will tell you to “Stay positive” and “Think positive thoughts” during cancer treatment. Sometimes it is hard, but it’s better to focus less on asking “Why Me?” and focus more on “What am I going to do get healthy?”
Having cancer may not be your choice but how you face the journey is your choice. I chose to use the experience as a learning boot camp to change anything in my life weighing down, stressing me out, souring my mood or stomach and holding me back from the three things I found really mattered: 1. Staying healthy and fit physically and mentally 2. Finding pleasure in your life and sharing it with others 3. Doing something you enjoy that gives you purpose and makes your life meaningful to you.
I took a hard look at my life and made four lists: 1. What I liked about my life. 2. What I didn’t like about it 3. What I hope to achieve after cancer and 4. What I was willing to give up or take on to realize that goal. Having lists and a goal gave me a sense of purpose and the power to say: “Cancer will not derail my life; it’s just adding a few more bumps in the road that I need to navigate more deftly.”
Here are my ten take aways from my own experience to be fearless and fabulous in your life:
- Eat to live well: Would you put inferior gas in your car? So why put cheap processed food in your body? Think of food as the fuel you need to keep your body’s engine running smoothly.
- Incorporate daily exercise into your daily habits. Exercise helps maintain your weight; elevates your energy, keeps your bones and muscles strong and boosts your mood.
- Stay hydrated for better health and better skin. Drinking enough water and getting enough sleep are two very inexpensive beauty treatments.
- Be incomparable. Stop comparing your condition, your life or your accomplishments to anyone else’s. You choose the role you want to play on the stage of your life and should act and dress the part. If at any point you want to switch roles, then do it. Learn to live life on your terms and not on anyone else’s.
- Don’t smoke or do recreational drugs: get your “high” by learning to laugh more and worry less.
- Have safe sex and more enjoyable sex with the right partner, even if you are a “single practitioner.” Sex, like exercise, hydration and getting enough sleep is another easy way to boost your mood, increase your positive energy, calm you down and give you glowing skin.
- Learn to love the body you have; you may be able to make a few tweaks here and there but you can’t trade it in. I’ve stopped looking in the mirror for imperfections; instead I just add a little more paint to the canvas and smile more.
- Be vigilant about your health screening and annual exam including mammograms, dental exams, skin cancer screenings, physicals, pap smears
- Make you and your health a priority. It’s not being selfish; it’s being sensible. If you don’t take care of yourself you may not be around in the long run to take care of the people who matter most in your life.
- Take time out to find pleasure and share it with others. Being 24/7 for clients never made me more money; it just made me more stressful. I’ve learned to turn off, tune out, live in the moment and make time for myself to do things I enjoy but put off for too many years, like writing a book.
Breast cancer survivor Melanie Young has just published her first book (but not her last!) called “Getting Things Off My Chest: Survivor’s Guide to Staying Fearless and Fabulous in the Face of Breast Cancer” (Cedar Fort Inc./September 2013). Available nationwide in paperback and ebook. Follow Melanie on Twitter @mightymelanie and on her blog Getting Things Off My Chest at www.melanieyoung.com