8 Life Lessons From My Friend Who Was Diagnosed With Cancer at 30

I’ve known AW since our first year of university. AW has always been the picture of health and vitality: she enjoys being active, she maintains a healthy body weight, and she is a happy, vibrant, and fun person to be around. She is always up for an adventure and trying something new (and she will push you to try it too). If ever there was a person who loves life, it is AW. She exudes energy and positivity.

When she let me know that she was in the hospital having a mass in her chest diagnosed, we both assumed it would be a cyst. When she found out it was cancer that would require both chemo and radiation as treatment, everyone in her life was shocked. When she got fired from her job the same day, it added unnecessary insult to injury. Talk about a bad day!

The person who took all of this terrible news the best? AW herself. Throughout the course of her treatment, AW has taught me a few things I thought that I would share with all of you:

Make the conscious choice to be a positive person. AW always tells me that life is what you make it. If you’re a negative person, then you will see the world and other people in a negative light. Sometime it’s hard to stay upbeat and she does acknowledge that she feels bad sometimes. However, she says the key is not to dwell on it and to approach negative situations in a positive and productive way. The Mayo Clinic agrees and cites many health benefits from maintaining a positive outlook on life, including:

  • Increased life span
  • Lower rates of depression
  • Lower levels of distress
  • Greater resistance to the common cold
  • Better psychological and physical well-being
  • Reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease
  • Better coping skills during hardships and times of stress  

fitness-332278_640As if you needed a reason to smile! Do it for your health.

Plan things to look forward to. Daily life can get monotonous and repetitive when you’re an adult. Gone are the days of having few real responsibilities, seeing your friends whenever you want, and being free from financial obligations. When someone is going through the cancer experience, they also spend a lot of time waiting. There are so many tests and procedures and every single one has a waiting period. On top of that, you also wait for test results.

AW likes to plan fun things to break up her week, take her mind off of her illness, and give herself something to look forward to. This could be a weekend away with her closest friends, which she is doing right before she starts radiation. It could also be “date night” with her boyfriend, which they plan regularly. This advice doesn’t only apply to people who are sick though. Having a calendar filled with fun things to  do will brighten anyone’s day!

man-802062_640What does a perfect day look like for you? 

Make the most of every moment. No one knows how long they have to live or what their experience is going to be like. You know what they say about the best laid plans, right? What you do know is that you have right now and you need to enjoy it as much as possible. Take pictures, make time to do the things that you love, and simply stop to enjoy the moment rather than being distracted by thinking about your to-do list. No one wants to have regrets, so make sure that you aren’t checking out of your own life because you only care about what (might) be happening next.

child-645434_640It’s not only little kids who can take the time to stop and smell the figurative roses! Soak in the beauty around you and I promise that you’ll be happy you did.

Look for reasons to be happy and you will find them. On the other hand, if you look for reasons to complain and be miserable, you will find those too. Your homework? Laugh, smile, and find reasons to be happy and grateful. When I think I’m having a bad day, I remember what AW is going through and how, despite all of her health challenges, she always lists off the things she does have versus the things she’s lacking. She will often say how grateful she is for the support she’s received throughout her illness and that despite having cancer, she has a lot of things to be thankful for in her life too.

11-33-55-874_640What are you grateful for today? Remember, life has so many simple pleasures to be found if you just stop and look.

Don’t take your health for granted. AW never thought that she would get sick. She was young, fit, and always made her health a priority. Her first biopsy came back with inconclusive results. Due to her age and overall good heath, she didn’t push back when she was told that her next biopsy wouldn’t be for a month. In that short amount of time, her tumor almost doubled in size. Unfortunately, cancer doesn’t discriminate when it comes to ruining lives and good habits aren’t a guarantee that you will stay well.

However, her healthy starting point has made her treatment and recovery easier on her than it would be on an unhealthy person. AW went to the gym consistently throughout her chemo treatments. She has already found a trainer to work with after she’s done radiation to start rebuilding her strength. One of the side effects of her radiation treatment is that she will lose an artery in her heart, so her diet will become very important to maintaining overall good health. She’s already started sourcing recipes.

What can you and I take away from all of this? We can make careful choices when deciding what food to eat and find a workout program to stick with for the long haul. People need to do everything in their power to maintain their good health and reverse any of the damage poor habits have already caused (which is possible in many cases! Don’t wait until it isn’t). You can’t always prevent cancer, but a healthy lifestyle can help to prevent other illnesses, like heart disease and diabetes.

spinach-791629_640Take advantage of the health benefits that food can provide.

Always find the silver lining. When you’re sick, there really isn’t much to be happy, grateful, or excited about. However, AW makes a point to find something positive to take out of every test result that she gets. I mentioned above that she will lose an artery in her heart, which made me so scared for her. AW reminded me that eating healthy food without much fat is better for her anyway, so it’s going to be okay.

Radiation has many possible side effects, including different types of cancer. AW chooses to focus on the fact that it increases the likelihood of her tumor being gone for good. There are no absolutes or guarantees with cancer, but she’s doing everything that she can to prevent this particular tumor from recurring. As she likes to say, she is kicking cancer’s ass. If she can find positives in a life threatening situation, so can we.

sun-314340_640No matter how dark the day is, find something positive to take away from the experience.

Don’t wait to enjoy life. Is there a trip that you’ve always wanted to take, or a goal that you are saving for retirement? Don’t wait! You don’t know that you will get to enjoy a healthy retirement, let alone with the person you want to spend it with. I’m not saying this to be a downer; I’m saying it because it’s true. Trust me, it happened to Grams.

JP and I were originally planning to buy a cottage and retire there, but we’ve decided there is no time like the present. We are young, healthy, and in love, so why not have a private getaway now? Hopefully we will be able to enjoy it together for years to come. However, if we don’t get that opportunity, at least we will get to experience our dream together.

Seize the moment!

picnic-435915_640Take the time (and money) to do the things that you really want to do in your life right now.

Celebrate whenever you can for any reason that you can. AW celebrated completing her first and last chemo sessions and every positive bit of information that she received. She also intends to have an “end of cancer party” and make 2016 her best year ever. Celebrating lets you spend time with the people you love, boosts your spirits, and acknowledges the positives in your life. Who doesn’t want that?

I hope that you don’t have any health milestone like AW’s to celebrate, but you can celebrate reaching a new fitness goal, a promotion at work, or even the start of a new season. I’m not saying that you need to have a big party every month, but you can go out for dinner (or cook a nice one at home!), get outside and explore, or go on a weekend adventure. There is so much in life that deserves celebration.

glasses-213156_640Do you really need an excuse to raise a glass?

Final Thoughts

Illnesses can really change your perspective and priorities, but it’s unfortunate that many people wait until they’re ill to learn important life lessons. I watched my dad battle cancer and learned so much from him, which I am always going to carry with me. His experience has forever changed the trajectory of my life. Now I am witnessing AW, someone very close in age to me, go through the same thing. It’s terrifying and makes you question your own mortality, but it also causes you to examine how you’re living your life and what you could (and possibly should) be doing differently.

I’ve learned that money is important, but it’s not the be all and end all of life. You can’t take it with you when you go, so why not use it to have amazing experiences with the people you love? Your happiness and success is not measured by your bank balance. Too many people get caught up in working their lives away that they don’t realize they missed out until it’s too late. Don’t let this happen to you because, trust me, it can. I hope that cancer hasn’t touched your life in any way and that it never does. But remember, illness isn’t just something “that happens to other people.” There are a lot of things in life that we simply can’t control. I think it’s time to start taking control of the things that we can!

Thank you for reading. Please share your life lessons with me in the comments below.

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76 thoughts on “8 Life Lessons From My Friend Who Was Diagnosed With Cancer at 30

  1. Thanks for this from another 30 year old this is a wake up call thanks especially for; Plan things to look forward to, Make the most of every moment…the list is awesome but I struggle especially with these two…love and light to your friend may she find healing in this experience…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I still struggle with some of the things on the list too, but I consciously tell myself to be positive, to make time, to stop thinking about work when I’m supposed to be spending quality time with my husband…our lifestyles are so “go, go, go” that it’s so challenging for us to simply shut off and enjoy life. We are going away this weekend and the cottage that we rented doesn’t have WiFi. I can’t wait!

      Thank you for taking the time to read my post and comment 🙂

      Like

    1. I will sometimes catch myself thinking, “I’m too busy to go away this weekend” or “we will go out for dinner another time.” Whatever it is that keeps me so busy – laundry, working from home, cleaning the house – can wait. I’m not saying to ignore all of your grown up responsibilities, but I think striking a balance is really important. My husband and I are going away this weekend even though we have a million things to do at home…I’m sure that all of our chores will still be waiting for us when we get back 😉

      Liked by 2 people

      1. That is sooooo true! So very glad that your housework will be put on hold. Having faced my cancer and mortality – it is the things that I did with my family that I appreciate and value the most!

        Like

  2. Great list. All great thoughts! I especially like the last one, if I can remember that. I was diagnosed with cancer a few years back. And while there were some dark days or weeks I found funny things happening all around me and tried to focus on them and my trust in God, that I was meant to stick around and take care of our two little girls. Laughter is the best medicine! And after contemplating your mortality other stresses in life matter a lot less. http://ourlifein3d.com/category/prostate-cancer-laughter-is-the-best-medicine/

    Liked by 4 people

  3. A wonderfully hopeful and true post. Sorry for the bad news that your friend received, bur she sounds like a special person who will deal with it w gusto. Best wishes for her and you! Each year I get older, I find that life’s most important things continue to narrow down to people and activities I love.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for reading and for your kind words.

      I agree that as we get older, we learn about what is most important in life. It would just be great if everyone could learn it sooner! But like my mom says, you can’t put an old head on young shoulders.

      Like

  4. It’s a shame that it usually requires pain and suffering to motivate people to change self destructive patterns. There are no guarantees in life other than death. We can (on some level) guide the quality of life by choosing behavior that enhances self understanding, self relevance and self growth. Being positive has an important physiological effect on the body as well as the mind. People need to step back from daily living and objectively determine for themselves if they are truly living life or just “taking up space.” Our ACTIONS rather than our WORDS determine our destiny.

    Sending positive thoughts to you and AW. She might really enjoy an exceptional 11 part series by Ty Bollinger called, “The Quest For The Cure…Continues.” The 10th part interviews the medical doctors that were diagnosed with cancer and the treatments they elected to undergo to combat the disease. The 11th part deals with patients with late stage cancer that underwent these same treatments that have also survived while maintaining a quality life. As I heard you describe her personality, it made me think how much she would enjoy this series.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I always look forward to reading what you have to say. I’ve told my mom about your blog and she reads it avidly now too! She called me and said, “wow, that man is so smart!” LOL! So you definitely have a fan in both of us!

      When I read the first part of your comment, it reminded me of the adages “talk is cheap” and “actions speak louder than words.” You’re so right – people can talk about being healthy until the cows come home, but they really need to take positive actions (even when it’s really hard). A lot of the food I love is terrible for me and as tough as it is, I simply choose not to eat it anymore. Some days are harder than others, but I can’t preach about being healthy if I’m not going to walk the talk! We have to make the best decisions that we can, live life to the fullest, make an impact through positive contributions, and give back to others. I think that’s what it’s all about. I want to lead a life worth living 🙂

      I am definitely going to check out that series and I will tell AW about it too. She expects radiation will exhaust her, so she will need some low key activities to do at home. She’s very hungry for knowledge about cancer, especially because her likelihood of getting it again is pretty high. Radiation has some pretty scary side effects and it baffles me that a cause of cancer is also a treatment. Arming herself with information is the best thing that she can do so that she can make informed decisions if the time comes again (and I hope it doesn’t!). Cancer is a miserable bitch of a disease.

      Like

  5. Awesome post! I lost a friend recently to cancer who was only ten years older than your friend. It really highlighted to me the importance of gratitude and not taking the many wonderful things in my life for granted. I definitely agree with you on the money part. Sometimes I struggle with not having more saved and the student loans I have but I try and remind myself to be happy with where I am at and savor the many awesome experiences I am lucky to have in my life. Again, awesome post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comment and kind words!

      I think the saying, “comparison is the thief of joy” is really true. I only feel that I haven’t saved enough or done enough when I compare myself to what others have saved (or say they have) and done. It’s all about being the best that you personally can be and being happy with what you have. They say the secret to having it all is realizing that you already do 🙂

      My husband and I really want to go to Thailand and Bora Bora, which are crazy expensive destinations. But we also both work hard, we don’t have kids, and I consider both places “once in a lifetime” trips. Sometimes you need to splurge. I think as long as your bases are covered – you do have some savings, you’re paying your bills, you’re being an adult – that the rest is just gravy/fun money. What’s the point of money if you can’t do what you want with it?!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you so much for sharing your friend’s story and lessons learned. I also know the jolt of health crises in young people and same-age friends. One thing that I would add is to realize that many people have health struggles that are not readily apparent. There are many hidden illnesses, such as fibromyalgia, in which people don’t look sick, but need a lot of love, support, and understanding.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I love this post. I find this to be true in my life as well. My son is undiagnosed, but whatever is going on requires him to have a feeding tube, reflux medication, and it’s a constant battle to get him to eat anything by mouth or gain weight. I reached acceptance much sooner than others around me because I’m his primary caregiver. Keeping a positive outlook has not only helped me stay healthier, but it’s given me the energy to help others through my blog and start my own business.

    It really is amazing what positive energy can do to change your life!

    Please come check out my WordPress blog, Struggling to Thrive, if you would like to know more. Especially come check it out if you’re a parent of a special needs (or multiple special needs) child(ren).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. As terrible as my friend’s diagnosis is (no one wants to hear the word cancer), at least she knows what’s wrong and can go through an appropriate treatment program. It must be so hard not to know what’s wrong with your child or how to help him. Staying as positive as possible and plugging ahead is the best that you can do sometimes. Good luck to you and your child!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Hi Scarlet Pen – thank you so much for liking my recent post (Vary Hairy). Every positive and encouraging gesture is so appreciated! I wish your friend all the very best in her cancer journey. I received a secondary breast cancer diagnosis in January this year and I’m still kicking its butt! Cancer’s a b*tch, but it’s taught me more than I can share here. Just wanted to say thank you 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  9. This is so beautiful and such an important reminder. Not to mention… how amazing is your friend?! So sorry to hear that she’s dealing with such an awful sickness but it warms my heart to hear that she is dealing with it in the most healthy way that she can. Great post! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your kind words 🙂

      AW is really exceptional in her approach to life. Some of the things that have happened to her would knock me on my ass but she always stays happy and positive no matter what. It blows my mind (in a good way!).

      Like

  10. This is well written scarletpen28! And thank you for the reminder. As someone who is currently going through many issues at the moment it is very easy to slip down into that hole of depression of negativity and depression. And you are right, it’s good to plan and be positive. My best wishes to AW and I hope she survives the evil that is cancer.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your kind words 🙂

      I’ve been in that “black hole” before and I know how annoying it can be to hear people keep saying, “just be positive!” It’s not always easy to be positive and sometimes you want to throw things at people who say it to you. However, it really does make a difference (I find a lot of annoying advice does…it’s annoying because it’s hard and we don’t want to do it even though it works!).

      All the best to you while you deal with whatever you’re going through.

      Like

  11. I, from the bottom of my heart and soul, know that living life, knowing that when we trust in the deity of our Lord, our life will go through trials and tribulations, but it will also be a life that reflects positivity and have love for all, and a peace that is not possible by any other means. Looking for a new ‘first’ every day as we age, a new way to experience life and to help another experience a first, makes every day one to wake up to and ask for more guidance, give more thanks, and jump on the next adventure. When the Holy Ghost tells one not to worry, trust me, worry is no longer a part of being!
    Thinking positive in every situation makes one’s life a life of adventure. And, a heck of a lot more humorous!

    Liked by 2 people

      1. It really does make one stop and think! Mine, Sunday, was as simple as ordering something from the menu that I would never typically order. What came from it?–A new recipe in my own kitchen. So, from there, will come other recipes … always growing!

        Liked by 1 person

  12. I am so sorry to hear about AW’s cancer diagnosis and the loss of her job all in the same day. She sounds like a remarkable person who is a fighter determined to make the most of her life. Your list is timely, timeless and a great reminder to us all to appreciate life.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank for reading and for your kind words. AW was supposed to have a PET scan yesterday so that she could start radiation in the next couple of weeks. Unfortunately the machine is broken and they have no date for when it’s going to be fixed. The last time she was forced to wait, her tumor doubled in size. She’s dealing with so much right now but still remains a positive inspiration to me!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I don’t know how she does it, I’m sure the waiting is agonizing. I will be keeping AW in prayer that the PET machine gets fixed, the tumor does not continue to grow and that God would wrap His loving arms around her so that she can remain strong, at peace, and sustain her positivity.

        Liked by 1 person

  13. Hey there! I really enjoyed your post – it was inspiring and motivating, especially when i’m in my early twenties right now and just began working in the corporate world. My prayers for AW. cheers and love, from Singapore

    Liked by 2 people

  14. This is a wonderful post and a very inspirational story. I tried to convey something similar at my post http://www.tsps-of-mir.com/episode130/ as my family knows very well that it doesn’t all happen to ‘other people’. Being diagnosed with cancer, or any life threatening disease, puts everything into perspective. Thank you for sharing this, it’s always a pleasure to read something uplifting, although I am very sorry that AW even has to go through this in the first place. Mir xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your post is beautiful and really resonates with me. Thank you for sharing it.

      The underlying message in both of our posts is that there is so much in life you can’t control so you just have to make the best of what you have and celebrate whenever you can.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your kind words. I’m hoping that I can report AW is cancer free by the new year!

      I always refer to the expertise of the Mayo clinic whenever I have a health question. Of course, I see my own doctor too but its good to be informed about options from a reputable source. There’s too much misinformation on the Internet!

      Liked by 1 person

  15. “Make the conscious choice to be a positive person” — yes, yes & yes. every.single.day. regardless of my mood or how my morning went I always post a positive thought on my FB page and along with that thought I end in … today is a GREAT day to have a GREAT day … sometimes it is a reminder to myself, sometimes to my friends, sometimes its an exclamation but every day without fail I say it.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. AW sounds like such a light, what an inspiration. Attitude really does set the tone for your life, even in situations you can’t control like hers. Major kudos.
    Thanks for sharing, I appreciated this dose of perspective today 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank your kind words and for reading my post. Much appreciated!

      Whenever I find myself having a pity party for some small annoyance, I remember AW and how she approaches life. I aspire to look at things the way that she does.

      Like

  17. Whilst I have never encountered the issues that AW is encountering, I know a few people who have and sadly some of them were taken from us far too early. I am sure AW is strong and you are the sort of person who is supportive. Let us hope you can write good things about AW’s future experiences in a few years time, in the meantime, give her a hug from me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your kind words. I truly hope that she pulls through her treatment and has a long, happy, and healthy life ahead of her.

      I have lost someone very important to me (my dad), but I have never personally known someone close to my own age who got sick. It’s definitely scary and eye opening.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Thank you for writing this Scarlet. Really these are the same lessons that my best friend taught me while she was putting up her fight. My life changed dramatically the year she was diagnosed. I learned that work and money really didn’t matter as much (don’t get me wrong, money is important, but no amount of money is gonna give you more time on your life) and at the end of the day, it’s about choosing to spend your time with people you love (and who love you) and doing things that give you happiness.

    And yes, it is absolutely choosing to be more positive and being grateful for the moments we have. It’s about celebrating these little moments and taking the time to actually live your life instead of waiting for future happiness.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sometimes I get so fixated on a goal that I forget to enjoy the process and the journey of getting there. I have be mindful of remembering all of the wonderful things that I currently have and not focus so much on the things that I currently want.

      It’s such a hard thing to see your friend struggle through a life-threatening illness – you feel terrible for your friend and it’s also scary because you see that terrible things can happen to someone young who is supposed to have their entire life ahead of them. It definitely makes you question the things that you value.

      Losing my dad changed my life and my priorities. I would give anything to have him back, but the only thing that gets me through is knowing that through his death, he taught me the most important life lessons that I will ever learn. My friend AW’s experience only intensified my feelings. I always try to search for even one positive takeaway even when it’s the worst experience I’ve ever been through. I think you have to because without hope and love, life would be just awful!

      Like

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