I thought I was leading the “right life”—prestigious college, fancy job in New York City, kind husband, happy child, good friends, nice house…then I got incurable cancer.
The doctor thought I had 15 months to get my affairs in order.
When bad stuff happens to us, even the most enlightened can’t help but ask, “Why me?” I just wanted to understand—why did I get cancer? I needed to believe the cancer was happening for a reason.
Now, two years later—after a no-holds-barred healing journey that blended conventional, alternative, and woo-woo treatments—I was beginning to understand the “why me” part.
One reason I got sick was I was living the wrong life.
I’ve always felt called to help others. I did some volunteer work periodically, but I really channeled that calling into my career. I helped sell advertising for fancy-pants magazines and websites.
I saw myself as the ultimate connector. I helped my sales people prove we had the best readers who needed the products of our well-funded clients. I made a good living, had a nice office, and a cool title. But, like many of us in the land of f*cked-up priorities, I wasn’t really helping anybody.
At some level, I knew I was on the wrong path when I started getting sick all time: never-ending sinus infections, backaches, stomach pain, insomnia. I didn’t listen to the voices in my head or my failing body.
The universe handed me an ultimatum in the form of incurable cancer—get on the right path, or your time on earth is done.
Of course, I didn’t get cancer because of one thing. No one ever does. A lifetime of toxins, stress, repressed emotions, junk food, viruses, and bad health decisions were all factors.
And, I didn’t get healed by one thing either. Finding my “right life” involved doctors, therapists, books, astrologers, podcasts, healers, and a lot of soul searching. I did what I had to do to survive and to try to enjoy what time I had left. But, there was no guarantee any of it would work.
Yet, as I warmed myself by the fire in my living room on a random fall Friday, I felt dumbstruck as I realized that I would be granted a second chance at life. In the prior 24 hours, my old identity had been shed like the brown leaves falling from the trees outside.
The woman I was—a career-driven, type-A, workaholic mom who lacked a true spiritual purpose and sought perfection so aggressively that her lists had lists—was gone. The universe was swift to confirm I was on the right path. From the time I had woken up the previous morning, until this seemingly innocuous moment, three incredible things had happened:
>> My “incurable” cancer was deemed healed by three distinct experts: a psychic, an oncologist, and a nutritionist (in that order).
>> My 20-year marketing career ended as the company moved in a new direction, and I was let go.
>> I launched a website (badasscancerbabe.com) to share my story, help cancer patients find hope, and support stressed-out, workaholic parents not end up like me.
Holy universal whiplash. I shouldn’t have needed a cancer ultimatum to listen to what the universe was saying, but like many of us, I’m stubborn.
Here are a few red flags I simply ignored that are still far too common among all of us:
We keep pushing for what we want, even after we’ve hit a brick wall—again and again.
We’ve applied for the same type of job 385 times and keep getting rejected. We’ve been in couple’s therapy with five different therapists for over five years, and it’s not going anywhere. Nobody is ever available for happy hour, and we feel rejected. We’ve been laid off, fired, or quit job after job.
When we’re flowing with the universe, good stuff seems to happen like magic. A recruiter calls with the perfect job you never thought about. Unexpected checks arrive in the mail. Friends call with “Hamilton” tickets for your birthday. #truestories
One trick I’ve discovered is not to ask for or demand the perfect job, money, or entertainment—but rather, let the universe guide us to them. Relinquish control of outcomes and expectations. If we don’t have our hearts set on a specific destination, the universe can have the freedom it needs to get us in the right direction.
We feel like sh*t all the time.
Our brains our foggy. Our backs ache. We constantly get migraines. We have a roll of Tums in our purse, desk, and at home for constant stomach blahs. We watch the ceiling night after night with insomnia. We make excuses that we’re just getting old, or it’s just a stressful week, or this is just how life is. The reality is that we’re stressed out, unfulfilled, and possibly unhappy.
I’ve found the easiest way to stop feeling lousy is to take care of ourselves like we would a sick child: get enough sleep. Seriously, just stop whatever we’re doing (TV, work, reading) at a time that will ensure we can get eight hours sleep.
Eat real food that has nutrients. We all know we should eat better, but we don’t because it’s not convenient and doesn’t taste as good as pasta with meatballs. If we all made our plates at least 50 percent organic fruits and vegetables, we would put 50 percent of the over-the-counter pharma companies out of business. It’s really that simple. (Here are 10 tips that will help us feel better with food.)
And also, just say “no.” We all over-extend ourselves. We agree to an unreasonable deadline at work because we want to be a “team-player.” We say “yes” to volunteering for a school committee because we want our kid to be accepted. We agree to drinks with a friend, when we just want to curl up in bed, because we’re afraid they’ll never ask again.
We self-medicate with wine, comfort food, or drugs (including over-the-counter or prescription drugs).
I told myself it was normal that I wanted a glass of wine (or two or three) after work…every night. Or that Tylenol PM just helped me go to sleep…it’s non-habit forming, so what’s the big deal? Or that a cookie at 3:00 p.m. every day wasn’t a cry for comfort, it was just a snack. Sound familiar?
Given the growing opioid epidemic, number of rehab facilities, and abundance of comfort food advertising, I’m assuming many of us can relate.
When we’re reliant on external things to self-soothe, something is off. We don’t know what to do with all the stress around us—stress put on us by society, work, and family responsibility, as well as the stress we put on ourselves to be perfect.
There is no easy solution, but I found it starts with being kind to ourselves. Grab someone or something to hug, rather than another glass of wine. Make yourself a warm cup of cocoa or tea at bedtime. Watch a funny YouTube video, rather than eating a bag of chips, a carton of ice cream, or stack of Chips Ahoy.
A non-intuitive solution is meditation. Being quiet for 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes in the evening will clear the brain of clutter. The people who think their mind is too active to meditate are precisely the ones that need it most. Click here for tips on starting a practice. And remember, it’s a practice not perfection.
We’re given choices every day for how we want to exist. I woke up day after day thinking I was happy because I was supposed to be. But I worked so hard at being the perfect everything—mom, boss, friend, wife, co-worker—and I still wound up with incurable cancer.
It took me almost dying to learn how to live.
I’m grateful to my cancer, because it taught me what was important: love, friendship, compassion, being present, and serving others. These are the principles that guide my “right life” now. Cancer gave me this gift and the opportunity to share my story as a cautionary tale for other stressed-out, workaholic, over-achievers.
I’m not implying that anyone will get cancer if they’re living the wrong life, but why take the chance? Why not live a more fulfilled, loving, compassionate life right now? Why not be kind to yourself, love yourself, and love others more deeply today? Why continue to be miserable? Why wait for a universal ultimatum that may not have a happy ending? The time is now.
What Surviving “Incurable” Cancer & Riding a Bike Taught me about Life.
Author: Tracy White
Image: Author’s own
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Copy Editor: Lieselle Davidson
Social Editor: Lindsey Block
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