by Wade Brill
Holy shit, I am a cancer survivor. Five years after my diagnosis, I am finally able to embrace those words.
Back in 2010 while studying abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina, my life was rudely interrupted by a swollen lymph node on the right side of my neck. A biopsy, a bone marrow test, and various PET-CT scans later, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma, and I anxiously embarked on a six-month chemotherapy course. Then barely two months in, I lost my mother – my everything – to leukemia, just two floors down from my infusion room.
It shook the ground beneath my feet. My heart sank. Nausea slithered through my bones, swirling with the precariousness of my own health. The uncertainty of where I was going to live, how I was going to pay for my healthcare, and who was going to take care of me was overwhelming. Everything around me was crumbling.
Then I realized that I could let this make me a victim, or I could take charge of my life. For me, life was no longer about just surviving. No, it was something bigger. It was about living.
Each day became a precious vehicle to express my true self. During treatment, I spent my energy and time exploring who I was and what I valued. I steered myself through darkness and uncertainty so that I could find light and beauty again.
For me, life was no longer about just surviving. No, it was something bigger.
I may not have been in control of everything that was happening inside my body, but I could control what I fed myself, what activities I consumed, how I interacted with others, and whom I spent time with. Every day, I made a conscious effort to engage my external world – asking the bus driver how his day was, spending time with friends who made me laugh, eating clean foods that made me feel strong, grounding myself in meditation and movement.
As cancer survivors, we possess a drive and a sense of urgency to accomplish what we want. We know the value of our health, the importance of our time, and the preciousness of each breath. We no longer take for granted the days we feel healthy and strong because we have experienced what it feels like to have our bodies disobey and our minds pushed beyond discomfort.
We know that life is whatever we want it to be because we get to create our own narrative. We don’t have to be slaves to our desks or prisoners of unhealthy relationships. The power and strength to create the life we want lies within us. Our souls see nature’s true colors, the richness of fresh air, and life’s endless array of opportunities.
Living the life you love after the invasion of cancer requires looking inward and building a strong internal foundation. Let go of the assumptions you might hold about what it means to be a cancer survivor, and define survivorship for yourself. Spend time journaling, meditating, moving, creating, and exploring who you are, what you value, where your passions lie, and how your strengths shine.
Cancer, like many of life’s rude interruptions, can give you whiplash. But when you have built a resilient foundation, you can withstand sudden and harsh jolts. Don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions and to give considerate thought to why you are here, to the gifts you can share with the world.
Doing this for myself allowed me to follow my heart back to Buenos Aires, where I opened my own Pilates, meditation, and coaching practice, met the love of my life, and launched my career as a holistic life coach.
Life is beautiful. Let go of the sorrows of the past, ground yourself in your body and your spirit, hold gratitude for this moment, act with intention, and live.
Live the life you love.
Wade Brill is a holistic life coach who helps clients mindfully make themselves a priority in their lives. She cofounded Centered in the City, an events collective grounded in self-development, community, and connection. She is also a Pilates and Barre instructor, a foodie, a mindfulness-based stress reduction practitioner, and a Hodgkin lymphoma survivor.
For monthly tips from Wade to keep you breathing, staying balanced, and living brilliantly, you can sign up for her “Wade a Minute” newsletter at wadebrill.com.
This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, September/October 2015.