What Cancer Taught Me: Advice from a Survivor

By Caitlin M. Kiernan

There is no question that a cancer diagnosis is life-altering.  I was never the same girl after my diagnosis.

When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer I was a beauty director for a magazine living a very Carrie Bradshaw type of life. I was interviewing celebrities, previewing the latest makeup launches and getting invites to all the hottest restaurants and clubs. While my life seemed enviable, I was miserable. I was unchallenged at my job. I had a commitment-phobe boyfriend. And I viewed things through a “glass half empty” lens.

Cancer treatment leaves you a lot of time to contemplate your life. One question lingered: “Now that you have a second chance, how are you going to emerge from this journey a stronger, more grateful person?” That’s when I started to take a hard look at my choices. I didn’t want to live one more day, unhappy. I vowed to make the necessary changes, and my world evolved in so many amazing ways. Now I am engaged to a wonderful man. My first book, Pretty Sick: The Beauty Guide for Women with Cancer just hit shelves. Most importantly, I am the happiest and healthiest I’ve been in my entire life.

Having cancer give GAVE me a deeper appreciation of everything in my life and a focused purpose. That’s why I say, “Trouble is Transportation.” “Trouble” shakes up your life, steering you onto a different path. And it’s often that path, not the one you started out on, that enables you to fulfill your intended destiny. I know because I experienced this first-hand.

The following are some valuable lessons I learned when I had cancer.

Trust the Journey

Your path in life may have taken an unexpected turn but you are where you are meant to be. Don’t fight this by focusing on you think should be happening in your life. Instead, make the most of every day by being fully present in the moment. If you are too busy looking for what comes next or what other people have, you are going to miss the opportunities, lessons and people God has put in front of you.

Find the Silver Linings

Dealing with cancer is an emotional journey. When I was going through treatment, instead of trying to be positive, I looked for the silver linings instead. I couldn’t change the crappy situation I was in but I could change the way I approached and experienced it.

Give Yourself a Break

When cancer treatment started to affect how much I could do and how I looked – it made me feel even worse than I already did. Then one day, I had enough. The minute I stopped being my own worst critic and holding myself to all the unrealistic expectations I had imposed on myself, I immediately started feeling better. Just give yourself a break.  

Be Grateful

It’s hard to see life’s blessings, when you are struggling physically, emotionally, and financially. That is, if you are focusing on what you don’t have. Being grateful means seeing the blessing in every situation. Remember, life is hard, but you are still here. Many women on this journey didn’t get this far. Honor their memory by being grateful for what you do have.

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