For many, there comes a de?ning moment in our lives that shapes who we are and who we will become. These moments, often arising unexpectedly, force us to discover deeper parts of ourselves that we had no idea laid dormant underneath the identities that we’d spent decades creating and curating.
This leads to two pivotal questions – what do these life-altering experiences reveal to us about life moving forward, and how do we navigate the newfound parts of ourselves after traumatic events? These are questions that Lisa Lakey, a self-proclaimed “Cancer Thriver,” who’s beaten cancer twice after her diagnosis at 35 and 40-years-old is asking.
She is a true warrior. Now that she is cancer-free, she’s passionate about doing the things that she was unable to before like volunteering heavily with the American Cancer Society, playing a lead role with Relay for Life, and other grassroots organizations in her city all while working full-time as a service manager.
I couldn’t help but wonder how she manages to do it all, especially while undergoing continued preventative treatment and carving out time with her family?
“It’s di?cult to balance. I’m actually still going through preventative treatments. So right now, I’m exhausted, to be completely honest with you. I’m having a hard time with this after-cancer life and how to navigate it. And with all my things that I had going on before and having to navigate this new Lisa, I’m wondering what her life will look like?”
Navigating life after cancer has changed her in more ways than she could ever have imagined. Going into detail about her life today, she describes this interesting phenomenon where her identity has been segmented into pre-cancer and post-cancer. Though I’d never considered this, it makes total sense. A life-changing event rarely, if ever, leaves us the same, and maybe it’s not supposed to. For Lisa and others, surviving cancer is not something that a person can simply “move on” from. In many ways, life after cancer proves to be more challenging to navigate because the massive support group during treatment moves on from the traumatic experience before the survivor does.
“When you get diagnosed with cancer, you have this team of your doctors and professionals, and then you have this big team behind you of your loved ones who are cheering for you every second of the way. They’re reaching out to you, calling and checking on you. You have a plan. You know exactly what’s going to happen, your treatments, and when you’re expecting all of this to end. And then it ends. And every single person literally thinks, ‘You’re cancer-free,’ and move on. It’s not that easy.”
Though she has moved forward in a way that celebrates and honors the beauty that is her life, she also acknowledged her grief. Cancer has changed her body, her relationships, and the life that she had imagined she would have. She’s found that explaining these changes to loved ones is di?cult.
What Lisa has found most helpful, and recommends the most to anyone, is to being willing to search for di?erent kinds of support at di?erent phases of your life and knowing that it’s okay to do so. Recently, she’s shifted her support system to her therapist and a support group. The group comprises other Cancer Thrivers where they discuss their unique struggles – the kind of struggles that are di?cult to put into words and could only be understood by those who have walked a similar journey.
“After I started group, it clicked immediately because they’re really the only ones who are going to understand, or maybe not understand, but will validate your thoughts.”
What I ?nd the most remarkable about Lisa is the way that, despite the challenges that she’s met, she views life with such incredible gratitude and love. When I asked her how this journey has shaped the way that she views life moving forward, she answered in a way that will stay with me forever.
“In the most deepest, just the deepest way ever. I don’t know if I can explain it, right, but like, I know, obviously, we all know life is precious, but I know that life is literally so precious. Every single day of every minute of every day I strive to live my life di?erently. I want to only be kind and positive. I don’t want negative toxins and everything that’s out in the world. I used to let things bother me and let things in. So, if anything, the positive, there’s a positive change, because I want to glow from the inside out and, and only be good Lisa.”