Lance Armstrong once said he’s glad he got cancer. Months on from my diagnosis, that’s definitely not my mindset—yet—but I can honestly say there are four surprisingly good things about having cancer.
Of course, having cancer is no picnic. There’s the obvious disconnect that comes with being told your healthy, fit body was secretly hosting a stage three melanoma and you’re in the fight of your life. That’s hard to process.
There are the side effects to treatment including a fat cortisone face that for some reason bothers me a lot. It’s not vanity, or not exactly. I think it’s because I still want to stay me, or at least look like me even when I feel like I’m the surprise lead in a play I didn’t sign up for.
There’s the anxiety before tests, the tears which come out of nowhere and the occasional lack of patience that pokes out its tongue at my husband.
But—even without having to dig too deep and soul search—there are upsides. Let’s not call them blessings, although some may turn out to be.
The first is that how I want to experience my life is now very clear.
Until you are actually told you may actually die, death is just a shimmering mirage on the horizon. It does not happen to me, or to you. But you know what, it absolutely does and suddenly those plans I had for my future—one day I’ll walk the Camino, buy a Noosa place with my super money, see Bruce Springsteen in New York—are all out the door.
Instead, I’ve realised I wasn’t present in my own life, I just thought I was. I think I treated work as the most important thing.
Now what I really want is to live in complete alignment with what’s most important to me, without apology and guilt.
Cancer has given me clarity. And it’s ace.
The clarity is around doing all the things that could make a difference to my outcome. Everything revolves around my health. I’m strict with routines. I start with a morning meditation, then movement—a former triathlete, I’m finally strong enough to get back to weights at the gym—then fuel.
I’m obsessive about good nutrition. Breakfast is muesli with yoghurt and berries, lunch and dinner are protein and salad or veggies.
The next surprisingly good thing about having cancer is it’s shown me that it’s no good having a vision for how you want your business to be, how you want to make an impact or who you want to be as a person, unless you take action.
If you’re stuck on the treadmill of life, putting one foot in front of the other and counting down the time clock, it’s time to up the pace. Your legacy is created through everything you do. It’s a cumulative effect of every action you take or don’t take right now.
So don’t stay in the job you hate. Don’t work for the boss you don’t respect. You have choices. Use them. If you don’t know what taking action looks like for you, start thinking.
It doesn’t have to be grandiose. A couple of weekends ago Craig and I took a little roadie to the Mitchelton Winery. We’d talked about it forever and life always intruded. Well, now this is my life! Time to take action. We ate oysters and beef tartare, walked by the river, listened to birds, star gazed.
The third good thing is I’m finally learning that boundaries make for a better life. We all hear about them and hardly anyone puts them in place. I’m getting better at taking a day or two off work every week to see a movie, visit my parents, or just hang out at home with my cat Nancy, who’s 18.
I only go out one night a week. I’m grateful to be invited to things but I say no without justification or apology. My priority is being tucked up by 9pm with a novel.
And last but not least, cancer has taught me to let go of things that no longer serve. Friends, potential opportunities, clients. I’m done with working with people who are unreasonable and are not aligned to my values, chiefly mutual respect.
So cancer has upsides. But I’m still planning to pulverise every tiny bit of it out of my body and have an incredible next act.