Choosing Happiness During Cancer: Tips for Reclaiming Your Mind, Body & Confidence

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Cancer seems to take everything — your hair, your health, your strength and many time our confidence as well. Losing control was one of the hardest parts of cancer for me. My body was changing before my eyes and yet I had no choice in the matter if I wanted to survive. Many times we think the only option is to accept the change and admit defeat, but there is another choice… happiness.

Throughout treatment I decided to CHOOSE happiness. I had so much to be unhappy about and I definitely felt physically awful a lot of the time, but I refused to let cancer take over my mind as well. I will be the first to say, it was not easy and I have to consciously work at happiness and gratitude each day. The results are unbelievable though and totally worth it. The mind is a powerful tool and mental changes can drastically impact our well-being. Despite the depression, anger or resentment that I have experienced, I am happier now than I have been in many years. I love my body more and I am rebuilding my confidence bit by bit. So how did I get here? It didn’t happen overnight and it wasn’t easy. It took a lot of tears, a lot of hard work and a lot of reflection. I decided to break it down into actionable steps to show others that you too can achieve happiness and reclaim your mind, body and confidence during the most challenging times.

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1. Count Your BlessingsWe all have something we can be grateful for.  Focusing on the positive and the things you are grateful for, no matter how small, can change your outlook on even the worst days. Keeping track of your blessings can be a great practice. Keep a gratitude journal or write your reflections down on sticky notes each day and leave them around your bedroom. Each night when you go to bed, you will be reminded of all the wonderful things surrounding you. Waking up to these reminders will also help you start your day with gratitude and positivity.

2. Practice Self CompassionThere are many ways to practice self-compassion. Writing self-compassion letters to yourself, reciting daily affirmations, or keeping a journal of self-reflection are a few examples. Think about how you would treat a friend or stranger. You deserve the same level of kindness. We can be our own worst enemy. Taking steps toward self-compassion will improve your self-image, confidence and your kindness/compassion towards others.

3. Take Time to ReflectMany times our days are filled with stress as we rush from one obligation to the next. We forget to make time for quiet reflection. Plan a time in your day to reflect on your day, count your blessings and think of at least one thing that brought you happiness. Keeping a journal of your reflections is a great way to decompress and you’ll be able to look back on your writing later for inspiration and perspective. Meditation is another strategy for reflection.4. Embrace Your New BodyCancer changes your body in many ways. Instead of comparing your new appearance to the “old” you, find ways to embrace your new body. Find the little things you like about your body and write them down. The more you make an effort to love your new body the more at peace you will become with the changes. Fighting the changes can make you feel alienated from your body. Don’t be discouraged if you have a hard time finding ways to embrace your body at first. Start small and with time your self-love with grow.

5. Celebrate Your StrengthsYour body is strong and resilient. You may feel weak, but focus on the hurdles you have surpassed. The more you celebrate your strengths, the stronger you will feel. Little by little you will rebuild your physical strength. Be kind to your body and appreciate its stamina and resilience. Also celebrate the non-physical strengths you possess — creativity, kindness and courage.

6 option 5Comparing your post-cancer body to your pre-cancer body can result in sadness & feelings of inadequacy. Once you stop comparing, you can be free from those feelings. Trying a new hairstyle or a new outfit can help you build confidence and accept the changes. If you had long hair before chemo, try a short sassy wig. If you normally wore jeans, try a feminine dress. You would be surprised about what looks good with a bald head. As you take steps to adapt to the changes, you will become more comfortable in your own skin and that stranger staring back at you in the mirror will become a close friend.7. Be Kind to OthersAs you work toward self-compassion, your kindness for others will grow as a result. It is a very rewarding feeling. Giving back will also help you focus less on the negative in your own life and focus outwardly. This will not only bring you a sense of satisfaction but will strengthen your relationships with others. This love and kindness you foster will benefit your mental & physical well-being.

8. Take Care of Your BodyCancer treatment takes a toll on your body physically, emotionally and mentally. Make sure to take care of your body by eating healthy, exercising and taking time to relax and recuperate.

9. Accept ComplimentsHow many times have you received a compliment and immediately responded by brushing it off or negating it. A compliment is a gift of compassion and kindness. Accept the gesture and in time you will find that this acceptance will lead to greater self-love. Promise yourself you will respect yourself enough to accept what people give you, no matter how small or how big the gesture. Soak it in and enjoy it. If it was given to you, you’ve earned it.

10. Be Selfish with Your TimeIf cancer teaches you one thing, it is to take care of yourself. As a cancer survivor you have been given a second chance at life. Make time for yourself and don’t waste your time on people or things that don’t bring you happiness and joy. Life is too short.

11. Practice PatienceAll of these tips I am suggesting to reclaim your body, mind & confidence take time. It is easy to become frustrated with yourself and expect yourself to get back to “normal” as soon as each stage of your treatment is complete. Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple. The cancer recovery process is circular and not linear. Be patient and kind to yourself as you recover. You will need time to process a variety of emotions and rebuild your body, your confidence and your emotional strength.

12. Savor Positive ExperiencesI’m sure there are many things you enjoy doing, such as being outdoors, reading books, drinking a cup of tea or talking with a loved one. Sometimes these enjoyable activities lose their luster. It’s easy to end up seeking more and looking for something new. What used to give us pleasure and enjoyment starts to become mundane and dull. When this happens, the positive emotion that was elicited from these experiences diminishes and we are left dissatisfied. One way to increase positive emotions and experience more enjoyment is to start savoring the small pleasures in life. During your enjoyable experience, pause for a moment and consciously be aware of things you want to remember later, such as the sound of a loved one’s chuckle, or the warmth of the teacup in your hands. Making an effort to take mental notes or mental pictures to be able to reminisce on the event will allow you to hold onto the feelings of happiness and joy.

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I would love to hear from you. What strategies helped you refocus your mind and regain confidence after a difficult time?

This post was originally published on A World of Pink  — a wonderful company founded by Christine Guarino, who I am lucky to call a friend.

A World of Pink is working to change the post-surgery options available to women in the healthcare industry and change the face of breast cancer moving forward. Christine is a professional mastectomy fitter and can provide fittings by Skype or in person at their New York locations. A World of Pink is growing rapidly and hopes to soon be available in hospitals nationwide. I can’t wait for them to expand to NC. I had a Skype fitting with Christine and she worked with my insurance to get me wonderful breast forms and comfortable, feminine and sexy bras. No more of those post-surgery ‘grandma’ bras  for me.

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4 comments

  1. Joe says:

    This has been my favorite blog entry to read. I also believe the power of gratitude has the ability to change one’s outlook on life. There are a lot of concepts you wrote that never occurred to me and I will definitely be attempting to put into practice. For some reason this line you wrote sticks out to me, “the cancer recovery process is circular and not linear”. Interesting concept, I will be thinking about that one. Thanks again for another great article.

    Take care, Joe

    • Anna says:

      I am so glad to hear that my writing is continuing to be useful for you. It really is a long recovery process both mentally and physically and I can imagine many years of mine will be dedicated to this work.

      Take care,

      Anna

  2. A World of Pink says:

    Hi Anna,

    Thank you from all of us at A World of Pink for sharing your incredible story and these amazing, insightful tips. We’ve shared this blog on ours at AWorldofPink.com/blog.html.

    Thank you again for being the light so many people need!

    Best,
    Christine A. Guarino, RDH, CMF, CFm

    • Anna says:

      Thank you so much for your support and kindness. I am so excited to see A World of Pink grow and help countless other women.

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