By LAURIE MARSDEN
Cancer took me by surprise. I thought I was too young, I had no family history, and most importantly I really had no breasts. When I was 16 and a 32AA, my brother said (truthfully) that mozzie bites were bigger. Nothing much changed as I grew older.
Except, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. And my world became a blur of surgeries and treatment.
It was a truly shitty experience, and yet paradoxically it was a real gift. Here’s why:
1. It clarified my life.
All those worries that seemed so important instantly melted away. You know the kind of thing: why can’t the kids get ready for school on time without being bribed? The stress of juggling schedules and feeling like I was always running somewhere; the house being messier than I’d like; my bumps and bulges reminding me I wasn’t Miranda Kerr in a bikini. Those concerns disappeared. I looked at family, friends, connections and meaningful moments as what truly mattered. They were what I should focus on.
2. It made me more appreciative.
As the worry left and the important things became clearer, I started to appreciate what I had. It was like, “Wow, I don’t really have it so bad.” How had I not seen all the blessings that surrounded me, big and small? Healthy children, a solid partner, beautiful sunny days, the taste of a good meal, the feel of a refreshing breeze, the smile of a passing stranger.
3. It improved my relationship with my husband.
Prior to my cancer, we were in a total relationship funk. I think we were both feeling underappreciated and to an extent, unloved. The strains of work and child rearing kept us busy and vying for more personal space and time. The endless list of what needed to be done, arguing about who should do what kept us at odds. But something shifted with my cancer, and my husband rose to the challenge. He became more engaged in the house and family and I became less of a nag. Sometimes he still leaves his dirty clothes on the floor, but he’s a guy…
4. It showed me how much people care.
As a New Yorker, I always felt a little different living in Australia. Even after I became a citizen and chanted “Oi, oi oi”, I knew I still swam with a slightly different stroke. Born and bred Australians rarely fawn over each other. They’re more reserved about showing their feelings.
So when the news of my cancer hit my kids’ school community, I was surprised by the outpouring of concern that flowed my way. It was wonderful and affirming. The mums at the school drew up a roster and meals were delivered to our house three times a week, for weeks on end. Here were busy women taking the time to help… me! I was humbled by their generosity, love and support.
5. It reconnected me to my life’s work.
After one of my five operations at the Wesley Hospital in Brisbane, I met Leonie Young from Kim Walters Choices (KWC). She came in to lend an ear and provide information. I’m a clinical social worker myself, so we talked easily about what was happening and what my options were. In the course of our discussions I told her about my program: 8 Steps to Becoming You, which I’d developed over years of counselling women.
When my cancer journey ended a year later, Leonie asked if I would put on the program for women with breast and ovarian cancer at KWC. I hadn’t worked with women in such a way for a few years (I’d taken time off when my kids were small), but I agreed.
More than 30 women came along that day. It was a great success and I was inspired to get back to the work I love: helping women live their fullest, richest lives.
There’s nothing like cancer to get you to think about what’s really important and how you can honor yourself and take care of yourself better. Cancer gave me another chance. What I did with it was up to me.
Kim Walter Choices supports women with breast, ovarian and cervical cancer. For more information, click here.
Laurie Marsden is a Columbia-educated, licensed psychotherapist who’s making it easier for women to solve their problems and feel empowered. Her research and clinical experience showed her that women share common core issues so she developed her 8 Steps to Becoming You program . Available at LaurieMarsden.com