When I was diagnosed with cancer at 31, these are the five things I told myself.

I thought cancer only happened to people in the movies, like Mandy Moore in A Walk To Remember, or the hot Irish guy from P.S I Love You

So when I got diagnosed with advanced stage 4 Hodgkin’s lymphoma at 31 it was the shock of my life. 

Suddenly I was the lead character in a film I didn’t want to be in, without the cheesy love story. 

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Video via Mamamia.

After the initial shock wore off, I decided that if I had to do this, I may as well make it as enjoyable as possible. It was never going to be all high fives and jazz kicks, but I was fortunate to get through it and I like the person it’s made me become. 

There were many things I learnt along the way that made the whole experience more doable and less crap. 

So I wrote a book to compile the most helpful and practical gems. Below are a few mantras and phrases that really helped me in the trickiest times and I hope they help you too! 

1. Day by day, step by step, breath by breath.

The one piece of advice I do remember clearly from my specialist after she’d delivered the news that I had cancer was not to get too far ahead of myself.


She suggested that I shouldn’t google Hodgkin’s lymphoma or worry too much about treatment just yet. Instead, we were just going to focus on the next few things we had to do. That was really excellent advice. 

She gave me a piece of paper with the next steps written on it. 

• blood tests 

• heart and lung capacity tests 

• appointment at the IVF clinic 

In those first few days, as the enormity of what lay in front of me hit me in waves, I kept coming back to that. What are the next three steps? 

It’s a great way to approach anything in life. 

You don’t have to solve everything right now, particularly when you are in crisis (or in lockdown). You don’t need to know where everything will lead or how things will unfold.

I use this all the time now, if I feel overwhelmed or stressed or anxious. What are the next few steps? Just focus on those.

While we want to dream big and think big and know where we’re going, sometimes we just need to break it down, focus on the next few things and take it day by day. 

2. Some things don’t have to be understood, just accepted.

When you get bad news it’s easy to want to know every single thing that has led to this. Whose fault is it? When did this begin? How long has this been going on? Why has this happened to me? 


I mean, c’mon, I’m a good person... I eat healthily, I don’t smoke, I always remember my re-usable bags, I’ve never ghosted on a date, I even do volunteer work - why me? 

But that is exhausting.

It’s a great way to zap your energy and it doesn’t help you to face the task ahead. Acceptance, hard as it can be, is key. 

My wise friend Marieke, who had been through a huge life crisis herself, told me in those first few days: ‘Remember, some things don’t have to be understood, just accepted.’

She sent me a slightly altered version of the well-known Serenity Prayer and suggested that I light a candle, sit in the dark and find a way to accept what was happening. 

‘Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can – and the wisdom to know the difference.’ 

These words helped me a lot in my first week after diagnosis. 

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It’s so true: some things are just random, crappy bad luck. They don’t happen for a reason, they’re not part of some greater plan, it’s just chaos theory. That’s life. 

Try not to waste any energy on ‘why me?’ There is no answer. All you can do is accept it and then make a plan to move forward. 


3. I’m going to bounce back braver, stronger and wiser than ever before. 

It’s easy to be brave when life is smooth sailing and when you’ve had everything go your way. But when the storm comes, that’s when you really get to see what you're made of. 

The good news is that resilience isn’t something you're given at birth - you build it. You will rise to the challenge because you have to. 

It’s what we humans do and have done for as long as life has existed. And it can be interesting to see what you're made of. 

There are oceans inside you. A vastness, a depth, a grit that you may not yet know exists.

You will have moments and days that will throw you off-kilter, and you won’t be sure if you’ve got what it takes, but I promise you can learn. 

Remember even in the darkest times, you are not alone. Many people before you have overcome extraordinary adversity. You are strong, you can and will overcome this (even if it sometimes sucks balls). 

4. My body wants to heal.

A few months after I finished chemotherapy, I decided that I’d earned a holiday (right?) so I went to see my sister in London.

It felt like a big step after my treatment. 

Luckily, on the plane 
I sat beside a woman named Alice, who had a warm smile and splendid red hair (my favourite: I was obsessed with Anne of Green Gables as a kid). 

It was as if the universe had sent me someone whom I needed at that time: Alice had a background as a physiotherapist at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and she told me a powerful thing that has stayed with me ever since. 


Remember: your body wants to heal. 

It was such a mind shift for me. 

When you’ve had a big emotional or physical trauma, it can be easy to fall into negative mind loops about your health. 

You can feel as though your body has let you down and it’s not to be trusted.  

Alice reminded me that my body was actually on my team. It was doing its darndest to heal and recover, it wanted to be well and healthy again and every little cell in my body was working to make me well again. 

Have patience with your body and your soul, it needs some time and space. 

5. Life is tough but so are you!

I came back to this mantra time and time again, and it’s why I ended up calling my book ‘Life Is Tough But So Are You.’ 

It’s a phrase that has helped me at my most challenging times. 

It really summed up everything I want to tell anyone going through a challenging time. 

Yes, this is difficult and tough, and at times it’s going to totally bloody suck. But you have what it takes inside you to deal with this. 

You can and will face whatever is thrown your way. 

If you’re going through a tough time right now, I’m really sorry. 


If you think this book could help you or someone you love you can pre-order it online here. 

You can order Life is Tough (But So Are You) by Briony Benjamin here, or buy in all good bookstores. Murdoch Books RRP $32.99.’

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Feature Image: Instagram / @briony_benjamin