When I interviewed women who had survived breast cancer for my art project The Woman Inside, I noticed that they all shared one remarkable thing in common.
They had all faced down death and decided to live every day like it might be their last. And then they all beat cancer.
The more interviews I did, the more I noticed that these women were living differently than most of the people I knew who had not been diagnosed with cancer. Here’s what I learned from those survivor women. Learning these lessons changed my life, and I hope they’ll change yours.
10 Things I Learned From People Who Survive Cancer:
1. Be unapologetically YOU. People who survive cancer get feisty. They walk around bald in shopping malls and roll their eyes if people look at them funny. They say what they think. They laugh often. They don’t make excuses. They wear purple muumuus when they want to.
2. Don’t take shit from people. People who survive cancer stop trying to please everybody. They give up caring what everybody else thinks. If you might die in a year anyway (and every single one of us could), who gives a flip if your Great Aunt Gertrude is going to cut you out of her will unless you kiss her ass?
3. Learn to say no. People with cancer say no when they don’t feel like going to the gala. They avoid gatherings when they’d prefer to be alone. They don’t let themselves get pressured into doing things they really don’t want to do.
4. Get angry. Then get over it. People who survive cancer get in your face. They question you. They feel their anger. They refuse to be doormats. They demand respect. They feel it. Then they forgive. They let go. They surrender. They don’t stay pissed. They release resentment.
5. Don’t obsess about beauty. People who survive cancer no longer worry about whether they have perfect hair, whether their makeup looks spotless, or whether their boobs are perky enough. They’re happy just to have boobs (if they still do). They’re happy to be alive in their skin, even if it’s wrinkled.
6. Do it now. Stop deferring happiness. People who survive cancer realize that you can’t wait until you kick the bucket to do what you’re dying to do. Quit that soul-sucking job now. Leave that deadbeat husband. Prioritize joy. They live like they mean it.
7. Say “I love you” often. People who survive cancer leave no words left unspoken. You never know when your time is up. Don’t risk having someone you love not know it.
8. Take care of your body. People who survive cancer have a whole new appreciation for health. Those who haven’t been there may take it for granted. So stop smoking. Eat healthy. Drink in moderation. Maintain a healthy weight. Avoid putting toxic poisons in your God Pod. Get enough sleep.
9. Prioritize freedom. People who survive cancer know that being a workaholic isn’t the answer. Money can’t buy health. Security doesn’t matter if you’re six feet under. Sixteen hours a day of being a stress monster is only going to make you sick. As Tim Ferriss writes in The 4-Hour Workweek, “Gold is getting old. The New Rich are those who abandon the deferred-life plan and create luxury lifestyles in the present using the currency of the New Rich: time and mobility.”
10. Take risks. People who survive cancer have faced their fear and told it to go to hell. They know life is for living. Fear is powerless. And joy lies in taking risks. So go sky diving if you want. Bungee jump. Hang glide. Spend your savings. Live like you might die tomorrow.
Are you doing these things? Or are you waiting for cancer to test out how much you want to live?
Don’t wait for cancer, my love. Don’t tempt the Universe that way.
Be brave enough to live NOW.