How I Turned My New Normal Into A New Life

Le plus important en fin de compte, ce ne sont pas les cartes qu’on vous a données, c’est ce que vous en faites…C’est la leçon que j’ai apprise de mon expérience avec le cancer et c’est le sujet de mon nouvel article pour I Had Cancer! Ihadcancer.com
 
What really matters in the end, is not really the cards you are dealt but rather how you play the hand…This is the lesson I have learned from my experience with cancer and that’s the topic of my new article for I Had Cancer! Ihadcancer.com
 
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When I got diagnosed with cancer in the midst of my 30s, I did not let the news bring me down. Instead, I immediately turned into a brave little soldier and accepted all the treatments that were thrown my way without flinching. I was convinced that I would win this fight and that life would just be brilliant afterwards.

But unfortunately this is not what happened… Indeed, when the euphoria that followed the end of the ordeal died down, it finally hit me. My body was still not in as good a shape as it has been and no matter how hard I tried or wanted it to happen, I just could not fit back into my old life. And, if at first I was just happy to celebrate my friends’ weddings, baby showers and professional successes, I began feeling like my life was passing me by and that I was becoming a mere spectator who was not allowed to have their share of the cake.

It was as if all the repressed fears and pains were slowing coming out. I started suffering from insomnia and getting stressed over menial things. I became angry more quickly and began losing interest in some of the things I used to love. I basically felt that I no longer had any control on what would happen to me and was terrified that my cancer would come back. Mostly, and it took me a while to admit it, I was feeling vulnerable because of what had happened to me.

I felt ashamed because I was one of the lucky ones. So many of my fellow cancer fighters had lost their battle while I had been given a second chance, so who was I to complain? And with nobody around to listen to my worries, for my family and friends had already turned the page and moved on, I had to find the resources within myself to give a new meaning to my life. And this is how I adopted my 3-way plan to make the most of what I had been left with.

It started with taking some baby steps. I first had to accept that I was no longer the same person I used to be, and that it was okay if I was not able to bounce back in a day. I had been through a lot and I needed to acknowledge the changes cancer had brought to my life before I could accept them. I was no less of a person because I needed time to grieve. I therefore allowed myself to cry, and I did cry a lot at that time, or vent my frustration. But at the same time, I also made sure to pat myself on the back when I was making progress, or to be forgiving when I did not.

Little by little, it became easier to start planning a future based on my new reality and, as a consequence, to lower my expectations. That was the second step. I had always been one of those girls who dreamed big and always wanted more. I now knew that I had fewer options but did not want to let those unfortunate chances hold me back any more. Life is full of opportunities once we no longer let ourselves be burdens by the standards imposed by society. It is way easier to take a new direction without the pressure to necessarily make the most of our existence.

It is way easier to take a new direction without the pressure to necessarily make the most of our existence.

I thus left the stressful corporate world and a job that had become meaningless for a position in a small governmental entity. This may be less glamourous on paper, but it gives me the impression that I am finally making a difference in this world.

With a new purpose in life, the third step was to simply count my blessings. I now make a list every evening of all the good things that has happened to me over the last 24 hours. If I first started with some very little things, I now have the impression that my life is made of many beautiful moments – whether it is simply a splendid sunny day or a nice lunch with a friend.

After all, what really matters in the end, is not really the cards you are dealt but rather how you play the hand.

What have you done to take back your new normal?

Photo courtesy of Jason Briscoe.

Life is too short to be a perfectionist

Mon histoire avec le cancer pour le site communautaire I had cancer. My story with cancer for the I had Cancer community website.

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Before being diagnosed with cancer, Florence was a 20-something year old French girl living the American dream and focused on perfection. After cancer caused everything to change, she learned to let go of perfection and love her new life. 

When I arrived in San Francisco, I was a shy and naïve 22-year old French girl who dreamed of a perfect life. I always had a smile on my face and loved being a “foreigner” in a new country. I finished law school and got a job. Along the way, I made new friends and fell in love. After 9 years in California, I had it all. I just did not know it then.

Call it the American dream syndrome maybe but I kept wanting more. Always more. The next step was to have kids, move to a nice house and get a dog. I had big dreams and everything seemed possible, but life is not a straight line leading from one blessing to the next, I know it now. In a matter of just a few days, my world came crushing down.

Cancer.

I was in my thirties. I was fit, ran 10k, and took kickboxing each week. I had never smoked a cigarette in my life, drank moderately and ate relatively healthy. How on earth could I have cancer?

For the perfectionist that I was, this diagnosis caused havoc in my life and I had to learn to let go of everything I thought I knew. For a year, I obediently followed doctors’ orders, living only one day at a time, trying to find one thing to look forward to each morning to distract from the side effects of treatment.

I lost my hair, my nails, my fertility and a few friends I counted as my closest. That was hard! But through it all, I managed to keep my spirits up. I was scared and had bad days but somehow I always believed I would win that fight. And while a lot of my compatriots tend to see the glass half empty, I now see it as half full.

This positive attitude, conditioned by my time in California, made me realize how lucky I was and I have grown incredibly grateful ever since. Grateful for the doctors who saved my life, for the nurses who made me laugh during chemo sessions and for the therapists who eased my pain. But grateful also for being alive today.I got to fulfill dreams I thought were unattainable for a girl like me, who until moving to San Francisco had some serious self-confidence issues.

Obviously getting a cancer was anything but a pleasant experience. Nonetheless, it was a life-changing lesson. I have way less options than before, that’s for sure, but I am okay with it. I strongly believe I still have much more to accomplish but I am taking my time now. What must happen will happen, and I no longer make long-term plans or worry about things I cannot control. I have accepted my scars, my weaknesses and my own limitations. Life is not perfect and the new one I am building for myself is far different from the one I was dreaming of when I was 20- but that doesn’t matter anymore.

My time in California – a time of innocence and self-discovery – is now behind me and it is bitter sweet. But I am healthy again and for as long as I can will cherish those memories and this imperfect, yet wonderful, life of mine. As we say in French: “La vie est belle!”