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How a Disney Princess Helped Me Discover My New Normal

I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in the Fall of 2013. The news was shocking and sobering, especially considering I knew very few people who thrived with it. Scared beyond comprehension, filled with sleepless nights and worries dancing through my head, I thought I knew what that diagnosis meant. At the same time, publicity ramped up for Disney’s “Frozen,” but I didn’t pay attention. The movie opened Thanksgiving weekend and after the holidays, the world knew it was not only a box office hit, but the key to a young girl’s heart. I didn’t realize, it would be to mine, as well.

As the world was singing “Do you Want to Build a Snowman, ” I was anxiously awaiting my first set of scans after being diagnosed. My mind was filled with wildly ranging thoughts:

Was this the calm before the storm? Would the results show tremendous growth and I would only have a few months or years left?

If so, would my child really know me? Should we tell him or not?

Will my new treatments debilitate me? Will I feel like myself? Will I be myself?

With great luck, blessings and positive vibes, I received some good news mid-January. The cancer was stable. All things considering, it was the best news we could receive. I was thankful that my low-volume, oligometastatsis, stage IV metastatic disease didn’t rage its ugly head. However, the truth about stage IV disease is that the cancer has traveled through my blood and could be lurking in other places. My doctors can’t be sure it will not grow again. Science doesn’t really know. And in many cases, cancer will resist drugs after working well for a time period. So while I was relieved that the cancer hadn’t spread and happy to stay on my current treatment because the side effects were minimal, I felt empty.

What does this mean? Just because my cancer isn’t growing now, what if it returns? Do I jump into my old life now that we better understand how to handle my cancer today? But how can I do that knowing I need to take care of myself differently? Life no longer has to be put on hold assessing my state of health, so it was about to get back to normal. Yet, what was normal?

Normal was me prioritizing work or graduate school near the top of my list.

Normal was me trying to jam pack my days with family, friends, acquaintances, school, work and the list making goes on…

Normal was seldom exercising, eating a ton of packaged goods and drinking caffeine to keep me awake through the day.

Normal was me trying to be perfect in all of my big roles: superstar employee, top of the list graduate student, incredibly supportive wife and a hands-on mother.

After all the reading and inquiring about plant-based eating and optimal wellness those first few months after the stage IV diagnosis, I knew I couldn’t get back to that stressful lifestyle. I often thought: how do I figure out the new normal? Will the dark cloud of cancer always loom over my life? The first few weeks after the good news, I was living off the high, but still wondering what was next for me. One Saturday afternoon, I took my then five-year-old to see “Frozen.” While the movie theater was packed with a choir of families decked in Frozen-mania swag, it hit me. Elsa, who hid her true identity, finally ran free dancing up the mountains in blizzard conditions, allowing the force of nature to take over resulting in a crystallized winter wonderland.  I realized I, too, had to “Let it Go.”

My body was shaking, holding back tears. The easiest way for me to deal with my new normal was to let go of my old expectations and embrace what was in front of me right now. Take the life I have with cancer and make it the life I want it to be.

So now I’ve used Idina Menzel’s rendition as my theme song. Rather than jump back into my old stressful habits, I’m exploring the potential of opportunities in front of me and handling them with different tools. I now prioritize exercise and down-time. I’m writing more and enjoying speaking engagements on subjects I love: health and wellness. I’m involved in my son’s classroom and school. And I still love and honor my husband as my true Prince Charming. Do I worry of the cancer returning? Of course, but I try to give myself some time to accept each appointment milestone or setback, then move forward. I never wanted to be defined as a Caryn with cancer, but maybe all of us survivors can be seen as royalty in a kingdom of wellness, compassion and love. Because that is what my new normal is focused on.

How have you dealt with hardship and embraced change?

How a Disney Princess Helped Me Discover My New Normal with Cancer

27 Comments

  1. This is beautiful – what a story. Stage IV cancer and your purpose now is to live, enjoy, and inspire others. You are a wonderful and strong woman – so powerful and strong. Thank you for sharing your story, I know it will help so many others!

    • Caryn Sullivan

      Thanks Kristen…you’re making me blush. This was so hard, yet so easy to write. I have such a connection to that song and perhaps secretly want to be a princess.

  2. Your positive outlook is inspiring. Your new normal sounds perfect for what you need right now. Good luck!

    • Caryn Sullivan

      Thanks Marci. I’m really enjoying blogging, writing and making a new life with it.

  3. What a great post! I think of you often and pray for you too. I am so happy to get these updates through Pretty Wellness. I admire you grace and passion for life. Take good care- xo karen mcandrew

    • Caryn Sullivan

      Thanks Karen. I’m loving my new life and new normal with Pretty Wellness. Thank you so much for reading, following and being supportive. I also love and cherish the prayers and positive vibes. xoxo

  4. Hello Caryn,
    Thank you for sharing your story. You had me in tears, happy tears. I’m happy to hear that you are letting go and living life on your terms.
    Wishing you all the best!
    ::Warm Hugs::
    XOXO

    • Caryn Sullivan

      Thanks so much. I’m glad that the post moved you…it did for me, too.

  5. So beautiful! I love your spirit and how you’ve chosen to live.

    • Caryn Sullivan

      Thanks Lauren. It’s easier for me to focus on the positive so I can be happy, rather than always living in fear. xoxo

  6. What a wonderful story. I’m so glad you shared it. I can’t imagine it’s easy to find a new normal after receiving such a scary diagnosis. I’m so glad you have been able to move past it and “let it go.” There’s definitely a reason that song and movie have been such a major hit. I think so many people were moved by the song in a lot of different ways. I’m so glad I stumbled on your blog. I look forward to reading about more of your journey.

    • Caryn Sullivan

      Thanks for the kind words Tricia. I feel the same way about the song. The theme of letting go has the ability to resonate with people of all backgrounds and ages. Plus, the tune itself is so catchy. It’s going to be in my head all night now. Have a great week.

  7. Caryn, you find the silver lining every day, I think. You are amazing!!!

  8. Wow what an amazing and powerful story! I had no idea this was your story and I’m glad I read it today! Thanks for sharing!
    Rachel recently posted…Easy RITZ® and Brie Appetizer!

    • Thanks Rachel for the kind words. This Princess piece is one of my favorites. It was so easy to write in ways because it’s me…and it’s real. But also hard to write in a way because I really felt it in my heart and core. Thanks for stopping by. Have a great week.

  9. Beautifully written and lived.
    KJS recently posted…The Genius on Savage’s reigns

  10. Heartwarming and inspirational. Thanks for the wise words.

  11. Angelica

    This post was so beautifully written. I’m so sorry for what you’ve been through and so sorry for you hearing that people are so sorry all of the time! I’ve never had a true, “ah-ha” moment such as yourself but yours is inspiring. I have fibromyalgia among other, who knows what’s wrong with me, issues and drastically changing the way I eat has made a huge change. I’m glad your cancer was a bit of a blessing in disguise so that you could have your ah-ha moment, it definitely sounds like your life is headed in a completely different and wondrous direction!

  12. After reading your post, I’d say you remind me of Merida from “Brave” too. God bless you on your journey! #SITSBlogging
    DIStherapy recently posted…3 Must-Have Printing Innovations From HP | MyPrintly Mom Meet-Up #CMYK

    • Thanks for the kind words. I will have to see the movie, Brave, and see what I think of Merida. We still haven’t seen that one yet. Thanks for stopping by!

  13. My mantra is: Attitude of Gratitude. Being thankful for what I have. Lovely post.

    • Thanks of the kind words. This really was one of my favorite posts to write because it meant so much to me. I love your mantra and I try to do the same.

  14. Cancer can certainly put things into perspective and make you look at life in a whole new way. My aha moment was the moment my mom was diagnosed with almost stage 4 colon cancer. It made me realize just how dearly I love her.

    • I’m so sorry that your family has also been touched with cancer. As you know, it really can provide clarity about what is important in life. Sending positive vibes and well-wishes your way.

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