20 Simple Lessons I Learned from Surviving Cancer

June 1 marked National Cancer Survivor’s Day. Being a two-time cancer survivor, I thought a lot about what this meant to me. What lessons did I learn that made my life better and can be applied to my friends, family and the greater community?

The first time around, cancer gave me confidence. I shopped for wigs with enthusiasm, bought new makeup to highlight my smile (rather than the thinning eyelashes) and had chemo parties to make the IV treatments enjoyable. I conquered breast cancer with positivity and grace. So, when I jumped back into my fast-paced corporate lifestyle, no monumental presentation or top-executive meeting could rock my world. I knew I could master it, because I overcame the greatest battle of all – I beat the big C.

Though the confidence was powerful and definitely a badge of courage after surgery and chemo, my approach to life was to “get back to normal.” I enjoyed forgetting that I once had cancer. My workaholic ways and successful career momentum reinforced that “I was back.” What I know now after my second round of breast cancer is that I missed the bigger lesson. Rather than go back to my normal life, I should have recognized the importance of taking care of myself. Like many in this world, I probably just thought that overhauling my routine was too hard. What I realized is that making a few small changes, little by little, eventually equals big changes in my health.

20 Simple Lessons on How To Take Care of Myself I Learned from Surviving Cancer

20 Simple Lessons on How to Take Care of Myself I Learned from Surviving Cancer


1. Being bald, I noticed my eyes and learned they were truly beautiful. Wow – maybe I am pretty after-all.

2. Feeling tired, drained, nauseous and pain can be a downer. It is ok to be in a funk. Accept it and don’t beat myself up over it.

3. Even having cancer, I can be happy, have fun and laugh a lot. The first time around I was a newlywed and vowed to focus on silly little activities to keep us laughing. Who would have thought?

4. Cancer brings clarity, which makes life a tad bit easier. I didn’t care that I lost my breasts and hair because I just wanted to live. Nothing else was important but that.

5. Grappling with mortality reminded me to be grateful for everything in my life ranging from my relationships to my personal assets.


6. Sleep is ever so important. Cells can’t revitalize unless my body sleeps well. Farewell to the 3-hour slumbers I would subject myself to so I could wake up and work on a presentation or send emails at 4 a.m. Now, I sleep at least 7.5 hours and even nap, too.

7. Move around: walk daily and find an active hobby. Studies continue to support moderate exercise to prevent many diseases.

8. Eating whole foods, rather than packaged artificial items will give me more energy throughout the day.

9. My favorite foods changed, whether it was from treatment induced cravings or eliminating items for long periods of time. I learned that I don’t need Diet Dr. Pepper, Hostess Snowballs and gummy Coke bottles in my life.

10. Staying hydrated will help any toxins eliminate themselves.

11. Water doesn’t have to be boring. Add mint, basil and some fruit and it smells and tastes yummy.

12. Drinking hot water and lemon first thing in the morning, helps rehydrate and balance my body’s alkaline-acidic state for better overall functioning. I also have tons of energy since I’m not dehydrated. I now look forward to this drink instead of my mocha.

Practical Matters:

13. Don’t trust the Internet. Let it be a tool to help gather information, but go to experts to help answer the important questions. This applies to all areas in life.

14. Every patient/person needs a buddy, one who will attend hard doc appointments or monumental events to ask assorted questions or lend themselves for support.

15. Ask questions often. I politely call or email doctors and nurses (or business associates) when I have a random question or concern. It’s their job.

16. Doctors don’t always agree. Get second and third opinions.


17. Some people say the wrong thing, others say nothing…but that’s not important. Cherish those people who make you feel good about yourself.

18. Ask friends and family for help. They want to be there. Give them ideas to help them help.

19. Nature, music and animals are truly soothing. Building a steady relationship with the outdoors is invigorating.

20. I can get through anything because I have a true, non-toxic, loving and supportive best friend. He’s been my rock, my chauffeur, my cancer counselor, my roommate, my partner and my true love – my husband. Love and treasure family and best friends.

These lessons I learned from cancer, but can be applied to any aspect of life. What life lesson do you hold most dear to your heart?


  1. Xoxo. So proud of you!

  2. I am so incredibly inspired by your outlook on life and your upbeat attitude in the face of something that I’m sure is scary and unsettling. You are a courageous and incredibly strong woman and I’m tipping my hat off to you this morning :)

    Best wishes for a beautiful weekend–stopping in from SITS sharefest this morning.

  3. Incredibly inspirational post! Your eyes are gorgeous! They definitely show your beautiful soul! Kick caner a$$, girl!

  4. Caryn,

    You are amazing & I admire your strength & clarity. Thank you for sharing your wisdom. I’m seeing you healthy & whole & really living w/your amazing zest for life. Sending light & love.

  5. Caryn Sullivan

    Thanks for the kind words. This was the only pic I took being bald. I just figured I should dust it off and show the world that I still looked like me – even though I never expected it. I know EZ understands, too. Lots of love to everyone. Happy 1st day of summer.

  6. Caryn – a horrible disease has taught you life lessons that many never learn (much like myself). Now, everyday will be better, every hug will be warmer, every kiss will be sweeter. Everyday is a blessing. Take care of yourself and enjoy!

  7. So inspirational. Thanks for sharing! Visiting from the #SITSgirls :)

  8. Jeannine

    My sweet and dear friend,
    You have always been wise beyond your years. What do I say to this except what an incredibly beautiful person you are inside and out. You have always shined so bright even when thrown life’s toughest challenges. I love and miss you. thank you for sharing your insights as many of us including me could learn a lot from you.

  9. Wonderful outlook great share much blessings and best wishes glad to hear you are doing well :)xo

  10. Loved this post! So much inspiration and wisdom shared here. #SITSgirls hugs!!

  11. Wow! I truly admire your awesome attitude! You are an inspiration. Thank you so much for sharing. FYI… I found your blog post through SITS girls Saturday Share Fest.

  12. Wow – what an inspirational post. So many great lessons we all can benefit from. I’m so glad you are doing well – thank you for sharing!

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