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?

What Lipstick and Dancing Naked Taught Me About Cancer: Have Fun

We’ve all experienced horribly gut-wrenching days, the kind that turn our worlds upside down and permanently alter our lives. For many, the initial reaction to being slapped across the face with such awful news is to collapse into a puddle of dark tears … or fall into a state of shock … or maybe even a sense of denial. Any one of these reactions is expected and perfectly acceptable. I would have thought that my world would have crashed after my cancer diagnosis. But, through the haze of anguish, fear and the unknown, I realized that life can still be fun even with cancer.

I first realized this shortly after receiving my first cancer diagnosis in 2004. That’s when I officially became “Caryn with Cancer,” and vowed not to let that awful title define me. I remember being incredibly hungry as I left the doctor’s office. I was tired, and desperately wanted to shake the icky feeling I had in my stomach. So after stopping for lunch, I wandered into my favorite makeup boutique. “Caryn without Cancer” would’ve analyzed NARS cosmetics, discussed her Chanel wedding perfume with the girl behind the counter, and found a new plum colored lip-gloss. So that’s exactly what I did on this day, and I felt rejuvenated for a moment. The lesson I learned? Buying a new lipstick and laughing with the retail staff about silly girl stuff actually made me feel better about what I was about to embark on.

As the weeks progressed, I became inundated with doctors appointments, researching a healthier lifestyle, and figuring out plans around my new “crappy life event.” But luckily I was able to find small nuggets of delight that helped me feel better momentarily. Everything that came with being a girl with cancer was so exhausting, so quick pick-me-ups like buying lip-gloss became extremely important. Each time I allowed myself to have a little fun, I felt like I was infused with a new batch of positive energy that helped me move forward with all the to-do’s.

I realized that even with cancer, I could be happy. I was a newlywed and was determined to enjoy the lifestyle that went along with being a new wife, despite the dire cancer diagnosis just weeks after our wedding. I focused on the positives or filled my life with things that were fun. Of course, this strategy doesn’t cure cancer, but it sure helped me and my family cope during a difficult time.

As I take a laugh down memory lane during this difficult time, here are some unique, silly, and fun bad-mood busters that made me laugh.

What Lipstick and Dancing Naked Taught Me About Cancer 1

10 Silly Pick-Me-Ups That Helped Me Have Fun with Cancer

10. Exercised to Carmen Electra’s Strip Tease videos. The worse I was, the more I giggled.

9. Dined at a Japanese restaurant with tatami rooms (it was private – so no one stared at my bald head or sneezed around my immune deficient body.)

8. Watched Vince Vaughn, Will Ferrell, and Adam Sandler flicks. The sillier the humor, the better.

7. Asked friends to reach out to acquaintances and had them mail silly notes, photos, and pictures. I smiled every time I went to the mailbox and the efforts meant more than email.

6. Hosted a cartoon night. My son raided the party store, then decorated our house with streamers. Dinner was served with Thomas the Train plates followed by a cartoon movie.

5. Visited Barnes & Noble and bought three magazines. I sat at home, read and relaxed with red wine. Sometimes I put candles in the bath and did the same, but with vegan cocoa.

4. Camped out in our backyard or guest room. Forts, flashlights and ghost stories are always amusing.

3. Created a date night at home – made a new playlist, grabbed takeout and used our wedding china.

2. Hosted a virtual dance party. I emailed my friends a song and they sent videos of themselves, their kids or animals dancing to it.

1. Danced naked by myself jamming to music before jumping in the shower – seriously, it was ridiculous but hilarious.

 What are your favorite fun or silly pick-me-ups?

This feature was the first post on PrettyWellness.com – on the launch date April 2, 2014.

For wellness daily tips and inspirational ideas on healthy living, clean eating and a non-toxic lifestyle, please follow us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

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