In 2011, I didn’t get to choose my path. Cancer chose for me. The diagnosis meant 14 months of being told to see doctors, have tests and surgeries, and undergo a course of immunotherapy. The doctors said it was all necessary to survive, and I did it all.
At the end of those 14 months, I felt lost.
During treatment, I felt like I was emotionally coasting. The uncertainty brought on by my diagnosis left me feeling a bit detached from my life. I went from being an invincible 24-year-old nurse living what I thought was my best life, to someone who felt like there wasn’t even solid ground to stand on. My shield of invincibility had popped, and I didn’t know how to proceed.
I distinctly remember one of the most challenging days for me was the day I finished treatment. Everyone around me was celebrating my accomplishment. I was trying to feel excited, but all I could feel was a wave of fear and overwhelming anxiety. Now that the structure of active medical treatment was gone, I wasn’t having to figure out how to fit in appointments with doctors, injections, and cancer into my everyday life. My detailed and predictable treatment plan was now vague.
What would happen now? Who was I now?
I was so scared the cancer would come back, that we wouldn’t catch it in time, and that I would have to move forward into a life I didn’t know anymore; I was uncertain how to move forward. Cancer had come in and swiftly turned my life upside down. I wasn’t the same person I was before treatment, or during treatment for that matter. I didn’t quite know who I was, and I was initially nervous to find out.
In 2013, I chose the adventure of signing up for a wilderness trip for young adults impacted by cancer. I showed up in Colorado not knowing what to expect, but ready to challenge myself by rock climbing. I was also hoping to reconnect with myself and discover how to feel alive again.
That trip introduced me to the healing power of outdoor adventure and gave me a safe space to be vulnerable. Not only was I challenging myself physically but also mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. I got glimpses of a person I hadn’t known I could be after feeling so wholly incapable during my time in treatment.
Leaning into true vulnerability and trusting people I didn’t know with my life while dangling from a rope felt like a metaphor for all that I went through in treatment. Each time I had an opportunity to climb, it felt like I was overcoming something within me and fighting for the person I wanted to become.
Since that trip, spending time in nature has become essential medicine for my soul. Each time I enter the wilderness, I find myself deeply grounded in the present moment. By challenging myself and getting to know my fears and doubts and what is truly right for me, I have been able to better understand what I need. I have been able to choose adventure and push myself out of my comfort zone, which has helped me learn how much I am capable of. This work hasn’t been easy, but it’s been transformative.
Confucius said, “We all have two lives; the second begins when we realize we only have one.” The first time I read that I felt deeply seen and understood. As I started connecting with myself more deeply, I began prioritizing things that bring me joy. I have learned that life is precious and there are no guarantees.
For the past 13 years, I have worked in the field of nursing. I primarily worked in pediatrics and mental health because I love the hope I always see when working with kids. When my world turned upside down from cancer, I had to take a step back from mental health nursing. I knew I didn’t have the emotional capacity to show up for my patients while also trying to care for my own mental well-being.
Eventually, when it felt right, I found my way back to mental health nursing and began working in leadership positions. I appreciated the challenge of trying to navigate through so many puzzles at the same time, and I truly wanted to be an advocate for my patients and my staff. At some point I allowed my job to become an important part of my identity, and it didn’t take long to notice I had once again become disconnected from my values, my joy, and what felt most important. I was feeling anxious, depressed, and exhausted. I saw the levels of burnout amongst the staff I was working with and realized I was feeling the effects of it myself.
Around this time, a friend I had grown close to passed away from breast cancer. Her death reminded me of that valuable Confucius quote, and that we aren’t guaranteed anything in this life. Remembering that inspired me to reconnect with what brings me joy and what I feel most connected to, and I started prioritizing those things again. I reflected on when I felt my best, and the answer was easy: when I was volunteering, making deep connections with others, and watching them transform their lives by reconnecting with themselves and pushing the limits of their comfort zones.
I wanted to prioritize more of that in my life. I found myself quitting my job, moving to live closer to my immediate family, and starting a program to get my master’s degree in integrative health and wellness. During this program, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and I saw so many of my peers suffering under the weight of it. They reached a new level of burnout because of the circumstances. Many of them felt lost and disconnected, just as I had in 2011. I chose another big adventure by launching my business: This is Your Life Health and Wellness Coaching.
Now, I work with people who want to find their joy and connect to themselves more fully. We collaborate, and I walk alongside them to help them build lives they love. We each have many wonderful gifts within us to give ourselves, our loved ones, and the world—we just have to find the courage to unearth them and truly live. I help people connect with their courage every day by providing one-on-one, group coaching, and interactive workshops because I believe we all deserve to live our truest and most beautiful life.
Choose adventures that both scare and excite you, that feel just a little bit too big and wild. Start there, and don’t forget to have fun. You are living your one wild and precious life, make the most of it by knowing the true you—because life is a pretty great adventure.
This article was featured in the 2022 Mental Health issue of Elephants and Tea Magazine! Click here to read our magazine issues.
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THANK YOU!!! I too am recently done with chemo and “survivor” but so hard to say or admit. Your post resonated and I appreciate your story and words…. SO TRUE. Bless you.