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15 Life Lessons From Having Breast Cancer

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” 
— Annie Dillard

This month I’ve been reflecting on some of the life lessons I learned from breast cancer.  


1.  Life is short.  Make (and check items off) a bucket list.

2.  Family is everything. Things and stuff mean very little.

3.  You already have everything you need in life, just become more aware of it around you.

4.  Kids are great teachers.  My kids showed me what was really important during the chemo and surgeries.  

5.  Notice things.  Don’t rush, take time to see the remarkable things around you in each moment (like  the gorgeous night skies I saw during all those baseball games throughout that summer of chemo). 


6.  Friends are really important.  I had the most amazing support group during chemo and surgeries, women know how to rally when a friend is down!

7.  People want to help, so don’t keep your diagnosis a secret.  There wasn’t one person that I can think of who didn’t rise to the occasion when I told them what I was going through (even my clients).

8.  Let people help you.  You can’t do this on your own, it truly takes a village to take care of a woman who’s going through breast cancer.  Believe me, those casseroles and desserts that all your friends are going to be bringing over to you and your family are going to be fabulous for your kids (you won’t be eating them if you’re going through chemo…but they’re going to love ’em).

9.  Don’t sweat the small stuff.  If the house is a mess, so be it.  Spend what little energy you have during treatments on family and friends instead of on cleaning.

10. Trust your doctors.  I used to have a mantra that I would chant over and over in my head during all the procedures, “Empower my healers,” which helped me through all the poking and prodding and needle pricks.  After all, if you don’t trust your doctors, you need to be finding new ones.

11.  Be your own best advocate.  No one knows your body like you do, so ask a lot of questions and make demands of your medical team.  Research everything, get 2nd opinions and in general, take charge of your own health care.

12. Surround yourself with positive people.  Don’t let negative energy drain you, you need to focus on yourself when you’re sick.

13. Show gratitude.  I was so lucky to have such a good network of support while I was sick and it took me almost a year afterwards, but I made a point of doing something special for each of the people who helped me, to show them how grateful I was for their support during my illness.

14. Stop worrying.  Easy to say, harder to do.  This one was hardest for me during all the procedures, but I used things like breathing exercises to help me diffuse my nervous energy during each chemo treatment, and right before each surgical procedure so that my body would be more relaxed throughout.

15.  Seize the day.  Trite, but really relevant after a breast cancer diagnosis.

How about you?  What were the life lessons you learned, or are learning, from your experience with breast cancer or other illness?

Read more from Claudia Schmidt on her blog, My Left Breast

Claudia Schmidt

Slightly obsessive-compulsive, self-employed mom with 2 very cool but snarky teenage kids who just happens to have been diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer in February of 2010. Looking at life through a new lens now.

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Linda Roy

Monday 12th of May 2014

All of these are so important to remember. Life is too short and too precious not to look around and appreciate the little things in life and what we have right here in front of us. Thank you for this beautiful reminder Claudia.

Claudia Schmidt

Tuesday 13th of May 2014

Thanks, Linda. Life really is short, and in some ways I feel I was lucky to learn that from breast cancer.

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