Not the Year You Had Planned

Cathy McCarthy was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2007. She had surgery, 6 sessions of chemotherapy and 33 sessions of radiotherapy. Having recovered  from the treatment she feels blessed to now be so well. She describes her bout with cancer as an opportunity to get living:

May you find the wisdom to listen to your illness? Ask it why it came, where it wants to take you What it wants you to know, What quality of space it wants to create in you What you need to learn to become more fully yourself That your presence may shine in the world. – John O’Donohue

It is a great shock to be diagnosed with any form of cancer. It takes a while to filter the information and to believe that you are the one with the cancer.

When I was diagnosed I decided I was going to make the most of the unexpected year in my life. It was not the year I had planned, but it was the year I had been given. I did everything I could to make the most of life during my treatment.

The second and third weeks after my chemotherapy were not so bad so I would plan to do things in those weeks. I would meet friends and go out as much as I could. I did not believe in sitting around feeling sorry for myself. Don’t misunderstand me I did have some awful days, but whenever possible, I did the best I could.

A cancer diagnosis calls for courage. Courage is found not by looking outwards, but comes from somewhere deep within your soul. John O’Donohue has a beautiful Blessing on Courage:

When the light around you lessens and your world is a cloud of darkness. Steady yourself and see that it is your own thinking that darkens your world. Search and you will find a diamond thought of light. All you need is one spark to nourish the flame to take away your fear.

Your attitude is vital in getting you through your illness. I came across a great quote recently by Charles Swindoll, and I quote the last two lines:

I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me, and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you ….. we are in charge of our attitudes.

I am convinced that you most definitely have a choice, you chose your attitude. I have met people who just see the whole ordeal as the worst thing that could have happened in their lives. I didn’t see it like that. It is difficult to understand but I saw it as a way of growing, a way of looking at my life in a totally different way. I saw it as an opportunity to learn about myself. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross says:

You will not grow if you sit in a beautiful flower garden, but you will grow if you are sick, if you are in pain, if you experience losses, and if you do not put your head in the sand, but take the pain as a gift to you with a very, very specific purpose.

I discovered many things about myself that I never knew, they were hidden until I was tested. I was much stronger than I thought. I learned to live in the moment. I learned not to be thinking of the future and just to enjoy what I had in the present moment. My cancer made me value my friends and family. When your son or daughter asks you how you are and if you need anything you realise how blessed you are to have a loving and supportive family. I appreciated the little things, a cup of coffee with a friend, a simple text. I realised how valuable health is. You really don’t know until something is taken from you how precious it is.

Cancer made me realise how important it was to nurture the spiritual side of my life, because I believe when you are faced with such a serious illness, you need more than just material things. I can tell you I like clothes and shopping as much as the next person, but I know that that was not enough to get me through a cancer journey.

I am going to make the most of the rest of my life. I know now more than ever that I want to make a difference. I was listening to an interview with Richard Branson recently and he said that if you get a chance in life to make a difference, do it. I want to help other people who are going through cancer. I want them to know that they can get through it. I want to be an inspiration to them to get on with their lives.

I have done things I would never have done before cancer. I have walked two half marathons and two full marathons. I give talks to groups. I would never have been the sort of person to talk in public, but because I have been through cancer, and because what I have to say comes from my heart, it makes speaking so much easier. I have written a book to help people through their cancer journey. I remember reading the words of John O’Donohue when I got my cancer. They had a profound effect on my attitude to my cancer illness which not only defined my attitude, but it also led me to the writing of my book.

I had absolutely no notion of ever writing a book. I suppose we all maybe dream about it. The book is called Not The Year You Had Planned. It is a positive self-help book with all kinds of practical information for anyone who has cancer. All the proceeds for my share of the book are going to help two Cancer Support Centres.

For many of us today, there is life after cancer. I believe you should strive to be the person you were born to be and I hope to be an inspiration to others to get on with their lives. Give to the world the best you have and the best will come back to you.

What insights have you gained from your experience with cancer? Please share your story.


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