Let’s face it. As cancer survivors, we will always have two lives: one before cancer and one after.
Reminiscing about the “good old days” can be both a blessing and a curse. We think about what it felt like to have our old bodies, our old sense of humor, and our old lighthearted spirit. Those thoughts can make us both happy and sad. But the hard truth is – the good old days are gone.
But that doesn’t mean life can never get better. As a matter of fact, life after cancer can be bigger and better than it ever was.
But only if we change our mindset.
Mindset refers to a person’s view and core assumptions. It is the lens by which we see and evaluate ourselves and the outside world. Our mindset is the basis for our overall mental health. It influences how we perceive information, our feelings and overall perception and memory of an experience.
According to Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, there are two basic mindsets: fixed and growth. If you have a fixed mindset, you believe your abilities are fixed traits and therefore cannot be changed. You may also believe that your talent and intelligence alone leads to success, and effort is not required.
On the flipside, if you have a growth mindset, you believe that your talents and abilities can be developed over time through effort and persistence. You believe that everyone can get smarter or more talented if they work at it.
An easy example of the difference can be seen in how each reacts to failure. With a fixed mindset, failure is measured by what has been lost or not achieved as a result of our own inadequacies. With a growth mindset, failure is viewed as an opportunity to learn from the mistake and gain new perspective from the experience.
Why the lecture on mindset?
Because it is critical to healing the emotional wounds from a cancer diagnosis.
If you carry a fixed mindset, you may blame yourself for your cancer diagnosis because of something you did (or didn’t do). You worked too hard or didn’t exercise enough. If this is you – STOP. You must let go of the notion that you did something to deserve cancer.
Our prevailing mental mindset is our own worst enemy, and despite the unhealthy nature of this thought process, we often revert to our old behaviors, even if they do not help us grow in a positive way.
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I carried this fixed mindset for a long time. I felt like it must be my fault and that I needed to solve the “why” question so that I could make sure a cancer recurrence would never happen again. This was not healthy thinking.
I soon learned that I had a choice. I could either stay in the dark, fixed mindset of fear and blame, or I could make a change and see what it felt like to think differently. I decided to make the change.
I remembered the day it happened.
I felt like I had just put on a new pair of glasses that allowed me to see things so differently that I had before. When I shifted my perspective, I could see that things really were different. I could see that God was giving me the strength I needed to heal.
I could see an immediate change in perspective and things that were muddled and unclear were now much clearer. I now knew what was important and what wasn’t and blaming myself for my own cancer diagnosis was keeping in the “victim” category, which was exactly where I was not willing to be.
It was time to stand up and face the anxiety and fear head on and step past the old mindset to a place of greater freedom. It was time for me to embrace my new reality in a way that would bring me excitement and joy. Cancer took my boobs, but it didn’t get to take my happiness and joy. Those things still belonged to me and they were worth fighting for.
There were plenty of things to be scared of during my cancer journey, but on my “day of awakening”, I also realized there were also plenty of things to be excited about. From that moment on, I made the conscious decision to transform my mindset from the old, fixed way of thinking to a new more grateful and joyous mindset.
It was time for growth. Time to embrace the freedom to think in new ways. It was time to be the new me!