National Cancer Survivor Day - A letter from Denise

As a two time, stage 4 cancer survivor, my prayer has been to remain in awe of life and carry an attitude of gratitude each day. So National Cancer Survivor Day on June 6 should be just like any other day, but I’m thankful for the reminder to reflect and for this opportunity to share my lessons.

My life changed drastically but I’d say for the better. The sacrifices made in that season seemed like huge sacrifices, forfeiting some of my favourite foods, adopting unsociable lifestyle changes and even having to shrink my circle of friends. But today, I see them as lifestyle changes for the better - friends aside. We all make those initial sacrifices, be it at the gym, for your family, for your career or for your health to bring you to that next level. As the saying goes, ‘your comfort zone is a beautiful thing, but you will never grow there’.

I may not have willingly chosen cancer, but I have consciously made it to be my catalyst for growth.  

Today, nearly 8 years after my decision to walk away from chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant, I am healthier than I was pre-diagnosis and carry a resiliency and appreciation for life that drives me to love, laugh and live like never before.

We all have our ‘cancer’s’ in life. Be it cancer itself, depression, divorce, losing a child, or losing a spouse. Our battles are unique and different but the pain is similar. No matter what, we were designed to thrive and created for a life of abundance. So if I could just leave you with just one challenge, it would be -

Dare to step outside your comfort zone or if you’re thrust out of it, choose to turn the pain into growth.

Below are my tips to do just that … 

4 Important Tools to Turn your Pain into Growth

1. Form a community that will support you in your choices.

When I drastically changed my diet, my community needed to be okay with choosing restaurants that were more accommodating to my dietary choices. Eventually I had a positive impact on some of my circle of friends and now some even appreciate and prefer this alternative way of dining and cooking.

2. Celebrate every win - big or small

There were days where I didn’t have energy to even put on my shoes to go down stairs for a walk. But on days that I made it to the doctors office and back home was considered a win. Instead of feeling bad about how weak I was, I needed to force myself to celebrate each win even though it wasn’t anywhere close to my desired goal. 

3. Allow yourself to feel - the pain, the fear, the anger...

Suppression of our emotions or unresolved emotions can create inflammation in our body and have other health consequences, with some studies showing negative effects on our blood pressure, memory and self esteem. Even the toughest of soldiers feel pain, fear and anger. Free yourself to feel them, bring them into the light and release them so you can have your heart free to face the other challenges. 

4. Never compare. Instead, extend compassion to yourself. 

We live in a day and age of comparison. And it's dangerous. It’s far too easy to compare with the barrage of posts from our extended circle of 1000 friends on social. You will always have somebody worse off than you, and also somebody better off than you. Instead focus on your own growth and aim to be that better version of yourself each day, not a better version of another person. When you’ve fallen a few steps back, extend compassion to yourself, as you would another, and ‘dust yourself off and trying again’. 

Life is a journey. And it can be a long one. This current season may be difficult for many, but it's often what we achieve, sacrifice and struggle through in the journey that makes the destination even more special. Those mountain top experiences often come with some sweat, blood and tears prior. 

Denise Tam, Holistic Nutritionist
Contributing Author of Saved by Nutrition

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