After surviving breast cancer, Nicole Czarnomski lives her life with joy and inspires others to find what makes them happy, even in the face of adversity.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in July of 2017 and at that time, I was living a busy yet empty life. I ran from one thing to the next, I was teaching fitness classes 3–4 times a week, I had a full-time job, I was writing for several publications [as] a freelance writer and every single moment of my life was full. I didn’t allow time for my husband [and] I didn’t allow time for my friends. I just packed everything into a schedule.
I wasn’t super happy with who I was. I was very self-conscious of my body. I had this self-worth issue of ‘I’m not smart enough, I’m not pretty enough, I’m just not perfect enough.’ It was a tough time to be diagnosed [with breast cancer] and then it was a kick in the gut. I thought I was the healthiest woman, teaching fitness classes and exercising all the time, [but] I wasn’t and it was devastating.
When I was 18 years old, I started journaling and I found that throughout the years, I’ve used many different methods. I’ve researched different journaling experts and found my own path. I start writing and it just comes out, and if I run out of something to say, then I just write mantras and repeat positive things to myself over and over on the page. When breast cancer hit, I was [not] journaling [as much] at that point, and because I knew journaling was so therapeutic for me, I had to start doing [it] again.
When I started journaling about [my experience], it helped me process my thoughts and emotions. I had a double mastectomy and I had reconstruction. I was stage III, it had spread to my lymph nodes. They had to remove 18 lymph nodes. I went on to do four rounds of aggressive chemo, I did seven of the 12 recommended rounds of another chemotherapy, and my body just said stop. My white blood cell count was having a really hard time staying up so I had to skip appointments, and they finally just stopped it, and then I did radiation, and now I’m on Tamoxifen, something that suppresses the ovaries, which is good for me because my cancer was hormone-based.
I’m not a medical person and the doctors were throwing all these medical terms out to me and I was trying to learn about it. I discovered that all of this would be so helpful for somebody else, so I wanted to get it in book form.
It’s very personal, but it also gives you that perspective of ‘Oh, okay, I need to advocate for myself.’ I can’t tell you how important it is to advocate for yourself when you’re at the doctor’s office. Ask those questions. Push a little bit harder for the answers that you want to get because I didn’t know how to do that.
I found the more I wrote about it, the easier it became because I kept processing it over and over. It was like talk therapy on paper. When you’re doing that, you’re getting it out. You need to talk through things to process the decisions that you have to make. These are decisions that [no one] should have to go through, but it’s life, and that’s going to happen. If you can talk or write about it, it’s so important to that healing process.
If I could get through this journey, so can you. It’s that little ounce of hope that sometimes people need to get them over the hump. I’m not saying that every day was rosy—I had pity parties—but you’re not allowed to stay in that pity party mindset. Give yourself 30 minutes, cry, be angry, throw a fit, do whatever you need to do and then be done with it and go on about your day, and be joyful and happy and live in a loving environment. Give yourself that love.
The journey taught me so much about life and about myself. I had a tremendous support system and the support they provided was unbelievable. They were there at every turn.
My husband was also there for me. He ended up teaching me how to laugh in the face of adversity. It’s pretty special. My husband [would] show me cat videos and music [when I was going through treatment]. I remember one time he turned on Lady Gaga and started jamming it in the house and my mood immediately changed.
Breast cancer was a blessing. You go back and think, ‘Gosh—breast cancer—why would you say that it’s a blessing?’ but it was. It helped me see my self-worth and it helped me see that I was really a lovely human being, just kind of all wrapped up in these negative thoughts. I feel so much more confident in who I am knowing that I battled a giant and won. I got this. It’s just that reassurance and that feeling of being confident when I used to not be that person. I was just this sad girl that needed to realize her inner beauty.[Cancer] just made me appreciate my life so much more. I learned how to be grateful for things, and I have the best relationship with my husband now. I make time for him. It’s pretty great. It was a long journey, but it turned my life around, and I think that’s what made me get on this road to helping other people through their cancer journey because it was just so life-changing.
It’s a good feeling and being able to give back just means everything to me. I tell my fitness friends that I don’t know how I would ever say thank you enough times for lifting me up when I needed it and helping me through this journey, so what I’m going to do is spend the rest of my life helping other people like you helped me.
I think that life is always full of adversity. My adversity was breast cancer. There is always going to be some sort of adversity. Life is always throwing curveballs. You just have to manage that mindset and find the positives. Find a way to keep yourself positive. I exercise, I do yoga, I meditate, I write. I try to do those things that work. Find whatever it is that you have that brings you joy and go there. Go there every single day, because you just don’t know when your last day is going to be.