“You have breast cancer,” my doctor said, as my heart sank to the floor. My mind rushed with a million questions at once. How bad is it? Am I dying? How did this happen? Will everything be OK?
In early May of 2019, I found a lump in my left breast by accident. A little shocked and a little in denial, I made a mental note to have it checked as soon as I was back from my work trip.
I work for myself full time as a travel and lifestyle blogger and I was leaving within the week for a 10-day press trip to Greece. While on the trip, my mind wandered often as I kept feeling the lump. I’d had a scare, back in 2008, that had turned out to be nothing. So I assured myself that this would be the same. I’d have it checked ASAP and then move on with my life.
But when I finally got the official diagnosis in July, I was in utter disbelief. It was a rare breast cancer—triple-negative—and the cause was unknown. My mind raced with the hows and the whys.
I’m the girl who goes to meditation retreats and drinks her green smoothies every morning. How did this happen? Not to mention, I was literally at the peak of my life in every single way. I was newly engaged to the love of my life and I’d worked super hard to create the career of my dreams. After years of hard work, I was finally reaping all the fruits of my labor, and now this.
It was like someone had scooped me up right out of my perfect life overnight and put me away in a prison. I went from the boundless freedom of traveling to a new country once a month to the ultimate restriction of being handcuffed to a chemo chair and endless medical appointments.
For six weeks, I kept my diagnosis a secret. I had 200,000 people following my every single move on Instagram and I wasn’t sure how I was ever going to share this with them. I even considered not sharing it at all. Maybe I could just wear wigs and keep it quiet for a year and pretend to live a normal life. I tried it on mentally, but no matter how much I tried to push my diagnosis away, my soul was aching to let it all out.
My stomach was extremely uneasy about making the announcement, but I knew I couldn’t hold it inside for another day. I created a heartfelt video to share the news with my audience and as I lay in bed on the day of my egg freezing surgery, I posted it publicly on all of my social media channels. One by one, I responded to the hundreds of comments, and I felt so much relief that my secret was finally out. In a weird way, it made me feel a bit free.
From that day forward, I made the choice to use my platform to share my story in order to serve others and give back. I looked at this new challenge as an opportunity for personal growth, and I wanted to turn this negative into a positive in the best way that I could. I wanted to be a light amongst all the darkness that I’d seen online and to show that this journey could be experienced in another way. Other cancer thrivers began reaching out, thanking me for my positivity and asking for advice, so I started to share even more on my blog.
Hundreds of women were helped through their journey just by simply watching mine. To my own surprise, my followers that didn’t even have cancer found value in my story. Watching me “kick cancer’s butt,” as they said, inspired them to feel better about their own lives, overcome depression and, for some, even leave long-term abusive relationships. Still, I wanted to do more, but I wasn’t sure how. I was still in aggressive treatment and I had 16 rounds of chemo in my plan.
During my seventh round of chemo, I received great MRI results. Instinct told me the seventh round of chemo would be “lucky” in some way.
That’s when I found a surprise card in my chair from the patient who’d sat in it just before me. As I read the message, tears rolled down my face. After a short intro note, the card read: “You’ve always been strong, now everyone else just knows too. I’m sending you love. You’ve got this.”
These words spoke straight to my soul. I believe that everything happens for a reason and that there are no accidents. This person had left it there at random, placed in the crack of the chair. She had no idea who I was or that I’d previously been hiding my diagnosis from a huge audience (aka “everyone”).
I found her on Instagram to thank her for the note. At the end of our conversation, she asked, “Would you please do me a favor and pay it forward?” My heart screamed, “YES!” and I started a mini-movement called The Love Ripple, where I’d share random creative acts of kindness. I couldn’t wait to share that same feeling I felt from the card with others who were also struggling like me.
One card didn’t feel like enough, however. So during my eighth round of chemo, I made eight inspirational handwritten cards and left them in random seats at the infusion center.
People found me through help from their nurses and thanked me with tears in their eyes. It felt so good to give back so I kept it going. I made eight more cards at each visit and even added little gifts with them too! I’d give away bath and body sets, cozy blankets and keepsake scrapbooks – really, anything I thought would brighten someone’s day. Some days, I’d ask the nurses to hand them out to whoever needed it the most that day. The gifts were always well received and the gesture itself was tremendously appreciated.
After my life-threatening diagnosis, I searched for more meaning in my life. As I wasn’t able to travel, The Love Ripple gave me a new purpose while being a positive and creative outlet.
I used my platform to share The Love Ripple stories and it inspired others to seek out random acts of kindness in their own lives. This took the attention off of my own pain and suffering and I believe that my body healed more easily because of it. I found gratitude in the process and it was all very healing.
After my cancer diagnosis, I feel forever changed. It ripped a filter off of my vision that I can never put back on, and I see things so differently now. Passions have shifted and there’s a much deeper desire to connect with why I’m truly here. Life after cancer is hard, but I’ve found that it can be made easier by connecting with a purpose.
If you don’t know what your exact purpose is, that’s okay. Follow what lights you up in the moment and makes you feel good when you do it. Don’t be hard too on yourself. Feeling connected to a purpose doesn’t always have to be complex; it can be really easy and as simple as sharing a smile. Just follow whatever brings that smile to your face, and then just keep on doing it.
You are so much more than a cancer diagnosis. Remember, you’ve always been strong, now everyone else just knows too. I’m sending you love. You’ve got this.