The Gift of Wisdom for the Holiday Season

Some of the best presents don’t come in boxes. Let these insightful nuggets inspire and guide you straight into the New Year.

by Sabrina Skiles Patient Advocate

This year has put a lot of things on pause (travel, school, big family gatherings). But 2020 hasn’t stopped my passion for bringing those of you living with breast cancer inspiration—whether it be in the form of this column or messages of hope on Instagram. So I thought it fitting, in this holiday month, to bestow upon y’all the “Gift of Breast Cancer Wisdom.” It’s a compilation of responses I got from other breast cancer survivors when I asked them about moving forward in life and dealing with the uncertainties after breast cancer.

I was planning to include their answers in last month’s post, Living With Uncertainty: Life After Breast Cancer, but the number of the responses showed me that uncertainty after breast cancer truly resonates with so many other women. So much so that I had to share their real and vulnerable answers in its own post. Whether you’re newly diagnosed, a long-time survivor or even someone reading this article for your loved one who has been diagnosed, I hope you find it a refuge for when you’re feeling overwhelmed, and know that you can come here to get the solace and support you’re looking for—and that you deserve.

Worrying Is a Waste of Time

“You’ll either have a recurrence or you won’t. Don’t waste your life worrying about something that may never happen. Imagine if you let the fear of a recurrence keep you from truly living and you lived to be 80. Imagine wasting the rest of your life worrying about something that never happened. You will either 100% have a recurrence or you won’t. Worry about it if you actually have one. Otherwise, live life to the fullest.”
—Amy, 46, diagnosed at 41

Things Get Easier

“I am seven years out from stage 3 breast cancer and five years out from stage 2 cervical cancer. I promise it gets easier! I am not saying the worry ever goes away completely, but it gets easier every day.”
—Mandy, 42, diagnosed at age 33

Time Heals All Wounds

“Time helps to put it in perspective. I’m 14 years out. There are random thoughts that keep me up at night, like my daughter and work items. It doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes worry about cancer or get sad about others I knew who have passed away from cancer. But my life is full of other things that give me joy.”
—Saskia, 46, diagnosed at 31

Do What Makes You Happy

“For everything that feels out of your control—like a recurrence—focus on the positive and things you can control, like daily walks, drinking your favorite coffee or tea, or online shopping. Do what makes you happy. It gets easier, I promise.”
—Karen, 42, diagnosed at age 39

Find Your People

“The hardest time can be the first two years after treatment. Everyone wants you to be back to normal, but you are still learning to walk in your new life. Hang in there. It gets easier. Finding a support group really helps as those women will understand your fears. I’m nine years out and while I still have my moments, they are far and few in between.”
—Cynthia, 55

“What If…” Is Not an Option

“Although we may feel weak in certain moments, we are strong! We fight with our all to save our lives. I attended a group support meeting which helped so much. Best advice I can give is don’t think about the what if and live your life to the fullest.”
—Lia, 42, diagnosed at 41

Seize the Moment

“I don’t take one day for granted. I am trying to live my dream, travel, and do things I love. COVID is killing me because I feel like it is another year wasted, when I don't know how long I have on this earth. Planning my next adventure is keeping me hopeful and positive.”
—Shreen, 48, diagnosed at 21

There’s Power in Numbers

“I'm two years out and the struggle is real. I attend a support group for young adults with cancer and then another for survivorship (post-treatment), plus therapy. Premature menopause and depression have taken their toll. I had been crying 3x/day right after all the treatment completed.... now it’s probably only 3x/month. So it does get better with time. I find it difficult to relate to my friends, so I try to focus on my cancer friends because I know they truly understand.”
—Elise, 39, diagnosed at age 36

Try and See the Funny Side

“I'm a 22-year survivor. Over the years I've had innumerable surgeries related to side effects of my treatments, multiple revisions for reconstruction, and just some weird stuff. I don't worry much about cancer as much as what weird thing is going to show up next. Thankfully, I have reached a point of laughing and taking an 'it figures' mindset. I also remind myself I heal really well.”
—Selena, 44, diagnosed at age 22

Know When It’s Time to Move On

“I am eight years out. Every once in a while, I get crazy thoughts about what this pain is or what if it comes back. But it doesn’t last very long and then I move on. I’m still on tamoxifen and still have side effects but it doesn’t consume my life. It gets easier as you go on.”
—Kyle, 36, diagnosed at age 28

Say Goodbye to Toxic People

“I was diagnosed in 2015 at 41 years old and am on Arimadex until 2026. It took me a while to feel the way I do now. I am now at peace with everything and am trying to live my best life with whatever amount of time I have left. Don't be too hard on yourself. You don't have to be ‘a warrior’ to make others around you happy and more comfortable. Embrace who and what brings you comfort, love, support, and joy—and say goodbye to whoever and whatever is toxic.”
—Margaret, 46, diagnosed at 41

Choose One “Worry Day” a Week

“I’m eight months out and I have a lot of PTSD/stress about recurrence. Two things have helped: 1. Giving myself a pass to feel whatever I need to—and then reach out for help. How I handle grief and fear is part of getting myself to open up. 2. I picked a day of the week to worry. On Thursdays, I can schedule all the appointments, send all the messages, and read up on all the research I want. It’s my healthy planning day. When I start stressing on Monday, I push it off because it can wait until Thursday.”
—Katherine, 34, diagnosed at 33

Practice Gratitude

“It's been four years since the first diagnosis. Cancer will always be there. But I can tell you, the memories do fade and they stop haunting you. Keep gratitude close.”
—Heather, 35, diagnosed at 31 (first round) and 35 (second round)

Remember, You Control You

“My life is complicated, and I find that my complicated life means I don’t have time to worry about whether or not I will get cancer again. I think the best that we can do is to live in the moment. To know that we are OK right now and build from there. If my cancer returns, then it returns and there is nothing I can do to stop it. There is no magic pill. But as long as cancer doesn’t control me, my thoughts, or my actions, then I win.”

Accept the Changes

“I’m approaching four years of being a survivor. I am pretty sure I have PTSD, which I’m seeking help for. I don’t think about cancer every hour of every day anymore. I’m still adjusting to my new, revised body—but then again, I just had a total hysterectomy two months ago, so it’s still in revision. I do sometimes wonder how short my days will be, but I try hard to be the best me I can be every day, and hopefully that will suffice.”
—Paula, 42, diagnosed at 37

Be Good to Yourself

“I’m two years out from inflammatory breast cancer. I’ve done a lot of mindset work like reading daily for 20 minutes. I am mindful about what I put into my body and do my best to take care of it including my diet. That alone helps me sleep. I know I am doing all I can. I’ve had to become OK with not being in control, living in the moment, and enjoying each day.”
—Mary, 45, diagnosed at age 37

Make Today Count

“I’m 27 years post-diagnosis and have tried to live every day to the fullest. Today is all we are promised. Make it count.”
—Joy, 53, diagnosed at age 26

Wherever you are in your journey, I hope these words help you see that there is no “right way” to face life after breast cancer. There is nothing wrong with seeking help for your mental health, you are not alone in your worries, and there really can be joy found in the little things. So this holiday season, take these gifts of wisdom to heart and celebrate the moment you are in. You’ve earned it.

Sabrina Skiles
Meet Our Writer
Sabrina Skiles

Sabrina Skiles is a lifestyle and psoriasis blogger, who was also diagnosed with breast cancer just two days after her 35th birthday. She created her blog, Homegrown Houston as a lifestyle resource for millennial women and those living with chronic conditions. She shares daily inspiration from health and wellness, motherhood and marriage to managing a chronic disease while living a stylish life. Sabrina is also a volunteer mentor, coach and social ambassador for the National Psoriasis Foundation. You can find her sharing #chemolife and psoriasis tips while living a stylish life on Instagram @sabrinaskiles.