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Habits I built to live through cancer

/ 06:00 AM October 01, 2021
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Once I learned of my diagnosis of thyroid cancer, my world completely turned upside down. I was gasping for help, letting out a silent cry. I had never imagined experiencing emotions that overwhelmed me, and all at once: fear, sadness, anger, anxiety. I hardly felt all those strong emotions, in that manner, when my life was still normal.

I didn’t even know how to begin life with cancer. After the operation, I felt a great desire to find purpose despite my situation — I wanted to find a way to understand life and I wanted to heal. Despite the odds and all the setbacks, I was finally able to contemplate what life is all about and discover the beauty of love through an unconventional journey.

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I developed simple habits which helped me cope with this whirlwind of changes. I actually don’t think there is a perfectly designed process to deal with cancer. However, from my experience, I realized some ways are just right for you. I hope my realizations can help those who seek to rekindle a renewed sense of living.

I aim to lead a life driven by purpose.

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I was diagnosed in February of 2019. After a year of operation, treatments and recovery — though I am not entirely in remission yet — I am glad to share that my body and tests were consistently showing no evidence of the disease, which is a great booster for me, to know I have a chance at longevity. But then came COVID-19, which I think is even more deadly than my illness.

While in quarantine one day, I asked myself this question: “What makes you happy?”

It’s not the material things now that really spark joy in me, but the idea of leading a purpose-driven life, which means living in the service of others. It reignited my passion, whatever that unfulfilled mission is hidden in my heart. For now, sharing my journey can be a meaningful way to inspire others to rewire their thoughts about cancer and see hope. I hope we get to listen carefully, and open ourselves to seeing the lesson in every situation we are in.

I tap into my power of loving myself.

After I lost my thyroid gland, I’ve been through many physical changes: hair loss, dry skin and unexplainable weight gain. All of these made me look at myself differently. There were days when I didn’t feel beautiful. It made me feel less confident about who I am and what I can do.

When I was invited to be an inspirational speaker during the Philippine Thyroid Cancer Inc. summit back in July 2019, I met many thyca survivors for the first time. While I quietly listened to and observed other speakers, it led me to see my situation differently.

I learned to appreciate myself and love my battle scars even more, because they symbolize my bravery and they are a testament to my faith. I learned to be kinder to myself and to have the patience to take a moment to ponder and recognize all that I’ve been through.

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Let us always remember that self love is not vain. It is about going through the process of acceptance, loving our new selves, and realizing how to give back the love to the people who matter to us most.

I become my own hero.

It is essential to be our own personal advocates. Self-advocacy is an integral part of recovery. It’s a process where patients diligently work alongside their physicians to create the best course of treatment. This is an excellent practice to know our true selves. It’s the perfect opportunity to reflect deeper in identifying what’s most important to us holistically — covering our physical, mental and emotional aspects.

We need to be educated. It is ideal to learn as much as we can about our illness, diagnosis, and even possible treatments. We have the right to decide what’s best for us. This will also allow us to understand the course of planning with our physicians, as well as understand the rationale behind each of their approaches in treating our illnesses.

Also, please don’t get me wrong, because self-advocacy doesn’t mean you should do it all independently. You will need a fighter’s endurance and a hero’s heart for you to emerge victorious. Treat the people in your life as your dearest allies — your family, close friends, and even your medical team — for they will champion and lift you up, even in your lowest moments.

I exercise, sleep, and eat well.

Food, drinks, medicine, environment and all-around lifestyle profoundly affect our health and wellness. A healthy lifestyle can support and improve our long-term health goals, that’s for sure.

This can be tricky when it comes to food, and you might need to consult with your doctors. But in my case, while I have some restrictions even with some nutritious food, I refuel myself with home-cooked meals rather than processed and junk food — though there’s that occasional cheat day. It’s okay to give myself a treat from time to time.

I am now keen on what I buy and very cautious in checking nutritional facts to ensure I choose what’s good for me. I now prefer organic food more than ever. Also, I didn’t realize that choosing to be healthy can cost us a lot more. But here’s a tip: you just need to prioritize your expenditures and allocate your budget wisely.

When it comes to rest and sleep, I do my best to get adequate sleep to recover and recharge, which helps me zip through my daily tasks without stressing myself.

Lastly, I encourage us to do quick exercises outdoors and appreciate the environment more, like the refreshing breeze of the morning air, the chirping of birds and the radiant sun. We need to be mindful and in the moment. The expression “stop and smell the roses” may be a cliché, but still, it’s an excellent way for us to better enjoy the gift of life we often take for granted every single day.

I choose to love and forgive.

While I moved forward in my healing, I discovered that hidden toxins were affecting me and perhaps have even contributed to my illness.

To acknowledge these, however, I needed to be more honest with myself. I decided to forgive and let go of these resentments on people who have caused a lot of emotional pain to me. I realized that liberating myself of these grudges and bitterness vastly improved my health and granted me absolute peace of mind. Doing the right thing can sometimes be the hardest thing to do. Still, the fulfillment it gave me was indeed rewarding for my overall health, including my mental wellness.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean we will forget what has been done. But forgiveness will bring us peace which would then allow us to express love better than before. I made a habit of expressing love for every act of kindness that anyone has extended to me. All of these things are great reminders of how we are all connected.

We need to embrace both the beauty and imperfections of life. Let’s focus on our inner strengths to live life to the fullest. I know now that we all have the power to live each day a little better. That’s why we should work on our purpose and always remember that love is the best therapy in life.

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Fonzy Mendoza, 38, is an events director, speaker, entrepreneur and entertainer. His professional background in hospitality management has led him to work with premier hotels and luxury resorts here and abroad. He earned a scholarship from the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York, and received his Bachelor of Music degree from the University of Santo Tomas.

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TAGS: Cancer, essays, habits, Healing, therapy
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