I believe that being a cancer survivor brings about a very different perspective in life. When reflecting on the New Year, I came to the realization that my cancer diagnosis at a young age was a contributor to many of the blessings as well as struggles that I have faced since the time of my diagnosis, especially in 2013. For the last eight years, I have been focusing a great deal of energy on cancer; my survivorship, education, giving back to others, raising awareness for young adults, and establishing myself in the cancer community. I will admit that I never took the time to truly experience the life of a “normal” young woman; to be vulnerable in a relationship, take risks, have my heart broken, and cope with my past as well as overcome it.
With the New Year just beginning, I have been practicing self-reflection to prepare for a fresh start in 2014. I’m sharing five suggestions for self-reflection in the hope that you will be able to acknowledge all that is behind you and move forward with blessings, lessons, and thoughts that will benefit you in the New Year.
1) Count your Blessings – Blessings can be apparent or hidden, simple or complex, small or large in size. I believe that perspective influences the manner in which we count our blessings. Feelings of struggle can last for moments, days, or months, but, eventually, there comes a time when we are able to recognize the blessings that have resulted from difficult situations. Reflect on the positive things that have come out of your struggles last year.
2) Control and Release – Much of the anxiety, nervousness, and frustration on the cancer journey is attributed to a loss of control. Once the word cancer enters our lives, we are swept away into a world of uncertainty with countless appointments, rigorous treatments, and uncomfortable side effects. I encourage you to take time to acknowledge the areas of your life that you can control by reflecting on areas of struggle and implementing methods of change, if possible. Release the rest through techniques such as deep breathing, prayer, verbal or written expression.
3) Learn Lessons – My great-grandmother always used the phrase “everything happens for a reason.” I know that this saying is cliché at times, but I believe in my heart that it is true. There are certain people and situations that we encounter which are meant to teach us lessons. Some lessons can be easy to learn while others are more difficult to grasp. Reflect on the lessons that you have learned in 2013. No matter what they are, be thankful that you learned them as they will contribute to your strength in the future.
4) Forgive – Forgiveness applies to ourselves and to others. I believe that we are our own worst critic, but I encourage you to remember that you are never going to be perfect, neither will others. Holding on to hurt feelings only hurts the person holding on to them. If you need to make peace with another person, I encourage you to reach out to them by phone or email, or write a letter that you can decide to send or not. Find a way to make peace so that peace stays with you in 2014.
5) Caring for the Self – Simply, be kind to yourself. Take time to engage in activities that you enjoy. Make a list of things that you like to do and schedule them on your calendar. Sleep in late on the weekends, exercise, write, take a long bath, get a massage, meditate, pray, watch a movie, cook a great meal, spend time with family and friends. Whatever you choose, just spend time on you.
Wishing you much health and happiness in 2014!
Amy Chmielewski, MSSA, MA, LSW, is an oncology social worker at University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center. Her cancer experience has inspired her career of supporting individuals and families on their own cancer journey. Amy is currently in her eighth year of survivorship from Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Amy is a volunteer in the children’s program at The Gathering Place and serves on the Patient Services Committee for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) Northern Ohio Chapter. Amy’s awards include the LLS Patient Services Hope Award and Dean’s Award for Outstanding Student Achievement from the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences. Amy is a graduate of Case Western Reserve University, where she earned master’s degrees in social work and bioethics. Amy is published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Cancer Book. She enjoys writing and speaking in the cancer community to raise awareness about young adults with cancer.