The Top 10 Things I Learnt on my Cancer Journey

Gisa Ellis-Mawer
Gisa Ellis-Mawer
The Founder of Gisa Ellis Consulting

1. We learn stuff when we go through stuff

It is often said that we learn and grow the most when we come upon hard times. It is not pleasant, but I found it to be true. When we are in a challenging situation, we are pushed into looking closely at things, even those we do not want to look at. We realise that matters usually only change when we change ourselves and our approach. I have learnt to take responsibility for whatever is happening to me, good or bad. That way I can learn from it and work on what needs to be changed.

2. The real heroes: doctors, nurses, medical staff

I have seen more nurses, doctors, medical staff in New Zealand in the last year then I have seen my whole life all over the world. Looking back on what I have been through, my appreciation and gratefulness for them and their work is endless, whether they work in the public or private sector. I have experienced professionalism, great care, patience and friendliness despite huge workloads, long working hours, not always enough resources and lots of pressure. I take my hat off, and express a big heartfelt ‘Thank you’ to all of them.

3. A positive attitude goes a long way

It is not easy to keep positive when faced with challenging situations, but it is crucial to keep a positive mind set. I am not saying that we can’t have down days, but it is best to raise ourselves out of that mode quickly. Sometimes, we literally need to kick ourselves in the butt. I am a strong believer in mind over matter, and I am convinced that mind set, thoughts and resulting emotions play a big part in overcoming things including disease. Not to forget about fun and laughter. Even making fun of ourselves and our predicament will lighten the energy, the mood and the load we carry.

4. What you think is important is most probably not

We all strive for things in life, and for a lot of people these things are material based for reasons of personal gratification or keeping up with ‘the Joneses’, or both. New house, new car, new watch and so it goes on. Diagnosed with a serious disease, we realise that these things are not nearly as important as we thought they were. It is great to have nice things, but it is much greater to have inner peace and contentment, a life purpose, authentic and loving relationships, laughter and fun with friends. In the future, it is these things that will stay on top of my list.

5. If you think it won’t happen to you, think twice

We all theoretically know that unfortunate things can happen, whether it is, for example, being in a car accident, losing our investments, discovering our spouse’s affair or being diagnosed with cancer. Deep down however we always assume that these things will happen to other people, not to us. In my case, I was always health and fitness conscious and assumed I was pretty bullet proof. Even when I was diagnosed with a burst appendix I never thought as far as cancer; then, bang, there was the diagnosis and a pretty grim one too. When I thought about it afterwards, certain warning signs were there, but I ignored them. I learned, that practicing awareness and taking precautions without becoming paranoid are the key.

6. We are stronger than we believe

I knew that I was a pretty strong person, but if I had known beforehand what I would have to go through I would not have predicted how well I would cope. Don’t get me wrong, I have my moments and my down days, but overall, I have been moving forward in a positive, determined, patient, busy way without putting a lot of stress onto other people. I came to the conclusions, that our strength reveals itself when we need it, and maybe there is truth in the saying that God only gives us what we can handle in this life.

7. Support comes from unexpected places

Disease shakes things up, but also in a good way. It makes us realise who we can count on and who is a real friend. Sometimes it brings us closer to people, and in some cases, we realise that it is better to let them go. I had a pretty good understanding of who were my real friends before my diagnosis, nevertheless I was in for some surprises. Some good ones too, as unexpectedly I met some lovely, like-minded people who are not only supportive but also great fun to be with. I believe, the best thing is to be authentic, open and truthful to ourselves, go with the flow and make choices that serve us.

8. Healing is a long-term project

Based on my research, testimonials and personal experience, I believe that healing takes time and takes place not only on the physical, but also on the emotional, mental and spiritual levels. It is usually not done by treating only the physical side of things, as the body can manifest underlying mental or emotional issues. Therefore, I decided to take the time to look at all different aspects, and to address issues I was not aware of, or did not want to look at before. It helped me tremendously with regards to my overall wellbeing.

9. Meditation does work

When I was in my twenties and thirties I studied and practiced meditation and experienced many benefits from it – inner peace, heightened intuition and calmness amongst others. For some reason, in my forties I got side tracked, focused on other things and meditated only sporadically. People around me did not believe in mediation, which probably did not help either. When I was diagnosed with cancer, I dug out all my old books and started over again. It took me a while to overcome my mind’s resistance, but then I started to experience the same benefits as before. It helped me greatly in dealing with my situation, and I always want meditation as part of my life.

10. Count your blessings

In life, there is always someone better off then you, but always someone worse too. We tend to take things and people for granted, which is often a big mistake. We sweat the small stuff, strive for more, and are discontented when we don’t get it. It is better to practice contentment, gratitude and appreciation for what we do have. Because you never know how long you will have it.

Love to hear from you about your own experiences!

Gisa x


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