Why does it take cancer for us to genuinely start caring for ourselves?

How being diagnosed with cancer finally got me to start walking the talk of self-development

Day One of Chemotherapy

In 2020, in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, I heard the words “It IS cancer”. Until that moment, I hadn’t thought the year could get much worse. I was diagnosed with stage 2, grade 3, breast cancer (it could have been worse).

I don’t know for sure the exact cause of my cancer, but I have since learnt that prolonged stress and anxiety can literally change your physiology, how your body works, creating all kinds of problems that we are oblivious to until something breaks.

As the shock of my cancer diagnosis sunk in, the thought that kept going around my head was “How the hell did that happen?” I hadn’t lived the life of a saint but I had always had a relatively healthy diet, exercised regularly and had maintained a healthy weight all my life. Even though some of my practices were intermittent, what I was doing was still above and beyond the government’s healthy living standards and what we are taught in schools and by healthcare professionals. So it did beg the question “What am I missing here?”

There’s a reason disease spells dis-ease

For most of my life I have lived with a sense of dis-ease — stress and anxiety that I have struggled to explain, let alone resolve. I have achieved a lot in my years so far, mainly material and career related things, but nothing provided a holistic, inner sense of peace, purpose and fulfilment. I didn’t feel grounded in anything meaningful.

Living my life mainly on auto-pilot, surviving, pushing myself through anxiety and stress without knowing or addressing the root causes, making little tweaks here and there and hoping for the best, had landed me in a very undesirable place. I have frequently been told; “You’re such a strong, calm woman” and in some environments ‘lovingly’ referred to as the ‘Ice Queen’. Fair play, I had spent years perfecting the mask that I wore, I saw it as a badge of honour that I’d managed to achieve so much in spite of my insecurities.

I thought I was thriving through life’s challenges. What I was actually doing was surviving in spite of them.

Whilst undergoing tests to formulate a healing plan post cancer-treatment, I was told that I exhibited symptoms of Hypochlorhydria, a deficiency of hydrochloric acid in the stomach. Hydrochloric acid helps to digest food and nutrients, it also eliminates bacteria and viruses. It acts like a bouncer on the nightclub door, stopping anything troublesome from getting inside. With low stomach acid, a lot of trouble was getting into my system, which meant my immune system was working overtime, clearing up bacteria and viruses, with very little time left for housekeeping tasks such as clearing out damaged cells that can lead to cancer. And one of the biggest causes of Hypochlorhydria is stress.

Stress and anxiety is not a weakness, it’s a call to action

Prior to my diagnosis, I benchmarked myself against what society deemed ‘normal’ and ‘successful’. I saw my stress and anxiety as a hindrance and a weakness to be suppressed and hidden from the world. What I know now is that they were red flags; stress and anxiety was my body saying, “There’s stuff here you need to address. Your route to happiness is through, not around, them!”

Cancer was a wake-up call. However, it was the support from my partner, my mentor and all the other people who reached out and cared, that gave me the strength and the motivation to explore and begin working through my dis-ease. Now, with the help and care of others, I’m choosing to respond to my anxiety and stress in a different way, to educate myself and to heal holistically, and help others do the same. I cannot express how liberating it is to finally drop the mask and to say “I’m finding these things hard, can you work with me to find a way through?”

This is not an easy process, it takes courage, hard work and an awful lot of care, but my life prior to doing this wasn’t exactly filled with the happiness and serenity that I projected on the surface. The work is also incredibly rewarding, more so than any I’ve done previously.

Finding others who care enough to do something different

I got the ‘one year, all clear’ from cancer in July, for which I am incredibly grateful. However, my intention has never been to get back to where I was pre-cancer, my intention is to use my experience to be healthier than I have ever been before.

I was motivated to write this article in the hope of inspiring others, especially those who can relate to what I’ve shared because I hate the idea of people suffering unnecessarily when there are people who can (and want to) help.

I’m bringing together a network of conscientious and proactive individuals who not only want to thrive through their own life experiences but want to help others do the same. It’s a group of people who want to use what they have learnt through their own crises to support and help others through theirs, and in the process optimise their own lives. This might be putting forward ideas or giving feedback on proposed support resources and activities or it might be talking about personal experiences, through blogs like this, to share knowledge, help and inspire others.

Cancer Research UK estimates that 1 in 2 people in the UK born after 1960 will be diagnosed with some form of cancer during their lifetime. However, it doesn’t have to be that way because we ought not to need a cancer diagnosis to start making changes to improve our lives.

Am I speaking your language?

Does this resonate with you? Maybe you’re already doing or thinking of doing something similar and have examples or ideas to share. I’d love to hear from you, especially if you’re someone who is looking to help others because of a health crisis you or someone close to you has experienced.

If you have any feedback on the proposed network, if you want to get involved or if you’re just curious to find out more, please drop me a direct message.

There is so much for all of society to learn from people who come together to support each other through life’s challenges, including cancer. What is it they have and are choosing to do, that others in society could learn from?

And no, it’s not a cancer thing, it’s a human thing.

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Cancer Thriver. Change Maker. Using trauma and challenging life experiences as catalysts for positive change.

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Victoria Bytel

Victoria Bytel

Cancer Thriver. Change Maker. Using trauma and challenging life experiences as catalysts for positive change.

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