Cancer thriver, wife, mother, sister, friend, life coach are all the titles I can identify myself by. It is also all the masks I have learnt to shed over the last 5 years. July 2020 will mark 5 years from having being treated for stage 2b hormone receptive positive breast cancer.
I can sit here 5 years down the line and say with conviction that I am grateful for all that I have learnt through being diagnosed with cancer. Don’t get me wrong it’s not about grateful for cancer, its grateful for how it made me stop, assess and pivot to become the person I am today.
2014 was proving to be a challenging year. My mother who is my person. It has been us really since I was a little titch. My mom was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in March 2014 and sadly we lost her in the November. It was an emotional rollercoaster however I have been so blessed that I was holding her hand when she took her last breath. During that year I had no idea what was happening in my own body as I was completely consumed with the running around for my mom. Something inside me said I need to have my yearly checkup as I was overdue. Off I went for the routine checkup and my doc picked up the lump in my right breast. He, nor I was really concerned because hell I was only 33 years old and super fit and eating well.
There was this niggle that just said to me – Candice just go have it checked out. Being under 40 they won’t give you a mammogram and so ended up having an ultrasound. Next step was a biopsy. The day I found out I had cancer I had also gone into hospital for a cone biopsy as they had found pre-cancerous cell in my cervix. So my boob really was not my main concern. I sat outside Umhlanga hospital on the pavement and cried my eyes out. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. To the extent that I kept asking the doctor why I had to see an oncologist.
Fear is a funny thing. It grips you tight as soon as you allow it to. Holds you tight and sends the mind off racing into the fields of everything and anything that could happen. I am a master of dumbing down my emotions however this time around they were up front and center. There was no way of avoiding what I was feeling. Through this journey I have managed to understand that the only way to fully accept hard situations is to walk through the valley. Straight through the darkness however I do know there is always light at the end of the tunnel. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. I had decided already that I was going to die and that was something that made things worse as I had a 6 & 8 year old at home not really understanding why mom and dad were crying so much. I felt too that I was given a raw deal because I had not yet even had a chance to mourn my mother’s death. I did not have the emotional capacity to take on what I knew I had to face and deal with mom being gone.
I have also learned that knowledge is power and helps keep the wolves of uncertainty and fear at bay. Once I knew what I was facing in terms of treatment I was able to deal with it better. And with anything where it seems there is a mountain to climb, the only way up and over is to do it in stages. Bite size chunks, 1 day at a time.
I had 10 months of treatment – 3 months of red devil, operation where I was to have breast conserving surgery, another 2 months of more chemo and then 6 weeks of radiation. Yes I spent days in bed, yes my hair fell out and yes I was so weak I could not sit upright in my bed.
What it made me realize was I needed to surrender control, have faith and trust the process and in most things in life this is one tough ask. Going through cancer treatment there is no choice. It taught me that it is not weak to say I was having a bad day or feeling sick. It also made me really learn to love myself just the way I was bald, raccoon eyed, sallow human being but it was me fighting as hard as I could. I was held up by my incredible family, my sister just stepped in and my friends kept me going with tea parties on my bed and supplying my family with meals.
As for my girls, well they are thriving and beautiful and so full of compassion and empathy. We decided to tell them what was going on because at some point they would have wondered why mom had no hair. Yes I am sure they have experienced their own trauma through this but in my heart I know this experience will mold them into beautiful human beings. Keira is now 13 and Maria 11.
What have I learned through this process- well most importantly is spend each day in gratitude even when it feels like you have nothing to be grateful for, there are things if you just stop and smell the roses. It put me on a path of self-discovery, self-learning, self-awareness. I can’t say that I am there yet as it’s not really a destination but rather a journey. It has brought me to my life’s passion and that is to help other people reach their full potential through having the breakthroughs they need.
Cancer knows no age, race, gender or health. Do I fear that one day it may return – HELL YES. However I acknowledge that fear and thank it for showing up, however I no longer need it in my life as I am aware of the fact.
I have lost many young female friends to this disease and even know some men too who have faced it.
My parting note is take care of yourself which includes self-care, self-love and having your yearly checkups.
Q: Thank you for sharing your story with us. What advice do you have for someone diagnosed with cancer? Or for someone who has a loved one that has been diagnosed?
A: I think both of these situations are so different. So if it’s okay I will talk on both. Firstly having a loved one being diagnosed is such a scary experience. I realized that as much as I was trying to control the events I had to surrender to what firstly the doctors were and were not saying and that I needed to let my mom choose what she wanted to do. Having a loved one diagnosed, there needs to be unconditional support. By this I mean supporting them with their choice in treatment, ways of life and so much love.
For someone who has been diagnosed with cancer the advice I would give is it’s okay to be scared, it’s okay to be overwhelmed by what it is you have to face, so allow yourself to fall apart as there is healing in this process too. The one thing that helped me quite a bit is breaking down my treatment plan into bite size chunks, in doing so it didn’t seem so overwhelming. Staying in the present moment, doing a gratitude journal and not allowing myself to wallow in self-pity for too long.
Also if you feel you need help ask for it. You don’t have to be a hero because you already are one for fighting this disease. It’s okay to have days or a week in bed, it’s okay not to look perfect. Practice self-love and compassion daily.
Q: Was there a specific moment where you decided to change your mindset?
I had to have a good mindset going into the treatment. There were tough days and on those days it was okay to be in that space as long as I didn’t stay there too long.
Q: Where did you start?
A: I was consumed by fear most of the time to be honest however I knew that if I had my mind in the right place it was half the battle won. This disease isn’t about the physical only. It is a journey of mental, emotional and spiritual too. It is the breaking down to breakthrough. Whatever that looks like for a person it is important to keep your mind, body and soul on top of its game. I think resilience plays a major role in the cancer treatment journey. There are set backs, there are times where you don’t get news you want to hear and in that moment it is how you bounce back from that, that is important.
Q: How did you decide to become a Life Coach?
A: Life looked completely different once I had exited the valley of the shadows. I was different. The old me had been shed and there was this new Candice that I was getting to know. I went on a journey of self-discovery knowing that I wanted to help people discover themselves again. This lead me to studying Emotional Intelligence and then I qualified as a Life Coach.
Q: What do you, as a Life Coach, offer your clients?
A: A safe space where my clients can be vulnerable and start exploring themselves. Through self-directed learning my clients are able to get in touch again with their inner wisdom helping them make long lasting change and have breakthroughs. I help them discover themselves again, define where it is they want to be and have success in various areas of their lives.
Q: Why would someone need a Life Coach?
A: A Life coach I believe is a decision partner, a co-creator of dreams. A Life Coach helps facilitate positive change by improving thinking and getting in touch with yourself, your true authentic self. I believe that having someone help you create the changes you want in life makes the journey to achieve your vision easier by gently guiding you through your journey.
Q: Who can benefit from services like yours?
A: My main focus at the moment has been women. I do believe most individuals would benefit from having a Life Coach. Specifically anyone who is willing to take the steps to makes changes in their lives and needs a decision partner through the process.
Q: How do you keep the balance of self care, health and wellness?
A: I think finding balance is so important in the pressured life style we all live. Boundaries has been one of my biggest lessons in life. I really believe that with healthy boundaries with self and others you are able to find balance. I also believe that our boundaries change and grow as we grow and learn more about ourselves. Having the self-awareness of where we are at in our lives and listening to our bodies. They are our biggest alarm system. Tune in and listen carefully.
I have introduced a good exercise and eating routine however I know it does not stop there. I have a good morning routine of meditation and journaling. I keep to my regular check-ups and mammograms.
Candice is a breakthrough Life Coach, decision partner and co creator of dreams – you can find out more or get in touch below