At 36-years-old, I was married with three gorgeous children. My husband and I ran a very successful business together. We had a lovely home, drove nice cars, took fantastic holidays… you could say we were on top of the world.

Have you ever been in a situation where you were going along quite nicely, thank you – when all of a sudden, BAM! Something happened and everything changed in a heartbeat?

By the time I was 37, our lovely world came crumbling down. The three most important women in my life had been diagnosed with cancer. My mum, my sister and our seven-year-old daughter each had cancer. Different cancers and totally unrelated.

 

WHO NEEDS STATISTICS

 

What are the chances of that happening? 0.001%?

Well, if you happen to be part of the 0.001%, statistics don’t actually matter, do they? The most devastating blow came when the medical profession gave our daughter only the smallest chance of surviving the next twelve months. We have never listened to, or accepted statistics.

Statistics did not take into consideration the strength, determination and humour that runs through the women in my family.

 

LIVING IN ABJECT FEAR

 

However, before that strength came to the fore in me, we allowed ourselves to be sucked into a downward spiral of total desperation. We lived our lives in abject fear – never knowing from one minute to the next what was going to happen or to whom. It was a living hell and it took its toll.

By the time I was 39, we had lost everything; our business, the cars, the traveling – our life as we knew it. We hit rock bottom.

In the meantime, my mum, sister and daughter were dealing with their situations with inspirational courage and humour. It finally dawned on us that if they could deal with this nightmare with such grace, then surely, the least we could do, was try to do the same.

 

A CHANGE OF ATTITUDE

 

I always like to quote Viktor Frankl here. Frankl was a holocaust survivor who wrote a book about his experience. In the book he says:

Everything can be taken from a person but one thing: that last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances… to choose one’s own way.

His book is called, Man’s Search for Meaning and I urge you to seek it out, if you haven’t already.

Living in fear, behaving by default, allowing life to passively happen to us was not working. We chose to change our attitude. Acceptance of our situation came first. This awful thing had happened and we couldn’t change it. What we could do was to work out, as a family, what to do next and how to be the best that we could be for ‘our women’.

 

TAKING CONTROL

 

The women became our teachers and together, we found ways to inch through. Back to life. We took each day as it came and faced each challenge as it happened. Instead of being overwhelmed by the enormity of it all – we dealt with what was in front of us at the time. We lived in the moment or ‘mindfully,’ as we would say now. We took some more amazing holidays but we also learned how to savour the small pleasures and to talk about what really matters. Of course, there were dark times and we were there for each other. We felt as if we had some control over what was happening and that encouraged all of us.
That happened over twenty years ago now.

It took two more years for lung cancer to finally take my mum’s life. She had a ‘good death’ inasmuch as she had made her wishes known about how she wanted to leave this earth and we made sure she got what she wanted. She died peacefully at home with her family around her.

My lovely, lovely sister went on to live happily for twelve more years. Breast cancer caught up with her at the age of 46. No age for such a vibrant, smart, funny woman to leave us.

 

EVERY CLOUD HAS A SILVER LINING

 

I learned so much from these women. There isn’t always a silver lining to every cloud so when there isn’t, you must make one. I wrote a book about our experiences and my work now involves helping other women to increase their happiness levels and build resilience. Bad things happen to the best of us. Thankfully, we know more now than ever before about what makes us happy and what doesn’t, and how to prepare ourselves to get through the bad times quicker and with more confidence. Every woman I help is a silver lining.

 

HAPPY ENDING

 

Our daughter, the one who was given twelve months to live all those years ago, is now thirty years old. She is also a beautiful, strong, and vibrant young woman but it isn’t quite a happy ending just yet. Cancer is back. My daughter is going through treatment as I write. Once again, the strength, determination and humour that runs through the women in this family is being called to the fore. We are better prepared this time. We research, we question, we know how to navigate the health system. We have more control. We love, we laugh, we enjoy. We still don’t listen to statistics… because we know – they are going to be wrong again.

Christine L Conroy

Teacher and author at Christine L Conroy
Christine L Conroy helps women over 50 to flourish, teaching them how to make the rest of their lives, the best of their lives.
She is a qualified lecturer and Positive psychology practitioner; the host of Happy Stuff and Fluff Youtube channel and author Author of, Stitch your own Silver Linings: a break through guide to helping yourself to happiness.

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