The Truth About Surviving Cancer

I won't sleep tonight and I haven't slept much for the last few nights either. My appetite has gone over the last couple of days and a constant feeling of dread has sat behind the things I've distracted myself with.

I've never shared the downsides of surviving cancer before - it's always felt wrong to admit feeling a bit shitty about it, like it's some kind of dirty secret. There's an ongoing mental conflict between being endlessly grateful and constantly fearful - much like an emotional tug of war.

As I prepare for my annual results tomorrow I fluctuate between thick anxiety and teariness as I ponder the 'what ifs', and serious repenting of my sins for overindulging in chocolate, avoiding the gym and telling rude jokes - aware that chastising myself won't really impact the outcome!

Sometimes being a cancer survivor is a bit shit - but we’re not really supposed to say that. The fear of recurrence is always in the back of my mind but I never talk about it. Instead I fake it and pretend everything is OK. By pretending I almost start to believe it too, for a while, but going back to hospital brings the emotions flooding back - and it scares me.

Being 'cured' of cancer doesn't mean it's the end of the journey, it stays a bit like a scar. And whilst I'm unbelievably thankful for my outcome, it's hard to stay upbeat and uplifting all the time.

This has not been an easy post to write or share but I want to be honest - there's already too much smoke and mirrors on social media - so that's the truth!I won't sleep tonight and I haven't slept much for the last few nights either. My appetite has gone over the last couple of days and a constant feeling of dread has sat behind the things I've distracted myself with.

What do you stand for?

I am often asked about how I went from working full-time to living the way I do now and it's really not a simple answer. So I have decided to create a series of weekly blogs that unpick my journey and hope this may provide inspiration in some way for you too. 

I used to dread going back to work after the weekend or a holiday. I felt deeply unfulfilled with a constant nagging feeling that gnawed away and brought up the same questions,  "Is this it? Is this what you survived cancer do with with your life? Is this really all you've got to offer the world?"

I'd spend my commutes dreaming about a new life and toying with possibilities of what I might do instead. I wanted feel better about myself, my future and the contribution I was making to the world. 

It was the risk of failure that stopped me from making change. The good intention that came from being strong and ignoring my heart meant I was becoming more out of touch with my needs. I was spiralling further into unfulfilment yet I was desperately seeking   more meaningful connections and personal growth - I just couldn't access it.

And now? I wake up feeling excited about the day ahead. I'm passionate about the mission I'm on and don't really consider it work - I'm just investing time in something I love and issues I care deeply about. 

The journey has been far from easy but after finally quit my job in 2016 - the year after I was diagnosed with cancer - without any plan for the future I can say I have found a rhythm I'm at peace with. Back then, by all accounts, I had already failed. I walked away from a well paid job and couldn't tell anyone why or what was I was planning next. I'm sure my family thought I was having a breakdown from the fallout of my diagnosis and, in some ways, maybe I was.

My work leaving drinks at work - a few tears goodbye that night

By the time I came to quitting work I had developed a quiet confidence in knowing that I'd got through the worst, most draining experience of my life with cancer so felt I could deal with anything thrown at me down the line. The future was uncertain but there was one thing I was convinced about -  I couldn't ignore that anxious itch inside anymore. 

What cancer hadn't already stripped of my identity, quitting my job finished it off.  I struggled to recognise who I was initially and it took time to construct a new version of myself and understand what I stood for and valued - a journey I'm still on today.

How did I work through it? I considered aspects of life where fear held the balance of power, working out if the perceived security it provided was worth giving up. Ultimately I had to allow myself to believe that the unknown life outside the existing narrative I was living in would be better.

We’re all hardwired to avoid change. We don't want to deliberately expose ourselves to anything that might threaten our routine, identity or security but it's by doing exactly this that we eventually come to a place of fulfilment.  

In the time I had after quitting work I did a lot of paddle boarding - the one thing I knew I enjoyed - whilst I mulled over and questioned what I wanted to do... and so began the unwitting start of my 'second career'. Funny how things work out! 

Our lives are as big as we dare to make them.

How can you start that journey yourself?


Firstly, and very simply decide what you stand for. Whatever lights you up - follow it. Whatever makes your shine sparkle - grab it. Release yourself from expectations of others and live by your own design. Locate that little voice within, let it rise up and listen to whatever it's telling you.

Paddling in dense fog on Windermere

Your head and heart will always be in a push-pull. We all want to feel accepted, safe and secure, it's basic human condition. It's only when desire for growth and self-expression outweigh the former that will feel empowered and strong enough to make a change. We all have a threshold for the mundane and we all, at some stage, reach a breaking point before taking action. It's not about turning our lives upside down - I realise mine was a drastic measure - but we do all need to give ourselves the time to listen to what we want and then act on it. We owe ourselves that much.

Only when you committed to stand up for a purpose greater than yourself will the bravest part of you rise up.

Think about how you define success. Does that align with who you are? Most of the time we've bought into a measure that revolves around superficial accomplishments and material possesions. These are external markers that place us firmly on a never ending treadmill of slogging away but never arriving! 

Success that emanates from a deeper place driven by a desire to find true fulfillment and clarity over what authentic living means is the starting point for something more meaningful. 

Views across the Atlantic Ocean

Of course, a comfortable life is easy but it's not always right. We only get one shot - as cliche as it sounds, it's so true. 

Live the best and most authentic way you can in the context of something bigger and more profound than your own ego and sense of pride - you'll reap the benefits,  I promise. .  

Next blog: How to redefine your success…