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Navigating Crisis: 3 Things Overcoming Cancer Taught Me

In the midst of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I am thrilled to welcome back my friend Penny Casselman as the author of today’s post! Always one to find the silver lining within a cloud, Penny is sharing three things that overcoming breast cancer taught her about navigating crisis. Her tips serve as great tools when facing any kind of adversity!

Back in 2017, as I planned my forty-fifth birthday, I was only thinking of three things: friends, craft cocktails, and, of course, which pair of strappy high heels best complimented my new skinny jeans. What wasn’t in those birthday plans? Cancer. So, imagine my surprise when a routine mammogram resulted in the radiologist saying, “We’ll be with you every step of the way.”

To say that news hit me like a ton of bricks is a massive understatement. Strappy shoes, flattering jeans, and a fancy top; what? Who cares?! Exactly. Suddenly, my only focus was the crisis immediately in front of me, stay alive.

I was fortunate; early detection allowed my doctors and modern medicine to use their skills and expertise to evict the mass and give me the best probability for a long, happy, and healthy life. And today, I’m feeling great!

Throughout my treatments, surgeries, and procedures, I discovered so many things about myself, others, and the beliefs I had long held dear. Here, I want to share three things I found critical to my success in navigating this crisis. I hope that these same perspectives can help you maneuver any situation you might face; health or otherwise.

Control what you can.

After receiving my diagnosis, my life immediately shifted gears. I couldn’t make treatments go faster or decrease the time my body would need for recovery. So, instead, I began to focus on one thing that, regardless of circumstance, I could control.

My decision to find the good in what was happening around me kept my attitude positive, optimistic, and upbeat. I had heavy days, for sure, but holding close to gratitude at every step certainly helped to lighten my load. When I temporarily lost my ability to exercise with weights, I was grateful I had feet to take me on walks. When I was tired, I was grateful I had a comfortable bed. When I was lonely, I was grateful for a friend’s text exchange to lift my spirits.

Ask for help.

If you’re anything like me, asking for help is never top of mind. I’m an “I got this” kinda’ gal. In the beginning, I resisted any offerings of support from friends; I didn’t want to burden them with what I was going through. However, I quickly realized asking for and accepting help made everyone feel better. People were eager to support me, but they didn’t know how. They needed direction and permission to jump into action.

For me, asking for dinners on nights I had chemo treatments allowed me to focus on myself during the day without worrying about what was for dinner that night. The bonus? I got to see a friend each drop-off day. My friends were happy to help, and I was delighted to see them, a win-win all around! You’ll be amazed at how those in your inner circle will rally to support you; every step of the way.

Embrace the word “No”.

Before my diagnosis, I’d do things that weren’t always in my best interest. I’d cram too many events into a weekend, leaving me drained at the start of the week. I’d wait until the last minute to start an important project, ending up disappointed the final result wasn’t up to my high standards. I finally had to admit I made some decisions out of a sense of obligation, others because I was fearful of missing out, and still others so I wouldn’t fall behind.

Here’s the thing, nothing, and I mean nothing, matters except what’s right in front of you when facing a crisis, and you’ve got to help yourself rise to the occasion.

Time, physical energy, and mental capacity are precious things during challenging times. So when I needed more of them for myself, I finally relented and permitted myself to slow down. Best. Decision. Ever. I became more selective about what I’d add to my calendar and reassessed what was considered a successful day; whether that was turning down an opportunity to have a friend visit or deciding that a shower, nap, and an early bedtime would earn me a gold star. I knew what was best; I just had to listen.

My last significant cancer-eviction milestone occurred in 2019. And although it’s been more than a year of being cancer-free, I’m still a work in progress when it comes to the three insights listed above. But just being aware of my actions, and staying vigilant as I move forward into the next chapter of my life, is a step in the right direction.

You got this!

Each one of these principles: Control what you can, Ask for help, and Embrace the word No,  deliver positive results far greater than the effort needed to make each one a habit; you’ve got to decide to make them a priority. Whatever it is that crosses your path, know that you’ve got ways to support yourself during a time of crisis. I’m cheering you on – You got this!

For more tips from Penny on navigating crisis and facing uncertainty, check out this post.

About the Author

Penny Casselman is a Certified Professional Coach and former corporate ladder climber. Today, she’s passionate about her message of empowerment because she knows it shouldn’t take a life-changing event to create a life you love. 

In her upcoming memoir, How To Get A Free Boob Job, Casselman brings you along on her adventure of a lifetime and gives you a peek under her shirt of what it’s like to navigate the wild unknown of a genetically driven breast cancer diagnosis.

Casselman lives in a 100-year-old Tudor home in Ohio, where she pursues her passions for DIY projects, vegetarian cooking, and craft cocktails. Connect with her at PennyCasselman.com


Until next time…give it your best, stay positive, and be well.

Today's guest author, Penny Casselman, is sharing three things that overcoming breast cancer taught her about navigating crisis.

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