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10 New Normals I Don’t Hate in My Life After Breast Cancer

Life in Remission

December 08, 2023

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Photo by Monica Haro/Design by Alexis Lira

Photo by Monica Haro/Design by Alexis Lira

by Monica Haro


Fact Checked by:

Jennifer Chesak, MSJ


by Monica Haro


Fact Checked by:

Jennifer Chesak, MSJ


There aren’t silver linings when it comes to cancer. But I appreciate the small changes I’ve embraced in my life after treatment.

I recently marked my 9-year cancerversary and started thinking about how much breast cancer can take from us: breasts, nipples, ovaries, relationships, cognition, money, fertility, experiences, and emotional well-being.

I also started thinking about the new normals in my life since cancer, the changes I don’t hate. You know, silver lining and lemons-into-lemonade stuff — but those sayings can be loaded. It’s like saying cancer is a gift, and you should make the most out of a pile of garbage. 

I can’t give cancer credit for positive changes in my life. So, in my mind, I’ve rephrased it as “the new normals I don’t hate.”

Here are some changes in my life after breast cancer that I don’t hate.

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10 shifts I’ve embraced after treatment

1. Renewing my body awareness

I’ve learned to tap into physical awareness by asking myself questions: What’s my body telling me?

Am I tired, hungry, thirsty? Is my body emotionally or physically reacting to a situation, and do I need to remove myself from it? Am I getting sick? Do I need to check out this weird thing going on with my body? How do I know if it’s something I can shake off?

I’ve also had conversations with my son about his body and how he’s feeling. He knows that no questions or concerns about our bodies are dumb. If you listen to the body, you can manage from there.

2. Refreshing my spirituality

I turn to spiritual practices to feel rooted, and my practices have changed since treatment. I enjoy grounding practices more than I did before cancer.

For me, this can look like meditation, mantras, or prayer. I give ceremony and ritual to transitions in my life, like my cancerversary.

I’ve added spiritual rituals like sound healing, intuitive touch, and a gratitude practice to my self-care. It keeps my spirit grounded and refreshed.

3. Honoring the dead with intention

I used to be hesitant to talk about the dead — maybe even scared. But after losing some friends to breast cancer, I realized the best way to honor them and keep their memory alive is to speak their names.

It’s important to share stories about them, to talk about their legacy with all the flaws and beauty of who they are.

Honoring the dead has become an ongoing practice for me. I believe the deceased are everywhere, all around us, either in memory, through reminders, or spiritually. It’s given me comfort and satisfaction to pay attention to the dead.

4. Developing new friendships

The people I’ve met because of cancer are incredible.

Cancer friendships can often be intense and develop faster than a “regular” friendship. You share dark humor only your cancer besties get, and there’s nothing else like it.

I’ve met an incredibly diverse array of folks in Cancerland, and I love them so much. I’ve also connected with wonderful people outside the cancer community, people I wouldn’t have met if I hadn’t had cancer.

5. Becoming a Bezzy guide

I get to cultivate a safe space where I model listening, validation, commiseration, and commemoration within the breast cancer community.

For me, it’s been one of the best experiences ever. Everyone just wants to be seen, and I get to help facilitate these connections.

6. Volunteering for myself as much as others

Before cancer, I didn’t know that volunteer work could be so much more than just donating or dedicating time to certain tasks.

Volunteer work isn’t just a space of giving but also one of healing. By working in a community I’m passionate about, I’m healing for others and for myself. It’s more than just showing up to serve.

7. Simplifying my life

There’s an odd beauty in facing your mortality. It prompts you to lighten your load — literally. I let go of a lot of “stuff” in my life. I totally agree with this idiom: “Less is more.”

I’ve created space to choose the things I want surrounding me. This applies to people, too. Releasing complicated relationships that don’t bring joy has reduced my stress. Creating boundaries and putting myself first has been so impactful.

8. Returning to hobbies I love

It’s funny that once cancer came along, I gradually returned to hobbies I really enjoy. I wasn’t making time for them nearly as much as I wanted, if at all. I began hiking in nature and combing the beach with intentional regularity.

I also leaned into my creativity by drawing, taking pictures, and writing again. I’m much happier now that I prioritize these activities in my life.

9. Embracing empathy and patience

Sometimes, people are jerks. Instead of reacting, I wonder what they’re going through. Maybe they just received a cancer diagnosis. Maybe their dog died. Meeting people where they are without judgment is liberating.

I’m not saying I’m perfect at this or that I’m always capable. But I’m more aware, and I’ve found it’s better to show up with empathy and kindness in these situations. I mindfully choose my battles, and it helps keep my stress low.

10. Facing past traumas

Cancer meets you where you are in life. It doesn’t care about the baggage you carry. I’ve witnessed myself and others forcefully unpack past traumas that bubble up with cancer.

Feelings that surface with cancer can reignite similar feelings from traumas past; loneliness, helplessness, betrayal — you name it.

I don’t hate that I’ve revisited those things. I’ve been able to process and heal old wounds in cancer’s wake.

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No feeling is final

You can choose to look at changes in your life after cancer however you want or need to frame them — as silver linings, lemons to lemonade, or, like me, things I don’t hate about my new normal.

When I reflect on these experiences, my favorite quote by Rainer Maria Rilke comes to mind. I lean into it often.

“Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.”

Fact checked on December 08, 2023

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About the author

Monica Haro

Monica was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area where she is raising her son. She loves staying connected to the breast cancer community through her work as the community guide for Bezzy BC, and as production assistant with Wildfire Magazine. After her cancer diagnosis, she has a passion for volunteering, and serves on the board of directors with her local support group, Bay Area Young Survivors. Monica loves creative expression through writing and art. She has shown her breast cancer advocacy exhibit “Reconstructed: A Breast Cancer Documentation Project” with El Comalito Collective in Vallejo, California several times over the years. You can connect with her on Instagram.

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