Embracing ‘character traits’ to move you purposely forward in life.
I am after all more than just a cancer experience. I am still the same cheeky gal I was before. I just have an enormous collection of titty jokes now and perky motorboat worthy boobies!
I decided early on to share snippets of my story. It’s therapeutic to get stuff off my chest (ahem pun intended). Additionally, it’s educational to share bits and pieces. Because let’s face it, you truly have no idea of how intense and confronting cancer is until you experience it yourself.
This cancer chapter has gifted me the awareness that I continue to live a life whereby I make decisions for me, and not invest in the opinion of others. Someone else’s opinion of me is their business. I just get on with life and what challenges are thrown at me.
Prior to my diagnosis, I was relatively intimate with my social media audience. I shared parts of my life and this made me relatable to my audience. I was goofy, funny, serious, and I rarely showed my belly — the vulnerability that we all experience. We all have stuff.
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, it felt normal to share various experiences with my existing business audience. After all, I’d been inviting them to be positive and find the way out of their darkness, what better opportunity than having cancer could I be provided to demonstrate how I remained positive throughout this shit festival?
I never realised the depth or importance of sharing a cancer journey. I’m still stunned that in society today, whilst we have clothing which declares loud and proud “I’m a wellness warrior”, people don’t want to see it or talk openly about it.
I have now witnessed firsthand there an expectation by some that you should leave the nasty cancer conversation in the closet. And worse, there’s a societal expectation that we don’t show anyone your belly, your vulnerability.
There is an expectation that you be brave, that you fight. I stunned everyone when I said “stop, there will be no fighting”. I have chosen instead to embrace the experience, for it is part of me.
You don’t go out when you feel sick. You don’t show people you feel like crap. You certainly don’t show your bald head out in public because it is the ultimate reflective reminder to those who pay witness to you that they fear being diagnosed themselves.
What you don’t see is the strength beyond the shining scalp, is the energy it took to put on clothes, the effort to navigate getting in and out of the in the car, because there is still post-surgical pain. And you whiz past the shuffling bald eagle in the aisles supermarket.
You have no idea how challenging it can be just to do the basic life stuff. And yet the bald eagles continue one step in front of the other. They are living the experience, there is no fight, only a willingness to embrace that moment right then and there. Because everything else can wait.
The future, whilst it matters, isn’t right now. It’s still coming. It’s right now that has to be embraced, not rushed through, or ticked off a list. Stop wasting the opportunities that are being gifted to you.
I want to call bullshit on the whole stigma. Wellness, sick, healthy, unfit. God forbid I dare say this, black or white, we are all still human. Yet, we are scared to observe all aspects of human conditioning. Society dictates a certain depth of fear of being unwell or not perfect, or having the right coloured skin.
Within my cancer chapter, I’ve learnt many things about myself.
Firstly I have reinforced that we all have stuff. You get to choose to work through it or fester.
It takes character to take a stand and decide you want to live rather than exist. Whilst you can fight, I’ve chosen to actively embrace my chapter and all aspects of life. My journey is so much more than the cancer chapter, and I treat it accordingly.
Cancer is a motivator for sure but it doesn’t define who I am.
It takes character to:
- stand beside your friend as her hair falls out;
- to cry with your friend as the surgeon draws all over her body in preparation for surgery;
- to look at your friend’s scars and tell her “I love you anyway” or “nice tits”;
- to not look at your friend with pity in your eyes, continuing to able to see the same person as before diagnosis;
- be the girl experiencing all this and continuing life regardless of the diagnosis.
Reference to one’s character refers to our personality, ideals, and associated behaviours. As we explore a person’s traits, we can acknowledge that their “strength of character” can be associated with the confidence to be confronted. I liken this to growing some balls in order to face your stuff!
Strength of character also includes the self-assuredness to know what you need (which makes reference back to what is important to you), and the ability to use or seek tools to identify and implement a resolution.
Social science’s groundbreaking research in the early 2000s, identified a common language of 24 character strengths to create our personality. According to VIACharacter’s article, “everyone possesses all 24 character strengths in different degrees, so each person has a truly unique character strengths profile.”
VIA Character documents these character strengths to include:
1. Appreciation of beauty and excellence — to recognise and appreciate skills and excellence around you.
2. Bravery — act on convictions despite doubts and fears.
3. Creativity — coming up with ideas that result in worthwhile outcomes.
4. Curiosity — seek out situations to gain new experiences without getting in my own, or other’s way.
5. Fairness — treat everyone equally and fairly applying the same rules
6. Forgiveness — forgiving others when they upset me and using that knowledge to respond appropriately in future dealings.
7. Gratitude — I am grateful for many things and express this openly and warmly to others.
8. Honesty — I am honest with self and take responsibility for my actions.
9. Hope — I am realistic and optimistic for the future believing things will turn out well.
10. Humility — I see my strengths and talents but don’t need them externally acknowledged.
11. Humour — I approach life playfully and use humour in difficult or stressful times.
12. Judgement — I weigh all aspects objectively in decision making
13. Kindness — I am helpful and empathic, doing favours for others without expectation of return.
14. Leadership — I take charge and guide groups to meaningful goals and outcomes.
15. Love — I experience and maintain close relationships with giving and receiving with love, warmth and care.
16. Love of learning — motivated to acquire new skills.
17. Perseverance — persist towards goals regardless of challenges.
18. Perspective — use experience and knowledge to clarify the big picture.
19. Prudence — act carefully to avoid risks with the future in mind.
20. Self-regulation — manage feelings and actions.
21. Social intelligence — being aware of thoughts and feelings.
22. Spirituality — connection to purpose or meaning of life.
23. Teamwork — contributing to a team achieving its goals.
24. Zest — feeling vital and full of energy.
In my experience over the last six months, strength incorporates a lot of choices and nearly all of the characteristics of strength. I could have chosen to wallow and feel sorry for myself with my diagnosis. Absolutely for sure. Instead, I chose to embrace the experience and learn as much as possible about myself and life.
Whilst undergoing testing I had to draw upon my ‘spiritual’ wits to control myself while entrapped within machinery for over an hour. Later I worked through an array of ‘perspective’ layers in order to ‘forgive’ the technicians for the physical and emotional damage. I wrote a lot of letters during this phase.
Upon diagnosis and identification of treatment options, I chose to activate the ‘love of learning’, and asked a tonne of questions of the entire western medicine team. I compared notes with my alternative and complementary medicine colleagues. I read an extraordinary amount of scientific journals and reactivated my inner bucket chemist.
When it came to the first step, surgery, I needed to ‘self regulate’ in order to make an informed decision which had been also lovingly guided by spirit. I understood what I was committing to, the recovery phase and what that would entail. I journaled an extraordinary amount of stuff.
I took it another step and through my questioning, I understood that I had chosen an amazing team of professionals who were dedicated to their craft just as I was. I incorporated ‘prudence’ when I was diagnosed, silently asking Spirit through meditation, to guide me to the exact people who could not only help me but also be of service.
I still pinch myself that each of my team has exceptional bedside manners, and hold many of the qualities of strength of character. There are never too many questions for a control freak like myself. There is hand holding and life-affirming smiles when I am ‘brave’ enough to seek the reassurance. I am constantly reassured.
I needed to draw upon my strength to be able to trust these strangers and work as a member of the ‘team’ to reinstate my health. I needed strength to believe that Spirit had heard me and delivered what I needed at exactly the right time.
Bravery and courage can be defined as being able to act on your convictions (ie draw upon your beliefs, and I face threats, challenges, difficulties, and pains, despite my doubts and fears.
Working with my psychologist has had me fetal on the floor a couple of times and I was given a lot of homework. It takes ‘perseverance’ to continually show up to work on your stuff.
There were days and weeks that were so dark. I wondered what the future would hold in terms of health and employment.
I’ve extensively used ‘humor’ to get my friends, family and myself through this chapter. We have enough “itty bitty tittie” jokes now that I could do a national tour! What I learnt about this strength that it’s a choice to see and feel the lighter side.
I choose to change and bloom from within, cancer or not. Still here. Still laughing and still learning how to shine brightly.
Karen Humphries is a Kinesiology Practitioner, Health & Business Coach, self-confessed laughaholic, and now Breast Cancer Advocate residing in Gippsland Victoria Australia. She loves being of service to the world with her humorous and positive approach to life, encouraging people to ‘choose to change and bloom from within.’