What is the most important life lesson you've learned so far? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
Answer by Katherine Killoran, physician and cancer survivor:
2017 is off to an lousy start. For me, this has nothing to do with politics. I was diagnosed with cancer, again. An entirely separate kind of cancer unrelated to my original cancer.
For someone who does the things usually recommended for good health, two cancer diagnoses in less than four years, both before age 50, is indeed lousy.
It wasn't enough to have breast cancer. I now have cervical cancer as well.
Four years ago I received my first cancer diagnosis. It was a wake-up call for sure. I needed to get out of the work environment I was in, and having cancer finally made that happen.
A blessing in disguise.
I got the memo then.
I heard it loud and clear.
I understood what my body was telling me and I made the necessary changes.
I am happier, healthier, and in a much better place four years later because of it.
And now I have to do it again.
But this time what do I have to learn? What can I change? Is my healthy lifestyle helping me prevent chronic disease? Apparently not, it seems. Should I throw in the towel, give up, and start smoking?
I would have said I am in an excellent place now. I still think I am.
I will never know all of the factors that contributed to either of my cancer diagnoses. I also know it is not useful to dwell on how or why it happened. It just did. But, I believe it has similar roots as my breast cancer, which among other things is impaired immunity due to stress.
Making the changes my life needed was hard. It is still a work in progress. There are and always will be things that I could do better.
What's that saying? Better is the enemy of good.
My intention is to feel well and enjoy my life today and every day. That was the lesson I learned from breast cancer four years ago.
The way I do that is by eating healthy whole foods, exercising, sleeping at least 7 hours, spending quality time with friends and family, as well as minimizing stress.
Most of the time.
And it works.
I feel well; I appreciate what I have. I am happy and enjoy my life.
I am frequently asked about my health. This is always a tough question for a cancer survivor because you don't know.
You never know, as this situation illustrates perfectly.
You can be on top of the world, feeling terrific, and then all of a sudden not so much.
So what do I do now? How do I get my head around what has happened, and continue to feel good about what I am doing?
Or should I start smoking?
I know I want to stay positive; believe that I can overcome this. When you stay positive about your situation and expect to get better, you are more likely to do just that.
Last week I had a CT scan to evaluate for metastatic disease. It was normal. I found myself celebrating. These are strange times indeed when I am celebrating a diagnosis of invasive cancer; at least it's not metastatic. I guess that's a win.
I'm still working on thinking positively about my situation. With each passing day, I do feel more and more confident that I can do this. One thing that has helped is practicing gratitude. You have probably seen this advice. Or seen others stating what they are grateful for on social media.
So I'm doing it. I am consciously reminding myself of things that I am grateful for, and even taking the time to write them down. It helps.
While I got the message to change my lifestyle and reduce stress after the first cancer diagnosis, I think I had become complacent, looking for an effortless way forward. One that didn't push or challenge me enough.
Instead of just reducing stress, I want to optimize it. I want to live without regret. I need some stress to push me out of my comfort zone and into a place where I am challenged to do something great. That's where I want to be, to live without regret.
Many people, including myself, have said that there is nothing quite like a cancer diagnosis to put your priorities in order. I now can see that the changes I made four years ago to feel well and enjoy life were only part of the solution.
I also need challenge.
I need purpose.
I relish working hard to accomplish something meaningful.
I realize that I have been afraid of failure. I have not put myself out there enough because I was scared of being boring, of people not liking me, of looking stupid.
If this, or anything else, kills me in the next year, I will regret not trying harder.
So here's to trying harder, putting yourself out there and even failing.
I rarely get things right the first time. But I can learn from my mistakes.
Ever see the movie Office Space? It's about a guy who works in a miserable cubicle job and just wants to do nothing. It's one of my favorites. So many quotable lines:
"I did nothing, and it was everything I thought it could be."
"It's not just about my dream of doing nothing."
It resonated with me. I assumed I wanted to do nothing. I am excellent at doing nothing. But it's not that I just want to do nothing. I want to do something and then celebrate my accomplishment by doing nothing.
I'm going to hold off on taking up smoking.
Instead, I'm going to work on something I am proud of and, if possible, help others to do the same.
Avoid the mistakes that I made in the past.
Feel well, enjoy life, and live without regret.
Even though I have just been diagnosed with cancer, again. I do feel well and healthy. I have a daily wellness check list that helps me stay that way.