Being Happy During Tough Times: Lessons From A Two-Time Cancer Survivor

Being happy in good circumstances is, well, normal. When everything is going right, it’s not too hard to feel a little more upbeat. But, what about when struggles come, difficulties pop up, and your whole world changes? What then?

When trials come it’s easy to get discouraged, but it is also a great opportunity to grow, get stronger, and start appreciating what you have going for you. I’ve seen this first-hand with my English teacher, Mrs. Liebl.

cancer survivor who is happy

She is by far one of the happiest people I know, and I find that so incredible considering the fact that she has gone through cancer twice. As I continue this learning journey of looking for ways to improve my life, learn more, be happier, get an edge, etc… I realized one of the best ways to go about this is to learn directly from someone who embodies the type of person I want to be, and Mrs. Liebl is exactly that.

One of the first things she said when I walked into her English class was “If you’re not happy we might clash because I’m happy to just be!

I’m happy to just be.

That really resonated with me, and in order to learn more about this mindset and attitude, I decided to ask her some questions associated with life, happiness, and how to handle going through tough times. If you’re looking to bring more brightness into your life, I think you’ll really benefit from reading what she had to say.

The first question I asked her was how she maintained such a positive attitude during her battles with cancer, to which she replied:

“My family, friends and co-workers were amazingly supportive. The outpouring of care was astounding. You really find out how you impact others! While waiting for test results confirming the second diagnosis, I really thought I might be bitter and angry. Bitgry? My oncologist was instrumental in explaining that the treatments are more effective when patients are positive.  I was not going to argue against that!  And again, I was overwhelmed by the support. The treatment was completely different so I became a student of cancer again. The recent advancements in genetics are amazing.” – Mrs. Liebl

One thing that really stuck out to me was how she used her cancer diagnosis as an opportunity to do something she liked to do: learn. Obviously, nobody wants to be in the situation where they have to learn the ins and outs of cancer, but if you do find yourself in a tough situation, you might as well gain some knowledge along the way!

I’ve taken this approach in my own life when it comes to the multiple sports injuries I’ve acquired. I realize now that I know so much more about the body because of these experiences, and it’s helped me become a smarter, fitter, and healthier athlete. I’ve also been able to use what I’ve learned to help others who might be going through similar experiences, which I think is the most rewarding part.

I draw so much comfort from speaking to people who have gone through similar struggles. If I am battling an injury, I want to hear from people who have also battled injuries. If I am feeling stressed about something, I want to talk to someone who dealt with and conquered the same scenario. I love to listen to TED talks and podcasts from people who have overcome immense challenges. It fills me with hope.

We all want to feel understood. But, it would be impossible to offer advice if YOU NEVER STRUGGLE. What would you have to offer? A thumbs-up?

Going through challenges allows us to learn and pass on that information to someone else. If life is a battle right now, find peace in the fact that you are learning, because one day someone might just need to hear what you have to say.

And be open to accepting help, as well.

“Be open to accepting help from others. It helps you and them too.” – Mrs. Liebl

This was an important reminder for me. Sometimes, it can be so tempting to want to seem “strong” and like you don’t need anybody, but vulnerability can be a form of strength. Trying to put up a barrier and act like you know what you are doing is not getting to help you. Instead, be open to seeking advice from others who have gone through similar situations. If you keep your mind open, you will find that everybody has wisdom they are willing to share.

Another question I asked was “why do you think so many people seem to be unhappy nowadays?”

“I think the constant bombardment of news can have a negative effect. Most news is negative and the exposure can make readers feel helpless or doomed even. You have to mix in some videos of prancing goats, guilty dogs compilations to add balance.” – Mrs. Liebl

Not only can negative news stories add an atmosphere of impending doom (turn on the news for five minutes and you’ll see what I mean), but the people and things you associate yourself with can make an impact, as well.

Mrs. Liebl contributed time with family as being a significant contributor to her mental health, and being around positive people since they help “feed that attitude.” Surrounding yourself with people that bring you joy can create a dramatic change in your energy.

quote about happiness and who you spend your time with

But sometimes, we can’t control who we are around. We can’t change who are co-workers or classmates are, or what are situation at home is like. So, it is important to remind yourself that you have the power to choose how people are going to affect you. One quote that reminded me of this is from the book Meditations by Marcus Aurelius:

quote about being happy with tough people

We were meant to communicate with others, and when we can control it, we should choose wisely. However, when things are out of control, it is good to remember that “we were born to work together” and that “to obstruct each other is unnatural.” Find kindness towards everyone – even when it is hard – and you will discover so much more light in life.

Another way to bring more positivity into your circumstances is to put everything in perspective. I asked Mrs. Liebl if she had any positive mantras, quotes, or mottos, and her response was:

“Oh, gosh. It’s unusual, but from my experience makes sense. “It’s not cancer unless it’s cancer.” It reminds me that a lot of concerns or issues I would have worried about are, in fact, pretty trivial. It helps me keep perspective. It sounds horribly negative, but there is something special about the appreciation for life that I got from having cancer and I don’t want to lose it. It’s little things like not being too concerned about the weather–it’s out of my control and often has little impact.” – Mrs. Liebl

Some people in life are professional worriers, and like Mrs. Liebl points out, most of our worries are not actually a big deal. I remember when I was younger I saw a book at my grandparent’s house titled “Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff – and It’s All Small Stuff.” At a young age, I didn’t initially understand what the title meant. How was everything “small stuff”?

Eventually, I understood what the title of this book was trying to get at is that most of the things we think are “big deals” are not actually big at all. Yes, certain things are important, but sometimes it is necessary to take a step back and take everything in perspective. When you are sucking all the fun out of something because you are over-analyzing it, that is a sign you might need to chill out for a second. Life is going to be okay.

quote about happiness and worries

I’ve fallen victim of overthinkingitis. It’s not a real word, but it’s a very real thing. But now, when I feel the symptoms coming, I ask myself is there any positive from worrying about whatever I am worrying about? The answer is simple: no.

Instead, I choose to focus on what I’m grateful for. It can be so easy to take things for granted… the ability to get an education, family, a car, and of course, health. When you start to worry about something, take a deep breath and remember what you have going for you. You’ll be surprised at all the things you have overlooked.

This also goes along with the message that Mrs. Liebl wants to spread to the world:

“You can control your attitude; even if you situation is negative, you can consciously choose to focus on the positive.” – Mrs. Liebl

Key word is consciously.

Hate to break it to you, but life is not a peaceful walk through a meadow. It is going to be tough at times. But is your choice how you react to it; you just have to be aware of how you are reacting.

You don’t have to let negative emotions stay. You can ignore them, and fill yourself with positive replacements. Whatever is holding you back from living in a beautiful state, whether it be anxiety, stress, worry, overthinking, anger, or something else, let it go. Don’t give it any power. Consciously choose to focus on the good in life. You have the choice.

I used to worry when negative thoughts popped up because I thought I was doing something wrong. But, I’ve learned that, to a certain extent, we can’t control our subconscious thoughts and human tendencies. What I can control is my conscious choice, and now if I start to feel any unhappy emotion I immediately replace it with something that will benefit me. And then I forget about it. Like I said, don’t give it any power.

And one last thing. Be kind to yourself.

“It’s helpful to have goals, but to be kind to yourself if they are not all met.” – Mrs. Liebl

When you dream big, disappointment comes with the territory. But, don’t let it hold you back. Shoot for the stars, but remember, failure doesn’t make you a failure. It is just another chance to try again.

quote about happiness and success and enthusiasm

I hope you enjoyed these responses from the two-time cancer defeater, happiness specialist, and excellent English teacher: Mrs. Liebl (along with some of my personal thoughts on the subjects). Some of the biggest pieces of advice were:

  1. Find positives in every situation
  2. Be open to accepting help from others
  3. Surround yourself with positive people, but…
  4. Be kind and patient with everyone, even if they aren’t your ideal company
  5. Speak kindly to yourself

Keep these tools in mind whenever you face a struggle or you start to feel negative; we are all human and we are all going to mess up sometimes, but if you feel yourself spiraling towards negativity remember these steps to get you back on the right path. Happiness is a choice, so choose wisely. 🙂

— Brynn

3 Thoughts

  1. This post is so lovely and motivating! Your teacher sounds like a beautiful soul, and she will be in my prayers. We can definitely choose our attitude. I want mine to be less worried and concerned with the temporary and more about loving God and people! And enjoying today 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s