Finding Your Feet After Cancer Changes Your Life

by | Aug 8, 2021 | Resilience When Life is Challenging | 4 comments

I hope you never need this information.

I hope you are gifted with good health and peaceful life.

But just in case something comes along that upends it all, maybe have a quick read and save this in an “open in case of emergency” folder.

It contains the three coaching-based tools that helped me regain inner stability after a stage-IV cancer diagnosis upended my own good health and peaceful life.

If you’ve ever had really shocking news, you might relate to how I felt: like a vulnerable body filled with swirling thoughts and surging stress hormones.

“Normal” had flown out the window, leaving me yearning for something stable, secure, and familiar.

Once we find ourselves coming out of the initial shock, like I did when I came home from the hospital ten days later, we can feel so altered inside; discombobulated mentally, emotionally, and physically.

I call this kind of situation “being swept up in a personal tidal wave.” You might rightly imagine, or know from personal experience, that this was achingly uncomfortable.

Thankfully, I had learned some tools and practices during my ten years as a certified life and positive psychology coach that helped me “find a buoy to cling to” in the stormy sea that had become my life. These three practices helped me get through some of the most challenging minutes, days, and weeks of my life.

I want to share them with you in case you ever experience a personal tidal wave and want to find your own inner safe place within the storm.

1: The “Start Here” Document

Before my diagnosis, I was a regular working woman with a coaching practice, a home to take care of, and family to nurture (even though my kids were 20 and 22). Afterwards, because my health was so precarious, I was a non-working woman being nurtured by other people.

It was so weird, and my days felt so … empty and directionless. I was not in the driver’s seat of my life anymore; I was in limbo, waiting to see whether my treatment would work. I didn’t feel like me.

So, I created this document for myself, and it became the buoy on my bedside table.

I’ve turned it into a template for you. It contains prompts and blank lines for you to capture what makes you YOU, regardless of what’s going on in your life. Things like:

  • How you think of yourself and what makes you unique: roles, archetypes, your given name and nicknames, defining qualities
  • What drives and motivates you, your deepest dreams and desires
  • What you do, how you engage with the world, when you’re at your best 
  • Your core values
  • The people and other resources that you can depend on and draw upon to get through this 
  • Space for you to add whatever you like: people who inspire you, uplifting quotations, stories about times you’ve overcome obstacles in the past, favorite things, etc.

This might sound super basic, but after decades of caring for others and working in the corporate world and as a coach, I needed help focusing on myself again. You might need this too.

Also, I knew that if I were going to get the chance to keep living, I wanted to engage with life as my most authentic self and focus on what mattered most to me.

Creating this document and referring to / refining it every day for weeks was the starting point.

2: The SIMPLE Daily Planner

Once it became clear that I was going to live for a while, I created a planner (click to open and print the pdf) to help me stay focused on the priorities that had become so crystal clear over the past months. I didn’t want to become blasé about them ever again. It had become simple to know what mattered most, hence the acronym.

I drew on my positive psychology training to create this. It contains prompts to think about what you want to focus on in six areas that add up to “a well-lived life”—one that is balanced and hits on all the things that really matter:

S: Success, which can include work but also any other kinds of important goals, like travel, education, creating things, etc. Up to you.

I: Interests—the things you enjoy doing and maybe let slide because of other priorities

M: Meaning—the legacy you leave behind, from donations to volunteer work to letters for your grandchildren

P: People—who you want to spend your precious time with, who fills your bucket. To me, this is the most important category of all; it’s just fourth in this list because of where P falls in the word SIMPLE. 🙂

L: Living—ways you can tend lovingly to your body, mind, and spirit

E: Emotions—what emotions do you love to experience? From quiet calm to wild ecstasy, there’s a range of feelings out there. A happy life is made up of happy moments, so get as many as you can.

The template has two pages: one where you can record your overall, life-level priorities in each category, and a daily planner that you can reprint and use to plan related actions every day.

3: The “What Went Well and Why” Gratitude Journal

Speaking of happy moments, this template is where you capture the ones you experience each day.

Our brains are wired to focus on the dangerous, negative things that happen so that we can prevent them from happening again in the future. It’s a survival thing. And of course, tidal wave phases are full of them.

So, we must put some effort into noticing and remembering the positive. But it’s worth the effort: practicing gratitude is one of the single most powerful ways to feel good about your life, no matter what’s happening.

It’s also an antidote to fear, did you know that? Thinking of positive things lights up a completely different part of our brains. So, when you’re feeling stressed or afraid or anxious, you can make yourself feel better and calm your body down by focusing on things you’re thankful for.

Or, if feeling gratitude is too much of a stretch, just notice what went well. What didn’t suck. Someone’s kindness, hitting three green lights in a row, a pretty sky.

This practice has helped me enormously, not only for living with cancer, but when I had post-natal depression, when my mom died, when we moved halfway around the world—trust me, it works.

The “What Went Well” part of the journal contains prompts to remember up to three things that went well during the day. The “Why” part is for you to notice what you did, if anything, to bring that good thing about.

So often we fail to note our roles in the good things in our lives. This practice brings awareness to your ability to make things happen.

This template also provides a space for you to write down what’s worrying or bothering you most at the moment, so you can stop that thought from swirling through your head for a while.

Getting through personal tidal waves is tough. But if we can learn to survive them with courage and intention and a focus on the positive, we may find that the next time one hits, we are able to surf it instead of being tossed around in the waves.

May you live in peace until the end of your days. But if trauma or drama ever sweep you off your feet, I hope these tools and ideas can help you find your center and get back on your surfboard as soon as possible.

If you want a buddy to help you get through a personal tidal wave, please get in touch. I’d love to help.

You can also get more ideas about surviving the storm, and what to do once the worst is over, in “Surfing Life’s Tidal Waves,” available free for my newsletter subscribers. There’s a link in the column at the right of this post.



Do you need kind, compassionate support to bounce back from a negative experience? If so, then get in touch with me now, and let’s make the most of your precious time, energy and love. 


  1. Felicity J Fouche

    Kris, this is wonderful – your usual warm manner and really super informative . I am sure this will help others xx

    • Kristen

      Thanks so much, Flips. I hope so. XOXO

  2. Kenn

    Grateful exercises are amazing for sleep btw. I remember doing one where I had to come up with 10 things I’m grateful for before zonking out. The peace that washes over, especially after a busy day is phenomenal.


    • Kristen

      Ooh, good one! I’ve done this too and it did calm me down all over. Nice way to drift off to sleep.


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Kristen Carter

Kristen Carter, Certified coach, author, and breast cancer survivor. More

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