On April 7th, 2003 I was told that I had a stage-4 skin cancer and would probably not survive the end of that year. My youngest son, Jean-Baptiste, was 8 weeks old at that moment, my daughters Heloïse and Eugenie were 3 and 2 years old. I had been running my construction business for 5 years.
Besides disbelief, I didn’t feel sick, the cancer was discovered through a little black (bleeding) spot on my knee, the sky fell down and rational thinking was far away those first days.
And we all get to hear this kind of news sooner or later in our lives, maybe you woke up one day and your spouse told you she was going to leave you or maybe you had to save your company from bankruptcy.
Sometimes we are confronted with news that shakes our entire existence.
As an expert in dealing with setbacks and difficult circumstances throughout my life, I found that these 4 steps were hugely important in finding the courage to go on and re-invent ourselves during the moments that our world seemed like falling apart.
1. Take a step back and breathe
The first moment we get to hear some horrible news, knowing that our life will never be the same again, our human reflex is to panic. We get in a state of primal reactions, we want to hide, fight or run. And nothing good comes out of that. Taking a step back and a deep breath is the best thing to do at that moment.
When I got to hear that I had a very severe cancer, I was 32 at that time, I knew that panic and stress would not help me. The only thought that kept me going during my year of surgeries and chemotherapy was: IS THIS THOUGHT OR EMOTION HELPFUL OR NOT?
2. Watch your thoughts
Thoughts born in panic and overwhelm are bad advisors. Our mood and emotions always color the thoughts coming up. We have to train ourselves to raise our awareness and see the color of our thoughts in all particular situations.
3. Detach from negative thoughts
Once we see the nature of our thoughts, it is up to us to get rid of negative thinking. It only makes the situation worse and it weakens us in a moment we need to be powerful. Some situations we have to accept, we have no choice, in the case of me hearing about having a stage-4 cancer, I had no choice but to accept that news.
I was very aware though that self-pity, depressed thoughts and doom thinking would not help. I wanted to survive at all costs to see my children grow up and was very dedicated to do whatever it took to help myself.
First of all, to trust in the professionalism of the doctors who treated me and my task was stay positive, good-humoured and sunny as is my nature. Even if those were my last months, I was not going to spend them in misery. And yes, my body hurt many times, and yes, I was exhausted, sleeping for 20 hours a day many times; but I never bought in to negativity, never.
4. Give yourself space for the emotions that rise up
In times of turmoil, it is of utter importance not to suppress emotions, we can detach from our negative and fearful thoughts that come up but we have to make space for emotions rising up.
Emotions of sadness, grief, pain, hurt, have to be welcomed and embraced. We are human beings, feeling beings. The beauty is that once we allow our emotions to be, they dissolve after a while. Suppressing emotions doesn’t make you strong, on the contrary, you get out of balance and they come back even intensified.
Honoring yourself in difficult times, acknowledging that you are going through a tough period and tapping yourself on the back for the great job you are doing, is the greatest gift to yourself.
Mastering this entire process makes you extremely resilient to deal with changing circumstances. And the one who is most adaptable to change, is the one who is guaranteed to be successful, as Darwin already taught us a few centuries ago.
Although some of these steps might seem counter-intuitive, they have been extremely helpful for me and many of the people working with me. So next time life hits you with a brick in the face, be mindful of how you deal with your circumstances. It will make a world of difference and could save your life.