5 Things I Learned from Having Cancer - URBANETTE: Lifestyle Magazine & Blog


5 Things I Learned from Having Cancer

Not everyone is lucky enough to have –and learn from– cancer in their early 30’s.


Not everyone is lucky enough to get –and beat– cancer in their early 30’s. Sound like a strange thing to say? I don’t think it is. Let me explain why.

5 Things I Learned from Having Cancer

After surviving cancer, I’m still sometimes afraid of dying young, but I have a lot more clarity around many areas of my life.

I’d been feeling low-energy for a few months, and had been getting crazy 4-day-long crippling migraines. That, coupled with an itchy rash that kept me up all night every night scratching, had me feeling like I was in my early 80’s, not my early 30’s. I went to see doctor after doctor who prescribed various pharmaceuticals that did nothing to make me feel better — or only helped temporarily. Two doctors even insisted that I had “chronic Lyme Disease” and tried to get me to go on aggressive courses of antibiotics (which I declined, I’m happy to say).

Finally, after over a year of this, I learned that I’d have to take my health into my own hands if I was to get better, and I started doing a ton of online research. I’d like to say it was me who figured out that I had cancer, but it was, in fact, my mother’s startlingly effective research skills that cracked this case almost a year and a half after I first got sick, and started me on my long journey of recovery.

5 Things I Learned from Having Cancer

Me, getting yet another round of tests

Here are five reasons why –although having cancer was certainly a harrowing experience not only for me, but for my family– I actually feel lucky to have gone through it:

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A writer, artist, and designer since she was young enough to put pencil to paper, Hilary taught herself code and created Urbanette when she was a teenager. Currently, she lives in Monte Carlo, but spent the past decade living in NYC, still considers herself a New Yorker, and visits regularly. She's always traveling, looking for hot new topics, destinations, and life hacks to bring to Urbanette readers.

Reader Discussion: 144 Comments

  1. Jenny Garett

    If ever you will notice and detect signs of cancer you must immediately consult a doctor for treatment.

  2. Hazel Collins

    Thank you for sharing your story with us!
    When you notice symptoms, consult and seek medical help from experts and ask for treatments. One should not ignore the signs they are experiencing and if detected early there is a big chance of treatment and preventing it to worsen. Also a person who also have klinefer syndrome, which is a rare genetic condition can lead to gynecomastia and also increase a man’s risk of getting breast cancer. Breast Cancer is a malignant tumor which starts from cells in their breasts (group of cells that may expanse and invade into its surrounding tissues and other body parts) Yes breast cancer is mostly seen at women, but men can have it too. And for some they do not realize that they already have it because they ignored the symptoms.

  3. Wendy Hearn

    Cancer makes u a better person, u feel the pain of others, u meet new people who r in the same boat, they inspire u and u inspire them just try to give them hope that will make YOU feel much better when u see them smile because u gave them positive energy.

  4. Melani Kalev

    Thank you for sharing your personal story! And well done you and your mother having done the necessary research. Glad to have you with us!

  5. Having a positive attitude about life is crucial even through hard times. I enjoyed reading about your journey because I think we all are connected when it comes to prevailing hardship. Thank you for this piece; you inspired me to make health more of a priority 🙂

  6. There’s a very cool woman who made a bunch of cards for people to give to their friend who has cancer. They’re brilliant, and her story is touching: http://info.emilymcdowell.com/empathy-cards-for-serious-illness/

  7. Sounds like a harrowing experience, but you took it the best way possible. What a great outlook on life. You should be able to sail through if you continue to think like that!

  8. Jill Jones

    It is always inspiring to read of someone taking something so many see as ‘negative’ and finding the positives within it. So much of what we experience, depends on the choices we make about how to respond and keep responding as we step forwards. You show this wonderfully. I studied for a Masters in Applied Positive Psychology a few years ago and learned of an interesting phenomenon called ‘post traumatic growth’. It has been found that many people actually experience a period of enhanced growth in their lives in response to a trauma, rather than the opposite. I found this extremely ‘hope-giving’ for everyone. The more individuals (like you) that can demonstrate and share a positive response to something usually perceived negatively, the better. It helps more and more people understand it is possible and they can create improved experiences for themselves, should they ever encounter a similar challenge. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts.

    • Thank you so much for the comment! There’s a great book called Antifragile, which is all about the concept of getting stronger through pain and adversity. It’s definitely a practice… but very much life-enhancing (and lengthening!) 🙂 xo

  9. I’m glad you’ve handled it well, Hilary! I’ve lost some friends to cancer. And I also know a lot who were able to fight it and live normal and healthy afterward. I must say you’re doing great. People are supporting you, stay strong 🙂

  10. Sarah Evanston

    Just wanted to let you know that I’ve been following your writing for years now and you’re a true inspiration. Thanks for being such an honest writer!

    • Thank you! I hope that writing about important issues and being honest about my experiences will help remove the stigma about things like cancer. I’m not ashamed to have been sick — I see it as a positive, so maybe after reading this, others will too 🙂

      • Francis Woods

        Hilary – It certainly made me think twice about the hard things I’ve been through. Thanks for the new perspective!

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