Do you ever feel lost for words when a friend or colleague is facing a serious challenge in their lives?

Do you know anyone who has been struck down with cancer? Anyone who might be on that journey at the moment? A young person needing encouragement? Someone, especially a teenager, struggling to adapt to the results of suffering from cancer or some other serious illness?

I was struck down with cancer at the age of nine and underwent some radiation treatment (2.5 times the adult dose), followed by significant major surgery during the next couple of years and then again when I was 18.

My parents were told that I probably had two years to live and, during these two years, my mother died suddenly.

Thankfully, I survived the cancer and now, over 50 years later, reflecting on my life journey to date, I happily share 10 Life Lessons that I have learnt, through trial and error, highs and lows, over the years and which helped me through challenging adolescent years as I came to terms with my disfigurement and responded to it.

I share these experiences with teenagers I mentor, encouraging them to keep on keeping on through the confusing adolescent years, especially when the odds are stacked against them, and also with adults who are facing challenges and just need some words of encouragement.

As I continue to follow these key tips, I keep learning the importance of living a positive life journey filled with HOPE, leading a life of meaning and purpose with a strong sense of serving others, while valuing the unconditional love and care from those closest to me.

Anyone who has suffered from cancer or another life-threatening illness, will know the challenges one experiences when they try and overcome these times of adversity and enjoy success – yes, even those small victories.

Here’s what my life experiences have taught me:

  1. Attitude – never forget that you choose your attitude and how you respond to all that life throws at you. The choices you make will ultimately determine your future. Live in HOPE and work hard at carrying a positive, constructive attitude into everything you do and into all your meaningful relationships. Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankel sums this point up better than anyone: “Everything can be taken from a man or woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitudes in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
  2. Passion/s – identify your passion or passions. If you could do anything you wanted today and had all the qualifications you needed, what would you choose to do? That’s likely to be your passion – do something with it! Create dreams and chase them! Windows of opportunity will open for you as you move out of your comfort zone.
  3. Self-discipline – build a disciplined, healthy and balanced lifestyle into all you do e.g., 7 – 9 hours’ sleep a night (depending on your age); a balanced lifestyle (at least 30 minutes of exercise every second day); manage your time well (time to work, time to study, time to reflect, time to eat, time to socialize and relax, time to exercise, time to follow an interest or hobby, time to sleep); follow a healthy diet – breakfast is an important meal to give the brain the energy it needs to get through the day; say ‘no’ to drugs and alcohol abuse (so you don’t damage your brain during crucial developmental times), cigarettes, vaping, and inappropriate behavior.
  4. Goal-getting – be a goal getter. Experiment with different methods of reaching your goal/s until you find what works best for you. Share your ideals, passion/s and goals with someone you trust who will become your non-judgmental cheerleader. Draw up a clear action plan and take small steps initially. Take ownership of your goals and envision yourself achieving them today e.g., “I feel excited as I …..!” Research suggests that those who set goals achieve much. Include a goal that sees you reaching out to others and expecting nothing in return and you will discover many more positive qualities about yourself. Sometimes a simple gesture such as a friendly smile directed at a stranger or a peer can change their day. Be proud of all you achieve and always remain humble.
  5. Relationships – keep building your relationships and networks with friends, family, other adults/peers (teachers, coaches, work colleagues etc.) and employers. When you surround yourself with positive friends you will have a greater chance of reaching your unique potential. Positive friends know right from wrong – always choose your friends carefully and let trust develop over time. Find a mentor who will be a non-judgmental and caring wise guide; your consistent cheerleader. Be a team player – a sure way to develop positive relationships; have role models in your life; be an encouragement to others; turn obstacles into opportunities, and reach out to those in need.
  6. Communicate – work consistently hard at developing and improving your communication skills. Become a brilliant listener, a motivator, encourager, cheerleader and inspiration to others. Develop a positive vocabulary, watch your body language and radiate unconditional love, care and compassion towards others. Show empathy, be genuine and respectful and people will value your contributions to their lives. Also learn how and when to be vulnerable in a safe and secure environment, allowing others to gain a deeper understanding of your feelings. Strive at all times to be a person of integrity, someone who keeps their word and who others can trust and depend on. Be respectful of yourself and others. Be quick to sincerely forgive those who wrong you, even if you struggle to forget.
  7. Conflict – conflict is part of daily life. Learn how to turn conflict into a positive learning and growth experience. Deal with it without violating another’s rights and don’t run away from conflict situations. Develop mediation skills. Become a healer, a change-agent and peacemaker where there is tension, pain, misunderstanding and suffering.
  8. Failure – don’t fear failure. It’s from failure that you will learn so much more about yourself and your God-given talents and abilities. Move out of your comfort zone if the challenge is not life-threatening. The key is to learn from the experience. Engrave into your being that every obstacle can be turned into an opportunity if you are prepared to think creatively, seek the guidance and wisdom of those you trust and have the patience to work towards something, rather than expect a quick-fix solution or instant gratification.
  9. Persevere – don’t quit! Go the extra mile even if you have to sweat a little, make some sacrifices (of social life, perhaps) or commit yourself to something for a little longer. You will be amazed at what can be achieved when you do this. Take time out each day to think about how you are doing, what you are doing, why you are doing it and what lessons can be learnt. 10 minutes each day of personal reflection could make a significant difference to the way you cope with life’s challenges.
  10. Celebrate – celebrate the small and big victories; the times you achieve a relatively simple goal or achieve a long-term, major goal or when you successfully make it through a tough challenge. Never lose your sense of humor. Laugh often (at yourself especially!). Have fun! Remember the importance of gratitude at such special times – always express your genuine thanks to all who share their gold nuggets of wisdom and experience with you or offer you a helping hand.

As you journey through life, work hard at your ‘mirror talk’ – love the person you see in the mirror each day. Remember you are unique and special and no-one else has your specific gifts and talents. It’s a fact – never forget that. Ignore those who tell you otherwise. Remind yourself every day, “I am lovable and capable,” and you will keep developing your strengths and resilience.

Your story can inspire others and, despite your imperfections, you can become a light in their darkness, sowing seeds of HOPE, setting aflame the hearts of struggling souls to overcome their personal challenges and reach their potential.

Do you have a story to share? A word to inspire others who might be struggling at the moment?

Do you need some encouragement? I have had the privilege of being able to gather so many of my life experiences in five books which have been published during the past five years, all aimed at encouraging others with messages of HOPE, increasingly important as we enter a post-pandemic era. We have the power to change the global narrative and create a more compassionate and caring global community in which every life matters.

Who can you encourage today?