Life After Cancer: Regaining Choice and Control

Niamh Gaffney, a breast cancer survivor and now a professional life coach, gave a workshop last weekend at the National Cancer Survivorship Conference on Life After Cancer: Regaining Choice and Control. She joins us today to share her insights on moving forward with your life after your cancer treatment is over.

You’ve finished your cancer treatment. Everyone is cheering your last chemo, it’s time for you to go back to normal.

Thing is, you can’t go back to normal. Quite simply you just aren’t the same person you were before the consultant said it was cancer. You just aren’t that person any more, and no amount of wishing will change that.

You can’t go back, and you don’t know how to go forward, so you’re stuck. You’re in the dark, you’re lost. You look at the person in the mirror and you don’t recognise the person looking back at you.

You didn’t choose cancer. You didn’t choose the lost friends. You didn’t choose the treatment or the pain or the baldness or the weight changes or the fertility worries.

You lost choice. You lost control. You lost you.

What we often don’t get told when we step off the cancer roller-coaster with shaky legs, is this feeling of being lost is NORMAL. You are normal. It is normal to experience a mental and emotional downturn after a cancer treatment. You are supposed to be sad and happy and angry and wistful and mixed-up and frightened and disorientated and whatever other emotions are going on for you right now. Your feelings – whatever they are – are a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. This downturn is as much a side effect of a cancer diagnosis as anything else you’ve undergone. And with any side-effect, it can be treated. Coaching, exercise, counselling, dancing, abseiling, do whatever you need to do to boost your mental and emotional fitness. Do whatever you have to do remind yourself what’s important to you, what you want out of life.

Because the bottom line is, the only person who can give you back choice and control is YOU. The only way to get what you want, to be who you want, to feel how you want is to choose it and go after it – not easy, that’s true, but simple nonetheless.

You choose how to portray what happened to you. You choose how to react.

You can choose to allow the negative self-talk to keep you stuck, or you can choose to challenge those thoughts and take back control, take action.

This is not about being positive all the time – nobody can be positive all the time – it’s unrealistic to be positive all the time. BUT. It is equally unrealistic to think that the opposite is true.




You can choose to see things from a different perspective. By asking ‘How else can I see this’ you are opening yourself up to a whole world of possibilities, of creative solutions, of exciting new opportunities. Stacey Kramer’s Ted Talk ‘The Gift’, above, shows this different perspective beautifully, and the use of gratitude journals, talking with a friend, mindfulness and exercise have all been shown to increase awareness of the mental choices that are available to us.

Taking back control is just putting those choices into action. After an illness such as cancer our confidence levels can be at rock bottom. Confidence naturally comes from action – the more action you take the more competent you become, the more confident you feel. Sometimes however you need a bit of confidence, a bit of a superpower, to give you the boost you need to take that action. A brilliant confidence hack is to stand in your favourite power pose for 2 minutes – Channel your inner Beyonce or Wonderwoman, stand tall with feet hip distance apart, hands on your hips, chest out and breathe in and out in slow deep breaths. Check out Amy Cuddy’s Ted Talk for more info on power poses.

With this new-found confidence choose to take action, choose to take back control. Ask yourself what you can do, and take one tiny step towards that.

We do lose choice and control when we get sick. Things change. Trauma is the change you don’t choose. Healing, however, is the change you do choose. You can heal despite yourself, but oh, how much quicker and more pleasant it is when you choose to take control yourself.

Choose not to prolong your trauma, choose to promote your healing. Choose your life.

Choose. Change. Control.

Niamh Gaffney runs coaching consulting company Directionality. She was 35 and a new mum to a gorgeous 6-month old baby girl when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. In the year that followed, she dealt with surgery, fertility preservation treatment, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and then faced redundancy from her executive level role. The fall-out of that crazy whirlwind of a year was a shock; she seriously struggled with the aftermath, with trying to get back to normal until coaching helped her realise that there was no going back – she needed to find her New Normal. When the dust settled she understood how much coaching could help others in similar situations and so Directionality opened its doors in early 2016.


To find out more about Niamh, visit the Directionality website here or her Facebook page here.

We are delighted to have Niamh onboard as a regular contributor here on Happy Magazine and will be sharing more from her soon.



Leave a Reply