There came a point in my cancer journey where I decided it was time to take care of me. After being diagnosed with breast cancer, dealing with infections and long-term antibiotics, side effects from medications as well as seven surgeries, I needed someone to talk to who really understood what I had been through and the aftermath.

I have had cancer twice, but after my second cancer, my outlook on life, relationships, etc., changed tremendously, but in a good way. Unfortunately, I often felt alone in my healing — very misunderstood by most. Those who truly understood me were fellow cancer survivors and medical staff, whom I am forever grateful to know and have in my corner.

I reached out to Froedtert Hospital and was fortunate enough to see psycho-oncologists on staff. At probably my third session, I was told what I was experiencing was post-traumatic growth, a term I was unfamiliar with. Once it was explained to me, a light bulb went on and I felt such a sense of relief! A sense of self. A sense of peace.

When people experience tragedy, a major life crisis or a highly stressful event, they may experience positive change from tragedy. Transformation if you will. It could be a change in their sense of self, relationships, their life in general, etc. It is positive personal change … it is post-traumatic growth! I left my therapist's office that day and felt like a new person. Like I finally understood why I felt like such a different person — in a very good way. And more importantly, why it was OK.

I made a choice to be more fully alive than ever before! To live a life that makes me happy inside. To make plans to enjoy this life more and more each and every day. To simplify so I don't feel anchored. To move to a smaller town, which is a work in process! To create healthy boundaries as needed. To stop saying I would like to do this or go here someday and instead just do it or start making plans! To be more spontaneous. And … to spoil myself a little bit, which is something that is still very hard for me to do.

I don't know what tomorrow will bring. I don't know if I will live to be 50, 60, 70 or beyond. What I do know is I made a choice to be more fully alive, and it is the best choice I have ever made in my entire life. I will waste no time. I am happier than I have ever been, enjoying this journey called life, and cannot wait to experience what tomorrow brings!

Post-traumatic growth is another "gift" from cancer. Understanding it is enlightening. Living it is absolutely amazing. I would never wish cancer on anyone, not even my worst enemy. However, I do wish people could experience and understand the growth and "gifts" that come from such a diagnosis. Cancer was a blessing!

Share Your Thoughts

Did you experience post-traumatic growth during or after treatment? Did it change how you live your life? Share your thoughts below.

About the Author

Jennifer Pichelman was born in Racine, Wis. She graduated from Concordia University Wisconsin with an undergraduate degree in business management and communication. She recently celebrated 25 years with a manufacturing company in Racine and currently works in marketing. Jennifer was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma in 1994 and underwent chemotherapy and radiation. Due to the radiation to her chest, Jennifer was told she had an increased risk of breast cancer, which her oncologist diligently screened for with mammograms and breast MRI's. She remained cancer free until December of 2012, when she was diagnosed with a secondary cancer, breast cancer. When a small mass was discovered after a mammogram, deep down Jennifer knew she had breast cancer. After biopsy results came back, Jennifer was formally diagnosed on Dec. 28, 2012 -- 3 days after Christmas.