Breast cancer lesson number 85: Bank happiness. You never know when you’ll need to make a withdrawal

I have experienced so many moments of happiness over the last few days at Breast Cancer Care’s Younger Women Together event – so much so I need a while to digest it all – I feel compelled to write about one of them (for now).

Kelly Short, a breast cancer survivor and someone who has moved forward from her diagnosis and treatment in a way that is truly inspirational, took the last session of the day. At one point she used the phrase: ‘Life is what happens while you’re planning something else.’ For someone diagnosed while planning a wedding to her long-term partner, it seems an appropriate phrase to use. And, as someone diagnosed soon after getting engaged, I couldn’t agree more.

Having talked through her experiences – not least a turn on UK TV in makeover show How to Look Good Naked – she touched on two things that are very close to my heart. The first? The fact that life doesn’t start after active treatment, it is going on every day and is there is be seized when you’re well enough to enjoy it. The second? She reinforced the importance of living a life based around gratitude. You can’t change the past, so why spend energy wishing you could. If you’re grateful for what you have, you won’t miss what you don’t.

What am I grateful for today (apart from the opportunity to meet so many women of a similar age tackling similar challenges)? I am grateful for the photo that was sitting on my phone as I was leaving the event. My wonderful fiancée Duncan had sent me a picture of the alliums flowering in our garden and it brought with it the biggest smile. Why, you ask? Alliums are my favourite flowers – and growing them and watching them bloom is number 27 on my brighter life list (click here to view). While it may not be a full garden of flowers, I believe it gives me my first tick on the list. And what a beautiful tick it is! Let’s hope we can add to them in the years to come. That’s nine alliums this year (10 if you count the one that got its head trampled on). Double figures next year!


I have been thinking a lot about happiness over the last few days (having had it restored once my Wednesday chemo was reinstated once more). This is in no small part down to a 92-year-old lady I read about on a blog about kindness. This lady, on moving into a nursing home, took the decision to love her new room based on a description alone. She explained:

“Happiness is something you decide on ahead of time. Whether I like my room or not doesn’t depend on how the furniture is arranged, it’s how I arrange my mind. I already decided to love it. It’s a decision I make every morning when I wake up. I have a choice; I can spend the day in bed recounting the difficulty I have with the parts of my body that no longer work, or get out of bed and be thankful for the ones that do. Each day is a gift, and as long as my eyes open I’ll focus on the new day and all the happy memories I’ve stored away, just for this time in my life.”

She added:

“Old age is like a bank account, you withdraw from what you’ve put in. So, my advice to you would be to deposit a lot of happiness in the bank account of memories. Thank you for your part in filling my memory bank. I am still depositing.”

What an amazing lady (you can read the whole blog here) – and certainly not the only one I have encountered this week. I am certainly depositing happiness and hope that by the time I reach my old age I’ll be rich in memories. I also think I might make a few tactical withdrawals on the way. Invested wisely, I hope these moments of happiness will enrich not just my old age, but my every day.

To you, my allium is just one of making spring flowers trying to make its mark. For me, it’s a living reminder of all that is good in the world. It grew because I planted it. It flowered because I nurtured it. It makes me smile, because it went into the ground on a cold, dark day at the end of 2013 when I had cancer developing in my breast. It pushed through the earth, and it now stands tall. I am pushing as hard as I can through chemo, and I remain strong. Its colour will fade, but the memory of it will stay with me forever (in fact I hope to dry it and use it as a Christmas decoration).

Whether it’s a flower in the garden, a tasty meal or a thoughtful card through the door (I got a couple of really special ones this week) put it in the happiness bank. Be grateful for every deposit. Save up those smiles because one day, you might just need to make a very large withdrawal!