Breast cancer lesson number nineteen: Cherish the small victories; there’s a team of people helping you achieve the big ones

When I think about happiness, I don’t think about two-week breaks in the sun, new cars (I still have my blue Nissan Micra from 1999), material items or grand romantic gestures (that’s lucky given I’ve only ever had one box of Valentine’s chocs in my life). Happiness to me is a little moment in time that makes me smile. It might be the smell of honey-roasted ham on Christmas Eve. It might be the warmth of the fire on a Sunday afternoon. It might be the sound of a funny TFL announcer on the way to work – or even, just a hot cup of tea and a mouthful of NHS mash. Happiness isn’t hard to find; you just need to a) know where to look and b) want to look!


This sign above on a ledge by my stairs, reminds me to seek out the small pleasures on a daily basis. When I apply this to life right now, I know there’s no point me thinking about the cancer, the chemo and the possibility of never being able to have a child (just a selection of the big things). There are far more qualified people focusing on those aspects. No, my focus has to be on filling each day with a selection of small victories and fun memories, so that each day, I get that bit stronger and that bit happier. Then, when the big things come along, I can smile even when the lights are out.

Interestingly, a great film I watched the other day reinforced this life view: About Time. I should have read the plot synopsis beforehand (front-fastening bras and cancer make the storyline – oops), but once it had finished, I didn’t think about sadness or death. I don’t want to ruin the film for those who love a good rom com, but, let’s just say, the main character learned to look for the beauty in every moment and celebrate the people and the colour that define his life. He bathed in the detail and made the most of each moment. That made him a hero in my book.

I’d be the first to admit that when times are not so hard, it is difficult to savour each moment, however small – it’s often hard to find time to do the washing up let alone enjoy the bubbles why you’re doing it. But, given it’s a Sunday and you should be taking it easy, now is as good a time as any to give it a go.

So, here are a selection of small victories and happy moments from the last few days to help you think about the little luxuries that have the power the lift you.

1) Celebrating the details: when life forces you to walk slowly, every journey is a voyage of discovery. Yesterday, on a walk up a familiar road I saw things I’d never seen before – from interesting pot plants and funny signs to funky curtain fabrics and quirky door knockers. There is a slight downside to this. I also seem to see or hear about cancer everywhere I go. When I was waiting for the biopsy results, every train carriage had a cancer advert. My mum was reading a book yesterday that suddenly became all about breast cancer. Even Eastenders is having a go. I think I may need to filter out a few of the details!

2) Conquering those socks: ok, so unless you’ve had major surgery recently or are heavily pregnant, I doubt this will be enough to raise a smile. But, for me, it is today’s small victory. Next stop is getting my trainers out and tying the laces properly (daring I know!).

3) Smiling when the post arrives: sift out the bills and the unsolicited clothing catalogues and there is usually something smiling back at me from the doormat each day. I love sending cards and letters and I vow to do even more of this now.

4) Watching a film on a Friday afternoon: now, I am not advocating a duvet day, but doing things that are out of routine, are pretty liberating. I have been subjecting mum to my back catalogue of soppy films to save Duncan and we are laughing and crying through the day. It’s perfect – and it doesn’t cost a thing.

5) Welcoming the knock at the door: salesmen, religious champions and workmen have been replaced with delivery men, florists and postmen with parcels. I almost jumped for joy when my new post-surgery bra arrived the other day. These little punctuations in the day are welcome and wonderful.

6) Cherishing the power of words: each day I am moved by a beautiful text (until my phone decides to automatically delete it), a wonderful post or even a little ‘like’ on social media. Whether it’s a close friend, someone from my past or a friendly face sharing a moving moment from their life, each one touches me more than I will ever be able to say. Messages can be a powerful thing. The best thing is to reach out to someone when they least expect it. Try it with someone you haven’t contacted for a while, it will make you smile too. 

7) Enjoying the comfort of cosy things: if there aren’t enough fluffy things in your life (by which I mean comfy cushions, slankets, fluffy slippers or fleece-lined clothes), it’s time to reevaluate. I many not be able to wear my onesie currently, but I am loving the feel of soft things against my swollen and scarred skin.

8) Smiling down at my engagement ring: getting engaged on Christmas Day will always be one of the happiest moments of my life. The Champagne may be on ice, but the cards are still up and every day I look down at my finger I look forward to day I get to walk down the aisle and thank all the friends and relatives who have helped make Duncan and I the people are today. It may not be a ring or a trinket, but having something close to you that reminds you what you’re fighting for in life and gives you hope, is something to be treasured.

9) Opening the chocolate cupboard: even with a love of chocolate, I was still unable to chomp through all the amazing treats offered to me when I was trying to fatten up for surgery. While I now need to keep the calories at bay, I am enjoying the ritual of choosing two things from the chocolate cupboard each day (may have to increase this slightly, however, given the rate Duncan is munching through J).

10) Emptying the dishwasher: not something you might wish to shout about on the average day, but when you’re stuck in a corset with a hip-to-hip scar, just picking out a pan and a mug is a revelation and a sign that a normal life is within reach.

Happiness is an ordinary day that makes you feel extraordinary. Try it, feel it, and even spotting sunshine through the clouds will make you feel happy to be alive.