Our Keepsake Journal is Here! 🎉

People often ask, “What did you learn from having cancer?”

How do I even begin to cover all the things I learned from even just the waiting for a life changing thing? How do I explain what I learned from putting my life in the hands of doctors, nurses, God, family, and friends? How do I possibly tell you how I look at the world so incredibly different through my cancer-spectacles? How do I sum it up?

Wear the damn swimsuit. 

When I was 13, I got my first real bikini. It was blue and white gingham with a yellow daisy in the middle. I remember being so excited to wear the suit for the first time because the amount of padding almost made me look like I had a little more in my bust than just buds.

And then I saw my friends in their suits. And my spirit was crushed. I was 13 and I already felt like my body was inadequate. Not enough. Lackluster.

When I was 17, I grew hips. I had begged for some curves for years and they settled on my thighs and my waist. These were not the curves I’d envisioned when I’d submitted my requests. And I immediately felt like I got the shaft.

I rarely wore shorts for almost a decade. From my late teens to my late 20s, it was more common to find me in jeans or skirts or dresses in the summer months. I bemoaned the physique I’d been “given” and decided I would rather be sweaty and hot than let anyone catch a glimpse of the cottage cheese city that seemed to be part of my DNA.

I had babies and during pregnancy, I felt beautiful. I would tell people that, too. Like it felt okay to admit that I felt like I had beauty because I was harboring a human. I was legit glowing and the curves felt like they were in all the right places and I didn’t compare my body to anyone else’s because I was growing humans. And that felt like a miraculous situation for my vessel that I’d berated for so many years.

The babies were on and off and on and off and on and off. My body changed. As bodies do with time and age and babies. Over and over. And over and over. And I dreaded swimsuit season. Every year, even if I put on a suit, I dreaded the times when my thighs and my stomach would be on display next to others.

I’ve been “fit and healthy”… “sick and skinny”… and I’ve been truly healthy and had a little more meat on my bones. And the reality is, there are really big things worth fearing in this world. And yet I feared my swimsuit.

My body has been torn all apart and put back together. I’ve gone through something that made me think maybe I wouldn’t know this body of mine anymore. That I’d only be a soul wandering around.

And I wonder now, what did I miss because I wouldn’t wear the damn swimsuit?! Because I had more anxiety at times over the thought of wearing a suit than I did when I rode up in a plane and skydived down? Even more importantly, I’ve realized this: if in my 35 years, there hasn’t been a year in more than 3 decades that I can recall being one hundred percent “comfortable” in a suit, then I’m the one holding myself back. I’m the one comparing my legs and stomach and booty. And I gotta let it go. If I want to truly live in the moment of the moments, I’ve got to Elsa the situation.

And so I must tell you. What I learned from cancer. Is this. All of this.

Wear the damn swimsuit. Wear it. If you want to be in on the action. Splashing with kiddos. Soaking up the sun. Not caring if you get soaked. Not caring that your thighs are friends. 

But the swimsuit… it leads to so much more. So many ways we don’t really live it up because… because. 

So don’t just wear the swimsuit. In fact, if swimming isn’t your thing then…

Eat the donut. 

Dance when there’s no dance floor. 

Sing like you’re on the Voice. In the shower. In your car. On the stage. 

Take an evening jog when the sun is just starting to set and the chill of the night is mixing with the warmth of the day. 

Tell someone thank you. Call someone. And say… thank you. 

Snuggle just a little longer. Let the dishes wait. There will always be dishes. 

Write. And share. And tell your story. You’re the only you there is. 

Travel to see the world through your eyes. Or even just the neighboring town. 

Figure out where you came from. What your roots are. What those who came before you did to make sure you could be here. 

Sing out loud in church. Pray for someone you don’t even know. Love one another. 

Learn to cook your favorite food. Or find the place where you like it best. And eat it. 

Read the words you love voraciously. And never feel guilty for not getting the laundry done because you were reading. There will always be laundry. 

Watch your favorite flicks from your childhood. And prepare to feel like you’re 9 again. 

Lay in the grass and let your puppy pounce all over you. 

Look up. At the clouds. At the sky. At heaven. Soak up all that is bigger than you. 

Spend time with people who make you laugh. Cry. Feel. Those are your people. 

Do a cannon ball into the cold pool. Skinny dip. Let loose. 

Milk a goat. Touch a snake. Hold a bird. Catch lightning bugs in a jar. See and feel and experience nature and all the creatures around you. 

Put a plant on your desk. Or a little lamp. Or a candle that you love. Make your space a place that you love. Or at least one that feels a little like yours

Try a totally new thing. It could be crimping your hair or switching up your deodorant. Try something new. 

Go golfing. Take up tap dancing. Water ski. Register for a 5k. Do something to surprise your body and your muscles and your agility. 

Eat fresh food. Food that tastes new. And bold. And just savor the flavors. 

Sweat. From running. From biking. From dancing. From laughing. 

Kiss. Hug. Hold a hand. Have a cup of coffee across from someone who makes you think. Connect to other humans. 

When something comes at you that you want to do but fear is holding you back, get off the pool deck and make a splash.

Live the day. Whatever that means for you. Live the day. 

Shine your own light. Cut through the darkness.

Life is shorter than short. No matter how long yours gets to be. Wear the damn swimsuit. 

This article was originally posted on Baby on the Brehm

So God Made a Mother book by Leslie Means

If you liked this, you'll love our book, SO GOD MADE A MOTHER available now!

Order Now

Check out our new Keepsake Companion Journal that pairs with our So God Made a Mother book!

Order Now
So God Made a Mother's Story Keepsake Journal

Ashli Brehm

Ashli Brehm = Thirtysomething. Nebraska gal. Life blogger. Husker fan. Creative writer. Phi Mu sister. Breast cancer survivor. Boymom. Premie carrier. Happy wife. Gilmore Girls fanatic. Amos Lee listener. Coffee & La Croix drinker. Sarcasm user. Jesus follower. Slipper wearer. Funlover. Candle smeller. Yoga doer. Pinterest failer. Anne Lamott reader. Tribe member. Goodness believer. Life enthusiast. Follow me at http://babyonthebrehm.com/

The Hardest Prayer I Ever Prayed

In: Cancer, Grief, Loss, Motherhood
Bald-headed little girl in hospital bed with her mama, color photo

Trigger warning: Child loss I had a plan for summertime fun with my children. We had just returned from a week-long road trip to the Grand Canyon. I intentionally planned to fill the rest of the summer with activities that would chase away boredom. Craft supplies had been purchased, day trips had been planned, and we were just beginning a week of Vacation Bible School. Excitement was in the air! Yet a tiny nagging fear kept resurfacing: Was there something wrong with my 2-year-old? Ever since she turned two back in the fall, she had become fussy. Our healthy, happy...

Keep Reading

Cancer Taught Me to Open My Hand

In: Cancer, Faith, Motherhood
Woman in cancer treatment holding a young child's hand

When I thought I was going to die, grief blinded me. Not really for myself. I’ve had a pretty good run. Reflecting on my life, it’s easy for me to see that my stroll into adulthood was leisurely. In college, I studied literature, a luxurious indulgence. Even as a naive 20-year-old, I understood the extravagance of being able to sit under a tree and read, albeit in sweltering Missouri heat. I studied the world’s literary masterpieces while sweat trickled down my back, mosquitoes nipped at hard-to-reach places, and the MBA students on campus wondered what I was doing. But those...

Keep Reading

“Wear It Anyway, You Never Know When You’ll Get Another Chance.”

In: Cancer, Friendship, Living
Two women holding up dresses, color photo

“It’s way too fancy,” I told my husband. “I’d be overdressed.” My new outfit was a beauty—white and lacy, perfect for a summer cocktail party, but too much for a school function on a Tuesday evening. In the back of my head, though, I heard my friend’s voice. Wear it anyway. You never know when you’ll get another chance. The last time I saw Shalean, I was bloated from chemo drugs, and both of us wondered if it would be the last time we’d see each other. My prognosis was bad: triple negative breast cancer, already spread to my lymph...

Keep Reading

This Is How to Show Up for a Friend Who Has Cancer

In: Cancer, Friendship, Living
Bald woman during cancer treatments and same woman in remission, color photo

One moment I was wrestling with my toddler and rocking my 3-month-old to sleep, and the next I was staring blankly at the doctor who just told me I had stage four cancer that had metastasized from my uterus to my left lung and spleen. “Well, I didn’t see that coming,” I smiled at the young doctor who had clearly never given this kind of news to anyone before. I looked over at my husband’s shell-shocked face as he rocked our baby back and forth in the baby carrier because I was still nursing, and we knew we’d be at...

Keep Reading

I Never Wanted to Be a Hospital Mom

In: Cancer, Motherhood
Toddler standing with IV pole, black-and-white photo

Life as a hospital mom is not a life for just anyone. You have no other choice, there is no get-out-free card you can just put down and say, “Nope, Lord, I do not want this, take it back.” My heart hurts 99 percent of the time. My heart hurts for my child and the pain he is suffering. A necessary evil to keep him on the side of Heaven’s gates.  My heart hurts from the unknown of each day. Will he eat? Will he thrive today? What utter chaos will be thrown our way today? Will there be vomit...

Keep Reading

Cancer Is Weird

In: Cancer, Living
Woman smiling, color photo

Cancer is weird. For 3.5 years I looked into the mirror and didn’t recognize the person looking at me.  First, it was scared eyes. My eyes had lost the look in them that made me feel invincible. I had learned I wasn’t.  A week or so later, I saw the cut on my chest for my port. Then it was a bald head. Then a bald, steroid filled, and puffed up faced person looking at me. RELATED: This is What Cancer Looks Like Sometimes it was a teary-eyed, defeated person. Someone who had been up all night in pain.  I...

Keep Reading

Please Don’t Let My Baby Die

In: Cancer, Motherhood
Toddler boy lying in hospital bed, color photo

I wasn’t made for this.  I am not strong enough. Lord, where are you taking me? Why does this joyful time, filled with our last baby’s firsts, have to be this way? Why did the doctors look at me that way? They know what’s coming, and deep down inside, so do I. The inevitable word that is about to come out of their mouths.  The C-word.  Cancer. It’s life-changing.  Almost as if it were a car accident. Believe me, I know about that. To be the reason behind a grown man hanging onto a thread. Completely unintentional. I just needed...

Keep Reading

The Art of Showing Up

In: Cancer, Kids
Dad hugging young son

As a father of four boys, you may imagine that life is hectic from time to time for me.  While it truly is, in fact, quite crazy sometimes, it isn’t always because of the reasons you might think.  I have four boys, ages 11, 4, 3, and almost 2, and that certainly makes for an interesting daily living experience for my wife and me.  We do our best to remain patient and lean on God’s strength and peace to fill us on the days that seem overly daunting and occasionally even downright impossible, but we are human.  Therefore, we fail...

Keep Reading

No One Prepares You for When Your Husband Has Cancer

In: Baby, Cancer, Marriage
Family sitting by window

No one ever prepares you for the moment you hear your spouse has cancer.   More so, no one prepares for you to hear this when you have a 5-month-old at home. “Mom, they said the tumor is cancerous, and they need to enucleate his eye on Thursday,” I say quietly into the phone as I pump in a dirty bathroom stall at the eye hospital.   Whir. Whir. Whir. Whir. Gosh, I hate pumping.  Today is my first day being away from my daughter. My mom is watching her while I made the trip to the eye hospital with...

Keep Reading

l Will Never Stop Missing My Sister

In: Cancer, Grief, Loss
Woman in red shirt

It might be 16 years too late to properly depict the depressive senses that engulfed my whole being when I lost my only sister Aurora to colon cancer in 2006. Painful flashbacks continue to fill my everyday life at the most inopportune moments that  writing about it might somehow alleviate my grief. I remember getting that random phone call from her one sunny day in September 2006 and how guilt automatically hit me. It had been a while since I last saw her. “It’s positive,” she said. Backed with years of joking around and playing tricks on her since childhood,...

Keep Reading