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5 Ways Breast Cancer Taught Me To Manage My Chronic Stress

I didn’t sleep well either because I was always worrying about something or because I just didn’t feel all that well. I had a hunch that something was wrong, but didn’t know what.

I knew that my work had a lot to do with it. I am an OB-GYN, and becoming one was both a life dream and the hardest job in and of itself. Over 10 years, there were extremely long hours that while gratifying at first, eventually shifted until I was completely miserable.

More: 5 Important ways to protect yourself from stress

And then I found a lump. I wasn’t looking for it and how I found it was completely coincidental. I was kneeling to pick up something off the floor when my breast squashed between my knee and my chest wall, and there it was. It was big, an inch at least, particularly as it seemed to have come out of nowhere.

My initial reaction was one of complete denial. I thought to myself that this couldn’t be anything bad. I’m too young and healthy. I ate well, exercised, had no significant family history that would contribute to this being anything more than a cyst.

I knew what a cyst felt like though, and this wasn’t a cyst.

After an evaluation that included an exam, ultrasound, mammogram and biopsy, my worst fears were confirmed — I had breast cancer.

More: Is This Bra the Future of Cancer Detection?

Within an hour of finding out while at work, I walked out and never went back. I could not take care of other people while in the midst of my own health crisis; I needed to heal myself.

To do that, I had to make some changes. What changes did I make to feel happier and healthier than I did before cancer?

Reduce stress factors

Easier said than done, of course. For starters, I quit my job. That job as an OB-GYN, the one that I had worked so hard to achieve, was making me miserable and sick. I couldn’t fathom subjecting my body to more stress than it was already going to go through. I know quitting may not be possible for everyone, but try to hack your schedule as much as possible so that stress reduction becomes a nonnegotiable for you.


I respect the need for sleep, and now I’m able to prioritize getting enough of it. For me, both quitting a job that kept me up at night and setting up a sleep schedule helped normalize my sleep habits. If you’re going to try implementing a sleep schedule, ensure that you have at least seven hours to sleep and that you’re going to bed and waking up every day at the same time.


I struggle with this one, which means it’s one I learned to be extra intentional about. Every morning, I RPM: rise, pee, meditate. Doing it first thing is a good start to my day because if I don’t, I will forget. If you need some guiding on the meditation front, try Headspace or Inscape — both apps that you can download to your phone!

Be mindful

This is a catch phrase of the health and wellness community. For me, it is a reminder to live in the present. Before my breast cancer diagnosis, I knew my life was passing me by, yet I couldn’t seem to stop and smell the roses. Now, by reminding myself of the things I have, I can slow down and enjoy them.

More: What happens after a breast cancer diagnosis?


During my treatment for breast cancer four years ago, a common piece of advice was to write in a journal. At first, I would complain about all the lousy things that happen when you’re getting chemotherapy, but after a short time, I found I did not want to complain anymore. After this shift, I started writing about some negative things, but would always end up finding the positive.

These are five of the things I did to heal myself, but they aren’t the only way to heal yourself or combat stress.

It has now been four years since my breast cancer diagnosis, and I can confirm that the course of my life was completely changed. The vast majority of those changes have all been for the best, and I have the rest of my life to be grateful.

By Katie Killoran

Originally published on HelloFlo.

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