Being hooked up to all sorts of machines when nobody knew what was going on with me and not knowing if I’d wake up the next day changes things. Relationships being one of them; with friends, family and even the romantic sort.

1. Be vulnerable with yourself and to others

I went from getting everything I worked hard for in my professional career — to being told that I have to go to the ER, then being told that I’m not leaving, being poked and prodded, having the big C bomb dropped on me, being told what my treatment plan looked like and what may happen with my mind and body as a result.

Everything was happening to me. As a recovering control freak, that was difficult. There was nothing I could do to make this go away. It wasn’t something I could strategize and project plan. So, how’s that for being in a vulnerable state?

"Choosing to be vulnerable has taken my existing relationships to more meaningful and progressive levels. It has also helped me form new ones. "

We’ve all been socialised to disassociate vulnerability from strength and power when in actuality, vulnerability is the biggest indicator of courage. It isn’t the easiest thing to get to. In fact, it’s down right scary. Vulnerability means admitting that you don’t know what the hell you’re doing or what’s going on.

It’s admitting that you do not know as much as you thought you knew. It’s acknowledging uncomfortable situations and addressing them. It’s lowering your defense wall. It’s having an open heart and mind. It’s telling someone how you feel knowing that it may not be reciprocated. It’s feeling and speaking from your heart without letting what might happen stop you. All of this requires an incredible amount of bravery, but it’s typically ego that deprives us from going there.

Choosing to be vulnerable has taken my existing relationships to more meaningful and progressive levels. It has also helped me form new ones. My relationships run deep and are more real — and I’m happier and more fulfilled because of it.

Carolyn thanking the hundreds of attendees, sponsors and performers who contributed to the fundraiser at the Virgin Mobile Mod Club that was put on in honour of her in July 2014

2. Purge toxicity out of your life

Being in a situation where nobody knew if I’d wake up the next day had me really evaluate the people and things around me. I know we all preach it, but I had to stare this one dead straight in the eye: Life is short.

Do not – I repeat – do not make room for toxic behaviour and people. Life will have its ways in bringing certain people in to your life, and ridding others. This journey of mine has effectively done the job – without even me trying so hard to move things.

But what I did do was made no excuse for negative behaviour or treatment – and flocked towards all things positive. Sometimes, it’s as simple as that.

3. Be compassionate

Getting cancer is a massive plot twist - even with those around me. It was new to me and to those around me. And even if it wasn’t – every case is so unique. My point is that nobody knew how to handle this – including myself. 

So, trying to play the support role can be full of a whole lot of uncertainty, discomfort and awkwardness. Also, it had those around me look inwards and assess themselves.

As soon as I acknowledged this, I began to grow a new layer of compassion. I became less angry and hurt about certain people not being around — or not around as much as I had expected them to be.

4. Do not make assumptions. Be communicative

You will and won’t need certain kinds of support through this journey. And by the way, the type of support will change at different stages. I know – it’s confusing! Do not assume that people will know how to support you. In fact, I can almost guarantee you that they don’t.

Also, keep in mind that you yourself may not know what kind of support you need, which will make it difficult to ask for specifics, and that’s okay. Knowing that you have your supporters to help you figure it out is a great deal of support in itself.

Carolyn Van is a shi(f)t disturber, marketer, strategic communications specialist and community builder. Last year, in the middle of her non-stop, busy, professional and social life, a big bomb exploded that shattered her and everything around her in to pieces. She was diagnosed with lymphoma cancer and has been candidly sharing her war stories on