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When Life Gets Hard: Keep Moving Forward, One Step at a Time

By

Man at Night

“You just do it. You force yourself to get up. You force yourself to put one foot before the other, and darn it, you refuse to let it get to you. You fight. You cry. You curse. Then you go about the business of living. That’s how I’ve done it. There’s no other way.” ~Elizabeth Taylor

Most of us will experience hard choices, stressful events, and difficult situations that will impact us in one way or another for the rest of our lives.

Hard times happen. They teach us lessons, make us stronger, and give us a deeper sense of self. After all, would sitting in the sun mean as much if you hadn’t of experienced the storm first?

Within the past six years I’ve experienced what can only be called “hard times.”

I lost my stepmother to advanced melanoma in August of 2009. Soon after, I was diagnosed with a rare pancreatic cyst, followed by months of testing and an eventual distal pancreatectomy with splenectomy in November of 2010 for the removal of same.

I developed massive complications followed by three more operations and over six months of recovery, with more surgeries still to come.

At the same time, I tested positive for a BRCA1 mutation, which led to a long period of intense screening, doctor consultations, and decision-making regarding what possible surgical steps I needed to look at in order to be proactive in prevention.

I then made a job change after twelve and half years with the same firm. Within a few months of starting with my new firm, my elderly father had a heart attack, was hospitalized, and then spent months rehabilitating. I was his primary caretaker.

Shortly after, in May of 2013, I was diagnosed with stage 1a triple-negative breast cancer, underwent a lumpectomy and five months of chemotherapy, lost all of my hair, and developed a severe blood clot.

At the end of 2013, less than a month after finishing chemo, I elected to have double-mastectomies. In February of 2014, while I was still recovering from bilateral mastectomy surgery, my father fell in his home and suffered a severe head injury.

This led to a long hospital stay and, finally, a move to a nursing home. Then came the arduous task of cleaning out his house and taking care of his debt-ridden estate. Oh, did I mention personal bankruptcy following my cancer treatment and mastectomies?

I didn’t put all of this out there to whine or say “poor me.” But I do know this is quite a lot to go through, particularly in the short span of only a little over half a decade.

My rare cyst, surgeries, complications, blood clot, and cancer tried to kill me, but they didn’t. The stress alone could have killed me, but it hasn’t.

The countless demanding decisions could have pulled me under, but they haven’t. All the emotions and, at times, overwhelming depression might have taken me out too, but I didn’t let them. I keep living; keep moving forward, one step, one day, and one situation at a time.

My father had been on hospice care for several months. He passed away on December 3, 2014. I’m still in the midst of grieving, but I’m glad to have developed some tools to help me along the way.

1. Confront your struggles head on.

We want to bury our heads in the sand and pretend everything is fine, as if these bad things aren’t happening to us. We try to numb ourselves from the pain and reality of the situation. I know I do this. But eventually, you have to face it head on. There is no other way.

There will be times of great heartache when you are forced to make life-altering decisions in which your mind and emotions will play opposing roles. With some of what I have faced, I had to make logical, sound decisions based on the facts available to me at the time. I certainly didn’t discount my emotions, but I moved through them with my eyes wide open.

 2. Realize it’s a process, and the process takes time.

Nothing will happen right away. It will take time, and you will travel from one emotion to another and then back again. And it takes as long as it takes. These things cannot be rushed.

Also, we have to remember to take it easy on ourselves throughout the process. For me, this goes back to self-medicating or numbing. I quite often stumble back into old, self-destructive habits. I’m human, not Wonder Woman. Although I like to think that maybe Wonder Woman wouldn’t have survived everything I have.

3. Kick, scream, get your groove on, and then get spiritual with it.

Realize that it’s okay to be angry. Find constructive, creative ways to let your feelings flow out of you.

Climb a hill and once you get to the top, scream until your heart is content. Paint something. Beat up your bedding. It’ll only make it more comfortable. Get in some serious cardio, if you can—try dance. Make yourself really sweat. Then try yoga and/or meditation to even you out.

Dig down deep and take a look inside yourself for what you believe. Whatever higher power, spiritual path, or religious belief gives your soul comfort—whether it’s at home, out in nature, in a church, encircled by loved ones, or in solitude—take a look at finding out what that is.

4. Play out your fears about a situation.

With any given situation, play out the scenarios and then ask yourself, “and then what?” What will I do if this happens next? Keep asking what you’ll do next, how you’ll continue moving forward. This will move you from a fearful, stuck mindset into a more active, productive mindset.

5. Accept that not everyone will have your back.

This may be the hardest lesson to learn. I found out, most painfully, that some people kept their distance; or better yet, were willing to take advantage and kick me when I was down.

Surprisingly, these are often people you thought you could count on the most. Still, others will not only step up, but they will hold you up through the worst of it.

While this can be an incredibly painful lesson, I believe it is a very necessary one. Interpersonal relationships, like life, are fluid. People will come and go. Some people are around to play with us in the sun, while others will weather through storms and seasons with us.

I don’t think it’s meant for us to know who’s who ahead of time, only that this is a fact of life and that you will be okay. Maybe this also teaches us to be more grateful for each relationship, past and present, good and bad. Some of these people will be your greatest teachers in life, whether you or they know it or not.

The best lesson I learned is that you have to keep your focus on the people who stick around instead of the ones who bail.

6. Change your perspective.

I now choose to believe that adversity is meant to knock us on course, not the other way round. Focus on looking at the situation differently. I can say from my experience as a cancer patient, you often have to find humor in the small things. This helps get you through each day.

Even recently, I beat myself up over not yet becoming the perfect picture of optimal health after cancer. I had to realize, with everything I’ve been going through, the fact that I’m still standing at all is true testament to my ability to overcome. This has to be enough for now. Just as I am, I am enough.

7. Look forward to the sunshine.

After every storm there is calm, and then the sun shines. If you keep remembering that, you will make it through.

Give yourself the opportunity to feel and process every thought and emotion. This is what the experience calls for. We all know what happens if we bypass or bury our emotions. We must allow the process to happen and give ourselves the space and time to feel everything.

Eventually, hopefully, we find ourselves grateful for those hard times, which in turn may make us appreciate the good times even more. I am continually working on all of this, but then again, isn’t that the point?

Man at night image via Shutterstock

About JoJo

JoJo is a cancer survivor, aspiring writer and artist working on an inspirational book about living with a BRCA1 mutation, her family history of breast cancer, the pancreatic cyst that almost took her life, medical complications, and her own battle with breast cancer and road to recovery. For more about JoJo, visit her blog at jojoslife.com.

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  • Vidalevi

    Jojo
    What a brave journey, you have embarked. I salute you for hanging in there and to share your experiences. Im a person who gets sad and depressed for small challenges in life and this post has made me re-think my approach towards various problems in life- however big or small they may be. Thank you for such an inspiring post and blessings.

  • Congratulations on standing tall through all the turbulence. Share your story. You’ll inspire many many people. 🙂

  • JoJo

    Thank you so much for your comment! I’m glad sharing my story has helped you.

  • JoJo

    Ankit, thank you!

  • Peace Within

    Bless your heart. Thank you for sharing what you have learned. Take care.

  • Nancy

    what an incredible story – you are such a warrior and I wish you all the best in life!!

  • Ronan

    Wow. What problems were those I was worrying about again? Inspirational

  • Ellen

    Oh my goodness! This is quite the serendipitous post!

    When I’m feeling down and thinking I must not have it in my destiny to find contentment, I try to remember that my suffering could be a lot more difficult. I have my health, for the most part, and my parents. I think of others who don’t have this and it helps me with perspective. Lately I’ve come to see that we aren’t given what we can’t handle. Sometimes it seems the better I get at coping and finding perspective, the more difficult things come my way. I was thinking this just last night. Would hardship stop if I proved I wasn’t capable of handling it?

    Your post has shaken me awake. I can’t even imagine how trying it has been for you. Thank you for sharing your story and the incredible strength that is evident within you. It helps me to see and read about how others overcome difficulties. I send you healing energy for your time of grieving. You will be in my thoughts.

  • Talya Price

    Wow. This was an amazing story. I thought I had it bad but there is always someone who had it worse and I am not saying this with pride. Life can throw you for a loop and only the strong survive.

    I have been going through financial problems. My acting career, as I think, is going no where, I have had long term of unemployment and I am scared about how I am going to survive to the end of the month. My day job is get less frequent as I am getting less work teaching English, something that does not bring me passion. I cannot plan for the future because I have no idea how I will make it. And my love life, well that is non existent and I feel very lonely.

    But I am still going, I have no idea what will happen but I am still going. I was very very depressed this past weekend, and I even had the notion to end my life. But I couldn’t because I didn’t want my life to end this way. Maybe all of what is happening to me is a good thing, maybe this is a way of clearing out the old and bringing in the new, bringing in something that I want in my life.

    Jojo, your story really resonated with me. I just want to thank you for sharing it with everyone. I know sharing our stories cannot be easy because no matter what people will criticize. And I have posted many comments on this forum and I am so happy that there is a place where I can do that and share and resonate with other people. Thank you and I wish you the best of luck.

  • JoJo

    Ellen, thank you so much for your comment! Sometimes, even when we are aware of our own strength, it’s so comforting to have others acknowledge it. I appreciate your words and accept your healing energy. 🙂

  • JoJo

    Hi Talya, thank you so much for your comment, and for sharing your recent struggles here also! I am glad to hear you are holding on.
    On top of all that, I just recently changed jobs too. I had a ‘horror of a human being’ boss that I endured working with for over two years, and while I was going through cancer treatment. Recently, she again showed her true colors and sent me into a tail-spin. My sister-in-law was the one to remind me that I couldn’t control the horrible actions of my boss, but I could control what I did to make my everyday, work situation better. So, that weekend, I job-hunted and sent my resume out regarding a number of positions. Within a few days I had two interviews. The second made me an offer, which I ended up taking after some negotiations. I started my new job just yesterday and I’m very excited about it.
    Maybe start looking at what you can control. A friend of mine decided she worked best having multiple part-time jobs doing things she enjoyed (teaching at an advanced preschool, bookkeeping, photography, working for non-profits). Maybe try some part-time work not only to supplement your income, but also to push you in other directions. Maybe you will find new passions and new people. And this doesn’t have to take away from your acting career. It might just give you more opportunities. Sometimes it helps to think outside the box. Something I often have a hard time doing, but I’m working on that too. I wish you the best of luck as well!

  • JoJo

    Thank you so much, Nancy!

  • JoJo

    Thank you, Ronan!

  • JoJo

    Thank you, Peace Within-Love that!

  • Priya Goel

    Dear Jojo,

    I just want to say thanks for sharing and writing to inspire people out there. There are strong souls in this world, who come to teach people a lesson and you certainly are of those beautiful souls. I wish the best of heath for you and hope you continue to inspire people each and every day of your life.

  • JoJo

    Priya, I am grateful you took the time to comment. Thank you so much for your words here–Such nice things to read!

  • ConnectTheDots

    JoJo, I loved the blog! It actually sounds like a few of mine! However, your adventure puts mine to shame, what a tough and enduring individual that we all need to take a lesson from! I went and followed your blog and can’t wait to hear more 🙂 I am a military wife with a farm that enjoys writing about our adventures and trials. http://www.flyingrfarm.weebly.com/can-i-get-that-to-go

    I cannot wait to read more!

  • Demetrius Bettis

    I have been going on this site for awhile for different reasons. Today I feel I am at a new low and your article has given me some perspective. I am not suffering physically but I am suffering through circumstance. I am lucky that through all this my gf still believes and supports me even when my closes friends have abandoned me. On top of that others are constantly kicking me while I’m down and label me as something I am not. Your article has helped me to find some strength in this situation and grow.

  • JoJo

    Demetrius, thank you so much for your comment. I’m sorry to read you are going through a rough time too, but I’m glad my article has helped you. We can’t control how others will handle situations. We can only control how we do. Try focusing on what you can control. I hope for the best for you!

  • JoJo

    ConnectTheDots, thank you!! I have rarely gotten visitors to my blog. I’m so glad you enjoyed reading through some of my posts and my article here. I’m sorry I seem to be having trouble pulling up your blog from the link here. If you’d like, please leave a comment on one of the posts on my blog site with another link and I’ll try and access it there. Thanks again for your comment!

  • In complete support of your experience, I would also add the concepts of “accepting” and “embracing” the sh*t that happens to us. There is something transformational that happens the moment we do!

  • JoJo

    LifeChangingStories, yes, accepting and embracing are a big part of the journey. Thank you for pointing this out!

  • Guest

    I was moved to tears by your experience and the ways it mirrors my own. While advice to ease your plight would be presumptuous given my circumstances, it’s good to know that you didn’t take your life. The same depth of despair Islam too familiar. I just hope that we will turn a corner and thrive instead of doing barely more than existing.

  • Sri Purna Widari

    Hi Jojo,

    What an intense story you have and I really appreciate and applaud your courage and willingness to open up. It must have been very tough to go through such struggle. What you have endured sounds painful and it really gives me motivation to keep going with my life. Thank you.

  • rt

    You are one amazing woman Jojo and you should be so proud of yourself. So much strength and courage. It just proves what kind of people we can become when faced with challenging issues and the lessons will learn along the way. It’s inspirational people like yourself who reminder us all to never give up! Thank you.

  • Cassandra

    Thank you JoJo for the much needed inspiration! Number 2 is on my daily to do. #5 is wrecking havoc on my heart. People!

  • Mahesh Sahu

    Dear Jojo, your life story is truly inspiring. Thanks for sharing….and one more thing…You are very beutiful :-).take care..

  • Lakshmi

    Really great! 🙂

  • JoJo

    That’s so nice, thank you!

  • Joe Doyle

    Thanks for the inspiring read. It’s easy to get stuck, and using the right tools it’s easy(ish) to get unstuck, too.

  • Charlene Brownlee

    Jo,

    You put the “A” in amazing. I am grateful to be your friend and encouraged by your spirit.

    Much love,

    Char

  • SoulVibes

    I’m going through a really hard time right now and for a person who loves to “live in the moment”, I feel like this particular moment in my life should be skipped Lol. However, I read this post and it made me feel so much better. I know what to do now and I also know that I’m not alone. Thank you so much.

  • Ronan

    Sorry I just saw your reply now. You’re welcome. Thank you for sharing

  • Heather Ferreira

    Jojo. Here is a hug. You survived.

    You go girl.

  • Sunshine

    Indeed a very brave and inspiring story….hats off to your courage. Here I was thinking that my pain, sufferings and hardships were so difficult to cope up with and then I stumble upon this awe-inspiring story…..keep going

  • Pankaj Rai

    Thank you

  • Lori

    You are the new and improved Wonder Woman JoJo! Truly an inspiration! God bless you and your strength to keep moving forward!

  • Valerie Duke

    This was a really comforting read for me this morning and I commend you for your bravery and faith during your struggles in life. You hit on points that I already know I am going to have an extremely difficult time transitioning to.
    The love of my life took his last breath at 5am yesterday morning. He had been fighting as much as his frail body could after a sudden and tragic motorcycle accident earlier this month. Unfortunately, yet fortunately, I was following right behind and witnessed it all. Unfortunate, because those slow motioned and surreal images torment my heart and mind. It’s beyond difficult to cope. Fortunate, because I was there to hold him, let him know I was there and not letting go and giving him strength in his weakest moment. He was only 32.
    I know its going to be a long road and I’m not sure how to view the world without him at my side but your words do give me a foundation to begin..so thank you.
    God bless.