New Meanings and Shifting Priorities

By Kristen Carter

If you want to know what’s most important in life, just ask a woman who’s been diagnosed with breast cancer. Facing her mortality makes the little things fall away and the big things come into laser-sharp focus.

For Ashifa Shaw, diagnosed in 2012 with ductal hyperplasia and in 2017 with high-grade ductal carcinoma in situ, the big things are her husband and daughters, time spent in nature, camping, and helping others. Ashifa particularly enjoys working with the homeless and victims of sex trafficking.

“I realized that one of the things that was missing in my life was helping others,” she said. Her volunteer work has made her feel like she’s being true to herself and makes her life more fulfilling.

This kind of shift toward a more satisfying life is common among women with breast cancer. In a study conducted among 15 women with the diagnosis, researchers found that while quality of life is important to every human being, this importance grows with the occurrence of disease.

Debi Aldoroty would agree. Since being diagnosed with Stage 2 invasive ductal carcinoma and struggling with various negative effects of surgery and chemotherapy, she has done a lot to improve her quality of life. Physically, she has turned to alternative healers, a functional medicine doctor, acupuncture, and energy work. Because of her ongoing pain, she has hired a helper for some of her household chores. In terms of her emotional health, she prioritizes herself, sees a therapist, is more of a self-advocate, and has established stronger boundaries with people who drain her.In all, Debi says that while she isn’t necessarily glad she got breast cancer, it has made her a stronger person.

I can say the same. As someone who has lived with metastatic breast cancer for almost five years, I’ve become much stronger and more resilient than I’d ever been before. My priorities shifted when I was diagnosed, too; I realized I was spending much of my professional and personal lives helping others, and it was time to put myself first. My other top priorities were my family and dear friends, doing things that made me happy, and working on “legacy” projects like my children’s baby albums.

As Carl Jung said, “The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.” Breast cancer might help us move in that direction.

Learn more:

Creating Your Legacy

Putting Yourself First

Reconnect With Your Inner Strengths

Self-Love Comes First

Being Your Own Advocate

Author bio:

Kristen Carter is a certified coach with a background in communications. She was diagnosed with stage zero breast cancer in 2008 and metastatic breast cancer in 2018. Writing for SBC — sharing tools that help her and others cope and thrive — is a creative outlet for her and one that gives her a sense of meaning and purpose. She can be reached at

Posted in: Emotional/Mental Health, Survivorship