12/13/2014 11:22 am ET Updated Feb 12, 2015

5 Life Lessons I Learned From Cancer

According to the American Cancer Society, the statistics are startling. Cancer is claiming more and more lives every day. The numbers tell us that over 1.6 million people will have been diagnosed by the end of 2014 -- a diagnosis that can rock the foundation of anyone's world.

In November 1999, that's what it felt like for me and my husband when he was diagnosed with stage IV cancer -- Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma. At one point, we asked the oncologist what we could do to help support the hospital treatments and aid in the fight against cancer. "Nothing," he said. I'm sure it's not too hard to imagine how devastating an answer like that was. The diagnosis itself had been enough to knock the wind out of us. We went from being shocked, to afraid, to desperate to take action in repeated loops again and again.

It's been a long journey, but cancer has proven to be a patient teacher that will 'gift' you with a wealth of lessons if your mind, heart, and soul are open enough to receive them. Here are the lessons I particularly learned in its classroom:

1) Know When To Fight
As aforementioned, my husband's oncologist insisted there was nothing we could do to supplement the chemo treatments. I don't know if this is simply something those in the medical profession are required to say for fear of being held liable for suggesting alternative routes, but I do know that plenty of people take such words at face value and remain discouraged. My husband and I, however, decided we'd take a different approach. Despite how disheartened we felt, we chose to believe we could impact the cancer in our own way.

So we hit the books, the internet, and the research papers and we also spoke with anyone who'd survived cancer. We wanted to know what they ate, what they drank, how they exercised, how they'd changed their life. We made a commitment to let the doctors fight the cancer with the best science out there while we would fight the cancer with food, fitness, and faith. It paid off. It's been 15 years, and the cancer has never once returned.

2) Know When To Let Go
Of course, there were times when we had to learn to let go as well. It was extremely disempowering to watch Jim deal with the fear and exhaustion that comes with cancer. I remember nights when I used to cry and pray over him while he slept. He handled the treatment so well and had such a positive attitude throughout it all but even so, it was a challenge to see my strong, muscular husband with the "chemo look."

Still, I had to realize that there were things I simply couldn't do for him. For one, I couldn't take the cancer away from him nor could I take the chemo treatments for him. So I had to learn to accept the turn life had taken and work with it instead of struggle against it.

It wasn't easy but the more we surrendered, the easier it was to maintain our peace of mind and let go of the overwhelm. It was liberating. Once we stopped trying to control everything and just accepted that certain things were outside of our control, we could breathe easier and focus more on simply being present in life.

3) Embrace The Support Of Others
There's a saying that goes "hard times reveal true friends" and we certainly found this to be the case during our journey with cancer. We had wonderful support from family and friends and we leaned on these people regularly. As long as Jim felt well, we kept our social life active and intact.

We knew it was important to stay connected with our loved ones and allow them to nourish us whenever we felt depleted. So often, people go through life wanting to shoulder burdens for themselves but at the end of the day, you only end up physically spent, emotionally exhausted, and mentally taxed. It's imperative to allow people to help you and to allow yourself to be helped.

But the journey was not without surprises along the way. A few people who we expected to be there for us weren't; and people we never expected to be there were. Cancer has a way of teaching you who your true friends are -- the ones who will be beside you through thick and thin, through up's and down's, through the beauty and the ugliness. Keep those friends close once their faithfulness is revealed through the fire of your trials. They are the ones who will help you build a life of unconditional love.

4) Celebrate Life

Anyone who's walked 'through the valley of the shadow of death' can attest to the way you celebrate life once the storm has passed. With every sunrise and sunset; with every bird song and rainfall; with every blossoming flower in the spring and every fallen leaf in the autumn--we celebrate all the little notes that compose life's great symphony.

We take the time to breathe in the fresh air. We take the time to savor the sweetness of fresh fruits. We laugh, we play, and we spend time with loved ones. As ironic as it may sound, seeing the face of death caused us to live life with even more passion.

5) Know Miracles Can Happen

The doctors had encouraged my husband to bank his sperm, as it wouldn't be possible for us to conceive children once his treatments began and even after they finished. At the time, we were simply focused on fighting the cancer and ensuring that Jim was at his healthiest. As it turned out, that's all we needed to focus on, too.

Years later, when the cancer was long gone, we became the proud parents to our beautiful son Matthew. Matthew is our little miracle. He's a reminder of the importance of gratitude. Life gives and takes away, but in spite of it all, we count our blessings. We know what's behind us, and we're stronger for it. We live in constant gratitude, hearts brimming with love and thankfulness because no matter where we find ourselves, no matter our present situation, no matter the trials before us...we're here, we're alive, we're together...and we can make it through.

Suzanne loves to interact with her readers and writes more about healthy living, life after cancer, and cancer prevention at her website.