What My Mom’s Cancer Diagnosis Taught Me About Mental Toughness

The only thing you can always control is your attitude.

Matt Lillywhite
4 min readSep 1, 2020


Photo by awar kurdish on Unsplash

Last year, I was living in New Zealand. As I sat in my bedroom, I could hear birds singing in the trees, and many other sounds of nature coming together as one to form a beautiful harmony.

I remember looking out the window, smiling, and thinking to myself that life was good. I was happy. That was until I received a phone call from my mom that changed my life forever.

I answered and asked how she was doing. Silence. But after a few seconds, she said three words that nobody ever wants to hear: “I have cancer.”

I was lost for words. I didn’t know what to say or do, as I was 18,000 km away from her in the United Kingdom. But after a few moments of wondering how to respond, I said, “Everything will be okay. We’ll get through this.”

Deep down, I didn’t know what would happen or if everything would be fine. However, I was on the other side of the planet, and a few words of comfort were all that I could give.

I took a few days off work to try and process the emotional bombshell that had suddenly been dropped on my life. But while taking a walk through the forest, I remembered a beautiful quote from Ryan Holiday, that helped calm my emotions. It goes like this:

“There is no good or bad without us, there is only perception. There is the event itself, and the story we tell ourselves about what it means.”

I learned that wishing for things to be different won’t change anything. I could not control the fact that my mom had been diagnosed with cancer. However, the one thing that I would always be able to control is my attitude and how I use the event to become a better person.

So once I returned to the UK, I did my best to be there for my family and provide them with emotional support. And although my mom getting diagnosed with cancer was horrific, we became much closer as a family than ever before. Thankfully, she’s fully recovered from her treatment.



Matt Lillywhite

I'm trying to visit 100+ countries. You can find my work in Publishous, Mind Cafe, and other publications on Medium.