Beating Cancer: Seven Tips for Keeping your Head in the Game

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Some stories need to be told.

My friend Jen Hartney is a champion in so many arenas. 

She graduated from West Point, served active duty alongside her husband in the Army for 6 years, deployed to combat zones, commanded an Engineer company in Korea while pregnant, mothers five beautiful children, developed and runs her own nutritional wellness business, and created a beautiful and welcoming home to boot!

That’s a small list of what she has done.  Let me tell you a little more about who she is.

Her thoughtfulness, compassion, generosity, loyalty, and charisma all come together to make her one of the most magnetic people you will ever have the privilege of knowing. 

She freely passes out compliments and encouragement.
She is a fantastic listener.
She gives the most thoughtful gifts and always remembers to bring you a card on your birthday.
She is a people-person in the truest sense of the word.


There is a big part of her story that she did not want to be true.  It rocked her world.  It rocked the worlds of everyone who knows her.  When she was pregnant with her fifth child, she received the unimaginable diagnosis of breast cancer.

this photo simply breaks me. a beautiful handmade quilt to cover her “grenades”


each ‘grenade’ was attached to tubes coming out of the sides of her chest to drain fluids…. she had them for about 6 weeks

When professionals presented her with the various treatment options, Jen chose to take the least common, most unconventional route.  She did go through various medical procedures and “ectomies” to eliminate the cancer. 

But then, brimming with staggering, prodigious, audacious courage–the precise amount David was given when he faced Goliath–she declined the chemotherapy/radiation regime that doctors *highly* recommended.

Armed with the stones of

a razor-sharp faith
a radically strict diet
laser-focused positive thinking
+ a God ready to show the world His power

Jen achieved a cancer-free status!  

I asked her if I could share her story here at The Prime Pursuit because I wanted to make sure each of you know Jen Hartney, hear about her cancer-defeat story, and be aware of her wellness consulting business, The Prodigal Table

Most of all, I wanted to spotlight a good-news cancer recovery story.  My hope is that we all draw strength and hope from this story…for ourselves and for loved ones who face a devastating cancer journey.  It is responsible to spread this sort of fascinating news in order to encourage others who are suffering this same disease.  You must read the entirety of her story over at The Cancer Tutor


Over and above the clean eating regimen she adopted, a different part of her holistic treatment gripped me.

How, exactly, did she fight cancer by “keeping her mind right?”

I asked her to unpack that a little more.
I had to know the practical tips for keeping your head in the game when it comes to beating cancer.

She wrote it up, and graciously gave me permission to share this wisdom with you, my beloved readers.  This wisdom was COSTLY to for her to glean. 

It’s “free chicken” for the rest of us.  

1.  Surround yourself with Truth.

Human hearts can be fickle.  So, surround yourself with truths that are true no matter how you may be feeling in the moment.  Personally, that means reading the Truth, aka the Bible, every day.  Even if just for a few minutes.  Breathe in Truth, exhale doubt and fear.



2.  Read the ‘ring theory’ and understand your limitations if you are the person ‘in crisis’.

Being very honest here:  I would get resentful when I told people about my diagnosis and then they would react in a way that would leave ME comforting THEM.  And then I was ashamed about feeling resentful.  But understanding the ‘ring theory’ helped me get past feeling guilty.  Read it.  And pass it on to others.  My friend, Kerry (who is current on all things FUN and important) articulated this theory when she was visiting me/taking care of me and it relieved so much guilt from my shoulders.  Check it out here.  The main gist is in the diagram below.




3.  Laugh

Laughter is a gift from above.  Yes.  Your situation may truly stink.  It may be tragic.  It could be downright awful.  The absolute worst thing that has ever happened to you and you don’t know that you’ll ever recover…and you may not even want to.  You may feel like the world around you has crumbled and you’re happy to go right down with it because your heart just aches too much.

But here is some truth for you:  laughter is medicine for your heart.  It’s the best pill against depression because it gives you a break from your current tragedy and makes you breathe DEEP.  And you have to keep breathing to keep going.

About a month after my diagnosis I realized that I couldn’t even remember the last time I had laughed and I longed for it.  So, one night, my husband and I looked up some comedians on Netflix and we chuckled and gut laughed for the evening.  My situation hadn’t changed:  I still had cancer.  But for one night, we were able to forget about it and laugh and my heart felt a million times lighter.

Now, hear me on this:  I’m not saying you need to laugh within 30 minutes of being given the worst news of your life (remember, I curled up in the fetal position on my bed and cried tears that I wasn’t sure would ever stop…being pregnant sure didn’t help the flood of tears!).  But I’m telling to tuck this away in the back of your mind and when you finally get a chance to come up for air, even if just a tiny bit, remember this.  Laughter is medicine for your soul.


4. Tell People

Yes.  It’s awkward.  And hard to do.  Especially if you are an introvert like me (and if your friends also live all over the world, you can do what I did: write a post, hit enter and walk away:)).  No matter how much of an introvert you are, no one was meant to walk this life alone; we were designed to be in community with others.

I try to stress that over and and over again (hence, the name Prodigal TABLE…a place to gather with other people).  Tell SOMEONE.  All the energy you use hiding the ‘secret’ could be used to heal instead.

Trust me.  I get it.  Telling people about my diagnosis was so unexpectedly hard and I even debated just keeping the news to a very, very small, tight circle of people I trusted because I just didn’t want to burden anyone.  But you know what?  That’s a lie straight from the enemy.  Your heartbreak is NOT a burden to someone else.

In fact, you’ll find the part of humanity that just encourages you to keep going….the beautiful, selfless, grace giving aspects of humanity as people pour out their love on you.  And it will remind you of one of the many things you are fighting for.

You will see people come out of NOWHERE to love on you and your family.  And guess what happens afterwards?  You’ve gained some space and perspective and risen from the ashes in a way you never imagined possible.  Someone will reach out to you when (not if) tragedy enters their life.

You will every bit of your experience to serve another human being and that is redemption, my friend.  Redemption for those years, moments that were lost.  Redemption for the heartbreak and tears that you thought would engulf you.  Redemption.  And it can’t happen unless you tell someone.


5.  Accept Help

This follows closely after #4 for a reason.  When you share your heart with someone, people will pour out their love on you in ways you never imagined and then you have to make a choice:  To accept or not accept their help.

Guys.  I’m an 8 – I like challenges and my independence.  “I can do it myself” is something that was forced on me and then became a personal motto of mine.  God, literally, had to bring me to my knees to make me realize “my goodness.  I can’t do this on my own.”  My goodness:  it took being pregnant with baby #5 and being diagnosed with cancer to realize I had been doing it the hard way all along.

I remember the incredibly sobering moment when I realized that I couldn’t even go to the bathroom on my own, much less even hold my 6 week old baby.  So, guys.  Learn this from me.  There is a time and place for everything.  A time to be a big girl and ‘get ‘er done’, but a time and place to ask and accept help.

Be smarter than me.  Don’t hit the bottom of the barrel before you admit that you can’t do it all on your own.  And you know what?  Something magical happens when you accept help without the pretense of ‘trading favors’.  You see a community come together.  Again, like I mentioned in #4 above, you see humanity at its best and it makes your heart smile…and you thank God for these amazing people.

…and it makes you want to fight harder to stay with these amazing people for as long as you can.


6.  White Space

I’ve heard interior designers refer to white space as the ‘blank/empty space’ in your home that gives your eyes a break.  The concept here applies to your heart/brain/emotions, etc.

After a diagnosis or crisis of any kind, you get BOMBARDED with information, protocols, long list of doctor names, medications, notes from other people who care about you, people approaching you in the hallways of your school, etc., not to mention your OWN thoughts.  It feels like from the moment you wake up til you go to sleep, you’re surrounded by stimuli and it can drain the energy from you.  Even if you are an extrovert.

So, find some white space.  For me, that goes back to my early mornings where I read in peace and quiet (to me it’s worth getting up early).  Or limiting social media.  Heck, unfollowing someone that is just a negative Nancy.  (you can pick it back up later, if you want!).  Remember, even Jesus got up early to pray and often retreated to be by himself.

If Jesus needed that, then heck, we need it, too.  

Find your white space.



7. Your identity

Last, but not least.  When you are going through a crisis, it can feel like your identity is being shredded to pieces.  Personally, I saw my body being literally cut apart, stitched back together, with foreign objects and sadly, it shook my confidence.  What I saw happening on the outside, affected who I thought I was on the inside.

When I didn’t recognize my outer skin,  I questioned who I was inside.  I questioned my strength.  I questioned whether my husband would desire me.  I questioned whether anyone would want to be my friend if they knew what I looked like underneath my layers of clothes.  The broken lines on my body exaggerated what was broken inside of me (see the need to fill your head with TRUTH each day?  All day? Refer to #1).

I was embarrassed by the scars on my chest and felt ashamed on the inside…I felt less than.  I could no longer depend on WHO I thought I was.  I had to go back to the beginning and remember WHOSE I was.

When your identity is up to you and your accomplishments/feats/pants size/physical beauty, etc., one small adjustment can bring the house of cards crumbling down.  But when your identity is rooted in WHOSE you are – the never changing, always faithful, God of the Universe who also knows the number of hairs on your head, you breathe in peace and breathe out a sigh of relief.

You remember that your identity as a child of God has been BESTOWED upon you. Your identity has not been earned. Despite what our world says.  What He has bestowed upon you, no one can take away.



This is not an all-inclusive or exhaustive list by any means…. I’m sure I’m forgetting some things, but for now, I hope you can lean on these truths that I learned about ‘getting your head in the game’.

I also get many questions about how to help someone else they know in need.  I’ll get to that list in a post coming up.

But for now, let me leave you with this:  If you know someone who has just been diagnosed with cancer, FOR THE LOVE, do NOT tell them about another person that just died from cancer.  That may seem obvious, but apparently it isn’t.  Just keep that information to yourself.  I wrote that in caps so you would remember it, but there is a LOT of GRACE, if you have been guilty of doing it.  I stick my foot in my mouth all.the.dang.time.  Truth and Grace, friends.





I TOLD YOU Jen was amazing.  I read her advice over and over again, just…dumbfounded.  How could she have had enough wherewithal to see that forest for those trees?  I can only come up with one answer.  When life is shattered by uncontrollable circumstances, the grace and strength of the Lord comes rushing, flooding in to fill in all the gaps, make up for lost time, give you the breath you need, and make your story into a memoir the entire world can learn from.  It’s a prayer-breath away: “Lord help!”  

If you want Jen to be a part of your life, if you want her to come alongside you and help you walk through your healing journey, if you want solid confidential, grace-filled consulting toward physical and spiritual nourishment, take the opportunity now.  Or, point her out to a friend in need.  


P.S.  Would you be bold and share this message on your favorite social media platform?  I am convinced more than ever that we need to share every good-news story we come across, it’s one of the ways to be light in the midst of the dark world.  

please pin! 🙂

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