I had a mastectomy the day after I turned 28, and I was convinced there wouldn't be many more birthdays after that. I was scared that I'd never hit 30—but I did, and then 40. I survived my cancer not because I'm a positive-thinking person but because I found my lump early and my chemo worked. It's an awful disease, and for me, it's always a shadow, lurking. Some survivors call their cancer a gift. I certainly don't. There are far less scary ways to gain wisdom. But it did make me rethink my life, and it brought me face-to-face with the importance of being right here, right now. Here are the biggest lessons I learned about what truly matters.  — Geralyn Lucas, 47, author of "Then Came Life," out this month.

Don't Work Too Hard
What my heroes—my oncology nurses—always said was true: No one on her deathbed wishes she'd spent more time at the office.

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Appreciate Your Body
When you look in the mirror, promise to see your courage and beauty—not your defects. When I look at myself now, I first notice my eyes, not my mastectomy scar.

Expect Good Things
Sometimes a horrible thing, like a cancer diagnosis, can happen unexpectedly. But remember this: Just as often, amazing things happen unexpectedly, too.

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Make a "Purse List"
I hate the term bucket list, so I'm calling mine a purse list. What to put on yours? Anything you've always wanted to try but haven't because you're too afraid. Go for all of it.

Be Really Nice to Your Mom
I measure my years alive by my kids' ages. One is 15. She and I drive each other crazy; my mom says I was worse. Sorry, Mom. I love you. It's never too late to repair any relationship.

Drink Champagne More Often
It became my signature drink after cancer. When anyone asks me what I'm celebrating, I just smile and say, "Life."

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