Maya Angelou said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” The healing power of sharing my cancer story compelled me to found WWGN. I'm an inspirational speaker, contributor at CURE and Positively Positive, Huffington Post blogger, support volunteer with Cancer Hope Network, member of the Carol G. Simon Cancer Center Oncology Community Advisory Board, patient educator with Pathways Women’s Cancer Teaching Project, wife and mother, and a former very stressed out lawyer.
You might have noticed the coffee cups in the WhereWeGoNow logo. When I created WWGN, I visualized a safe, cozy place for cancer survivors to come together. I wanted to evoke the feeling of friends sitting around my kitchen table, drinking coffee and talking.
Truth be told, I don't drink coffee.
Of course, it was never actually about coffee. It's about a feeling. The same feeling I had when I met and shared with other breast cancer patients at my cancer center. The same feeling I had in the MovingOn rehabilitative exercise class. The same feeling I get every time I come together with the other women of the Pathways Women's Cancer Teaching Project. The same feeling I have every time I speak to a room full of survivors.
The beverage doesn't create the feeling. The feeling is created by CONNECTION.
I've learned from life (and a bit of therapy) that it's the "disconnect" that causes me the most grief.
When I went through five years of infertility and miscarriages, I had no one to talk to about it besides my husband. We were in it together every step of the way. When one of us was having an especially bad day, the other stepped up. Unfortunately, it didn't work out that way when I finished cancer treatment. When he told me "the worst is over" and moved on, I felt abandoned and totally disconnected. There were a few moments I thought it was impossible, but we eventually reconnected when he realized he had to accept me where I was.
The truth about connection is that you can't have it with everyone. I recently celebrated my fifth cancerversary by going out to dinner with my husband. When the waiter took our drinks order, I asked for champagne. My husband touched my arm and told the waiter we were celebrating a "special occasion." Later, after dinner, the waiter returned with a special dessert sporting a lit birthday candle.
Awkward. The waiter very sweetly said he didn't want to pry, but was it my birthday? I hesitated a split second, said "Yes," and accepted his happy birthday wishes with a smile on my face. (The family sitting next to us chimed in with happy birthday wishes too.)
I've written a lot about the importance of telling your truth, sharing your story and connecting with others who "get it." But, we're not in denial when we choose not to share. Not everyone needs to know our truth or our story. The kind of connection I need to emotionally survive does not require public nakedness.
I've learned to focus on connecting with the people I need to connect to - my husband, my family, my friends and you.
Thank you for making WWGN the safe, cozy place I envisioned it to be. Now, I'd love to hear from you in the comments below. Have you chosen at times to keep your truth to yourself? How do you create connection with others?
April 15, 2009; the day of my mastectomy and first reconstructive surgery. It's also the day I consider my cancerversary, which makes this April 15th my fifth.
Why did April 15th become my cancerversary? Why not the day I was diagnosed? Or the day of my second surgery and the end of treatment (except for the taxomifen I continue to take?)
I think April 15th stands out in my mind because it was the day I was forced to show up and fully become a cancer patient and, eventually, a survivor.
For the prior six and a half months, I wasn't even sure I was a breast cancer patient. I didn't have a lump, wasn't rushed into surgery, and had no chemotherapy or radiation. I was free-floating, with no center to my cancer universe.
Finally, I was forced to show up very early in the morning to face what scared me the most: loss, vulnerability, and completely handing my body over to the unknown.
But I also remember the trust, in myself and my doctors, which got me there.
On April 15, 2009, I laid my body down and submitted to a surgery I didn't want. But that was also the day I entered the cocoon of support I found at the Carol G. Simon Cancer Center at Overlook Medical Center in Summit, NJ. That day made possible my keynote speech at the recent Leukemia & Lymphoma Society 5th Annual Blood Conference. As I shared at the conference and in my first book, You Can Thrive After Treatment, showing up to be supported is the first and most important simple secret to creating inspired healing, wellness and live out loud joy, because it made every other healing step I took possible.
2009 was one of the two worst years of my life. (The other contender is 1984, but that's a story for another day.) As bad as it was, 2009 was also the year I started putting one foot in front of the other to get to today. I see the progress, and the struggles, as I read over the posts I wrote in years two, three and four:
I wish I had written something on year one, but I wasn't up to it then. Just another indicator of how far I've come. The truth is, however, that cancer isn't a straight-line experience. There are bad days, bad years and traumatic experiences which unleash the holy hell of cancer all over again. I've learned that it really is all about putting one foot in front of the other (when possible) and being kind to yourself when you just want to fall in a heap and have a good cry. And I've also learned, from my own experience and that of my friends that, just because I finally hit five years, this whole cancer thing isn't over by a long shot.
Even so, today is a good day. I'm mindful that five years cancer free is something to celebrate and my husband and I will be doing just that during our yearly dinner out (he didn't have time for lunch this year.)
Every day, every year, for the rest of my life. It's okay to be wherever you are and it's all part of healing.
I promised I'd let you know when the second edition of the Survivor Secrets guides was out. Well, here it is!
The new guide is called "Breast Cancer Survivor Secrets - Emerge From The Fire." I'm one of 20 women who share strategies, tools, secrets and insights to empower your life as a cancer survivor. I'm so proud to join these inspirational, amazing women. They have such grace and so much to share!
Just like the first guide, each woman answers one question: "What do you wish you had known when you were finished treatment for breast cancer?"
Our answers touch on all areas of survivorship, including:
Strategies For Renewed Intimacy After Breast Cancer
Vitality Comes From Your Lifestyle Choices
Living Mindfully Helps You Let Go Of Who You Were, So That You Can Embrace Who You Are
A Peer Can Support You In Those Moments When You Feel Most Alone
Survivorship Is Hard Too
Integrating Connection Through A Personalized Game Plan For A Healthy Life
My chapter is entitled: One-on-One Support Can Help You Reclaim Your Life Effectively. Ironically, it was that very one-on-one support that helped me create the community I have today. Make sure to check it out.
Once again, I am amazed at how the simple act of sharing our stories helps heal ourselves and our fellow cancer survivors. How would you answer the question: "What do you wish you had known when you were finished treatment for breast cancer?" Let me know below in the comments.
It's a Sunday afternoon and you'd give anything to curl up under a blanket with a book and hide from the world.
But there are lots of things to do that make that impossible.
You'll rest later.
Except you never do.
Let me ask you this: Do you remember when cancer forced you to stop?
Do you remember when rest was a pivotal part of your healing?
Do you remember taking care of yourself first, because you had no choice?
Stop. Take a breath and look around you. Will it really all fall down if you take the afternoon off?
Sometimes we resist seeking comfort after cancer. We want to throw ourselves back into living, push ourselves beyond our comfort zone and make big changes.
But, life is always going to require healing. And healing is always going to require comfort.
You need comfort. Here's how to go about creating more of it in your world:
1. Concentrate on the little things that make you happy: Whether it's a favorite sweater, dog, yoga class, or driving with the top down, if it makes you happy, make sure to enjoy it more often. To get that done, start paying attention to what makes you smile. And then make the effort to bring those things into your life. You deserve it.
2. Rest: Give in to fatigue. Initially, it speaks to you in whispers, but tends to scream like a banshee when ignored. To keep it from getting to that point, learn to shut down at a reasonable hour at the end of the day. Put a premium on rest and getting to sleep and you will be more productive in the long run.
3. Make home a haven of comfort: Every autumn, I seasonalize my home for the colder months. I put out comfy throws in the family room, including a faux fur one I got from Pottery Barn. Sitting under that throw is one of my sweetest comforts when the wind is howling outside and I hate to see it go in the spring.
4. Stay in touch: Keep communicating and sharing with your cancer sisters. While I was treating, I was immersed in support groups, therapy and events that put me in weekly contact with other patients/survivors. Eventually, that came to an end. To this day, however, I still meet up with other survivors by working with the Pathways Women's Cancer Teaching Project. And, of course, I stay in touch with the very close friends I made along the way. Their inclusion in my life is a constant comfort and source of support.
5. Maintain a soul practice: Whether you are part of a religious community, pray, meditate, or commune with nature, spend some time developing a soul practice. Take your practice one step further by creating a sacred space of peacefulness and healing at home, where you can take a moment to stop, breathe and find comfort anytime you need it.
6. Finish this sentence: I find comfort in ------. Write down whatever you think of without censoring yourself. When you're finished writing, review what you've written and think about how to bring those things into your life today.
It's been said many times that life begins outside our comfort zone. I don't believe it. Life requires comfort because comfort fortifies and heals. How do you do comfort? Let me know and I'd love to hear how you finished the sentence in tip number six. Make sure to tell me in the comments below.
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