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.
"There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you." Maya Angelou
"Any conversation that starts with “Did I ever tell you that my mother was murdered?” is going to be awkward." Lockey Maisonneuve
Yes, murdered. Don't miss Lockey's story, which she shares at Positively Positive. I'll wait here until you get back. You're going to have to experience it before we can continue.
"How could she think she didn’t have “permission” to ask me about my mother?"
The word "permission" was mine. I meant it literally. As close friends we've shared many personal facts about ourselves. Despite our openness, I was aware of a gaping hole when it came to Lockey's mother. There was no evasion. There was just scant information. For that reason, I felt until the moment she brought it up that I had no right to ask questions.
We were in Lockey's car, doubling back on the Garden State Highway because we had gotten momentarily lost. I was talking and Lockey interrupted to say I should ask her about the police station we had just driven past when I was finished. I did, and she answered my question with a question ("Did I ever tell you that my mother was murdered?") before proceeding to tell me her story.
I firmly believe that telling our story is a pivotal part of the healing process - from anything. The alternative, holding your story inside, causes agony because: 1) it festers and 2) it infects every part of your life.
Here's the way I've always seen it: Telling your story is revealing your truth. And, as we all know, "Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." John 8:32
Of course, telling your truth is often far from easy:
"The truth will set you free, but first it will make you miserable." James A. Garfield
I know that misery. Immediately after my mastectomy and TRAM flap reconstruction surgery, I started meeting weekly with a therapist at my cancer center. We dug down deep into my cancer issues: anger, loneliness, fear, disappointment in others, stress, body image, etc., etc. I thought there was plenty to talk about without branching out beyond cancer, but my psyche had other ideas as the trauma of cancer often makes made past traumas resurface.
It was a miserable time, but telling my truth saved me. Sure, I cried a lot, but I told my story, worked through my truth and learned a lot in the process.
I believe so strongly in the healing power of telling your story that I made it the #2 simple secret to creating inspired healing, wellness and your joyous life after cancer in my book, You Can Thrive After Treatment. (Second only to "Show Up To Be Supported.")
To get started telling your story, follow these simple tips:
1. Tell your story when you are ready - No one but you can decide when you are ready to reveal your truth. There is no right or wrong time; there is only what works for you.
2. Find a safe environment - If you're reluctant to tell your story, perhaps it's because you have yet to find a trustworthy listener. Revealing our truth can make us feel vulnerable and uncomfortable. You shouldn't open up until you find a friend or family member, support group or therapist who you trust to hear what you have to say.
3. Think outside the box - Revealing your truth can be done in an infinite amount of ways. If you're shy about going public, start slowly by journaling, painting or any other creative endeavor that expresses what you want to say.
4. Own it - Embrace your story as an integral part of your history. It's made you who you are today and there's always something to learn from every experience.
We are all survivors of something and each of us has a story (or stories) to tell. But that doesn't mean we should all talk at the same time. Lockey's story reminds me that, just as I have healed by being heard, so can I help others heal by hearing their stories. Once again, the power of giving back in gratitude for the healing support I received is its own reward.
That's not to say I wouldn't appreciate being swept off my feet with a surprise flight to Paris as much as the next girl. But who are we kidding? Crazy expensive, over-the-top romantic gestures are rare. When it comes to maintaining a 25-year marriage, it's the little things (like Saturday morning tea and Sunday "gravy") that keep us connected day after day, week after week.
The same can be said for self-care. While a week-long stay at a spa/resort would be heavenly, it's the daily, little things that keep the well from running dry.
Of course, it's easy to prioritize everything else above self-care. I've yet to write a to-do list that includes self-care. That's because I tend to see work as the first priority of my day, with everything else coming in a distant second.
The first step to exercising self-care is awareness. Find a quiet moment and ask yourself, "What do I need? You may be surprised to learn you need silence, more sleep, or just some time off to be blissfully unproductive.
A month ago, I suddenly blurted out that I needed more fun and less all work/no play weekends. Two days later my friend Lockey asked me if I wanted to go with her into New York City the following Friday night to hear Kris Carr and Gabrielle Bernstein speak.
Of course! We drove into the city, enjoyed the presentation, had a wonderful dinner, drove back to her house and sat up until 5:30 a.m. talking. After a few hours of sleep, the snow outside persuaded me to stay a bit longer and hang out by the fireplace.
The following Friday evening I had an unexpected dinner with my friend and her husband, who I hadn't seen in many years. Last Friday evening, after a day that went in a completely different direction than originally planned, I ended up having another unexpected visit - this time with my mother.
I didn't realize what was happening until after my dinner with my friend and her husband. When I realized I had clearly stated what I needed, only to get it a few days later, I was floored. And then I remembered
I thought it was a bit woo-woo, but I tried and asked for something irrelevant. It didn't work. But it sure worked this time.
The morale of my story is simple: Stop burying your needs under obligations to work and others. Pay attention to yourself and state clearly what you need. Make the little things you need a priority and abundance will be yours.
Don't forget to be your own Valentine today and every day!
Everything that is done in the world is done by hope. Martin Luther
Last month, I wrote a blog post about taking the present moment to rest and refresh. I was feeling the stress of the holiday season and had finally finished the six month process of writing and publishing my books. I needed a break.
I know when I'm tired, but I don't always know when to stop. Luckily, I took my own advice (Stop. Look at what you've accomplished. Don't just push on to something else. Take a moment to appreciate. And, you dumb bunny, take a moment to rest.) Plus, and this is BIG for me, I pared down my holiday obligations to a bare minimum. The result: truly special family time without the usual exhaustion caused by weeks of trying to make everyone else happy.
Now, I feel like I do at the end of yoga class, lying on my mat in shavasana. Eyes closed, arms and legs relaxed, breathing deeply, the yoga practice is "set" and its with me as I go back out into the world.
Which brings me to the good things going on this year. First, I'm excited to expand my speaking schedule and will appear at the following events:
Saturday, April 5, 2014: Keynote Speaker, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Tri-State Chapter, 5th Annual Blood Cancer Conference, New Paths to Hope for Leukemia, Lymphoma & Myeloma, Great Wolf Lodge, Mason, OH, 9 am.
Saturday, May 31, 2014: Speaker, American Cancer Society Relay for Life, Northern Highlands Regional High School, Allendale, NJ, 6 pm
Tuesday, June 3, 2014: Keynote Speaker, Lourdes Regional Cancer Center “Living Well Cancer Survivorship” Series, 169 Riverside Drive, Binghamton, NY, 6pm to 7pm.
I absolutely love being in a roomful of survivors! The energy and camaraderie is like rocket fuel and, if you are in the area, please come say hello. If you or anyone you know has an upcoming event at a cancer center, cancer support organization or corporation and is interested in booking me to speak, just send me an email at email@example.com.
Focusing on what I want to talk about led me to an "Aha" moment (thank you Oprah.) What I share through WWGN and my books can be boiled down quite simply to "Live Your Hope & Thrive!"
After I had my mastectomy, I struggled with the emotional fallout of facing cancer and its treatment. I was miserable, but with time, doing the work with a therapist, and connecting to other survivors, I discovered my 20 simple secrets to creating inspired healing, wellness and live out loud joy. Each of my simple secrets requires showing up and exercising self-care, but the rewards of living your hope are well worth the effort.
I'm rocking my new mantra and there's more coming for me and WWGN this year, but let's talk about you. How are you living your hope this year? Let me know in the comments below. I can't wait to find out!
I just stumbled upon this poem, which I wrote about a year after I had my mastectomy. Part of the struggle of having breast cancer is accepting the damage done to our breasts, which mean so much to us as women, lovers and mothers. Now four years later, although I can't forget the price cancer made me pay, I am grateful to be in a better place of acceptance.
Who doesn’t remember at age thirteen
developing breasts that emerge.
The joy of tight sweaters suddenly
evidencing womanhood on the verge.
Then again, with pregnancy’s swell,
they grow bigger and fuller still.
With breastfeeding’s love and joy,
my child is nourished and filled.
As years progress, they sag a bit lower,
the result of time’s relentless sum.
Gravity’s effect on body and ego,
accepted with grace and aplomb.
Then why suddenly does it hit,
so much so that I can’t accept,
That stereotactic puncture under my breast,
the first damage done while I wept.
And then the second surgical biopsy cut
circling my nipple, angry and black.
The precursor of change to come and
normalcy I can never take back.
To face a mastectomy is to face cancer
and whatever it now creates.
A physical reminder of life’s necessity
to do whatever survival dictates.
The mutation is horrific – bigger than the readiness
you thought there for your protection.
Your fear is misunderstood, they think what you seek
is plastic surgery rendered perfection.
I want what I had – which was far from perfect,
but perfectly me honed by time.
The body which changed and matured, slowly
forming an aggregate solely mine.
But slowly metamorphosis becomes familiar and
soon after its reflected effects.
The constancy of change begets acceptance
and opposition to what is relents.
I am an assemblage of particulars, a creation of time
I've had my share of profound unhappiness. When it hits, I'm always struck by its enormity and completeness, like a hurricane that moves in and devastates until there is nothing left of what was touched.
For the record, I'm not talking about depression. I'm talking about reliving low points, like family dysfunction, poisonous relationships, infertility, miscarriages and cancer, in the tar pit of your soul. I'm talking about going about your business and WHACK! Something comes up and, like an elephant, you remember and relive your emotions like it's happening to you all over again.
I don't remember exactly where I was or what I was doing when a thought recently struck me out of the blue. It moved me so profoundly that I stopped whatever it was I was doing and wrote it down:
"I just had a deep understanding of what happiness is - being joyfully, unabashedly in the moment and trusting that that is exactly where you belong ... this moment (and ME) is enough, in fact, it is all."
Mindfulness is conscious awareness of what you are feeling and experiencing in the present moment. But there is more. To get to joy it's not enough to just be aware of the present. To get to joy you have to trust that the present moment is exactly where you belong.
Joy comes from the knowing, the trust, the deep understanding that you are, right now, enough. With that trust and the joy it brings, you can let down your defenses and stop seeking validation. You can lean into happiness, which is the bubbling up of little pieces of joy in the moment.
As adults with histories, we can't know happiness unless we know its opposite and find it in our hearts to trust despite that knowledge. It takes vulnerability and reliance on forces outside of our control, but, mostly, it takes a commitment to creating live out loud joy for ourselves.
In the five years since my diagnosis, I've experimented more and more with trust (because it finally took cancer to convince me of how little control I really had over life.) I've become more optimistic, more Zen and more patient. Who knew that trading the "safety" of mistrust, for the vulnerability of trust would lead to joy.
The Dalai Lama said "the purpose of our lives is to be happy." Have you found yourself actively seeking out happiness and joy since your cancer diagnosis? Are you able to trust that you are exactly where you belong at the present moment?
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