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 for survivors creating inspired healing, wellness and live out loud joy. I'm also a blogger at The Huffington Post, an inspirational speaker, a support volunteer with Cancer Hope Network, a member of the Carol G. Simon Cancer Center Oncology Community Advisory Board, a patient educator with Pathways Women’s Cancer Teaching Project, an interior decorator, a wife and mother, and a former very stressed out lawyer.
Despite some setbacks, there’s something about a new year that makes new beginnings possible. But how do you get there? The secret is the divine, female creative power you have to reinvent yourself.
Change happens all the time. We're just acutely aware of it when it's monumental (like getting cancer, changing careers or failing in a relationship.) The changes that hit me after I was diagnosed inspired my closing, ”Survival > Existence.” Long ago, when I was completely new to cancer survivorship, I assumed surviving meant not dying and being able to simply move on with my life. Now I know survival is greater than just existing; it brings massive change, a whole new skill set and reinvention.
With time, I've become more comfortable with the big changes cancer dealt me. I had no control over those changes, other than to learn to accept. When it comes to reinvention, however, I have a lot of input and realize it's the little things that usually make the most impact. Like making small, healthy changes in my diet. (More about my new powerhouse breakfast staple in a later post.) Or enjoying moments of gratitude frequently as I become more aware of how vital gratitude is to my mental health. Getting back to my meditation practice (which fell apart pitifully during the busy holiday season) helps too.
So what do you need to reinvent yourself?
1. Resilience: The reason we're all still here and upright is because we're resilient. Nurture your resilience on a daily basis. I tell you how in an earlier post, Six Truths I've Learned About Resilience.
2. Grieve: No one gets hit by a bus and reinvents herself the next day. Grieving is the process of coming to accept the "new normal." It's painful, but it's a vital step in reinventing yourself.
3. Gratitude: I firmly believe that gratitude is the single most important building block of reinvention. Without gratitude, there is no hope. With gratitude, anything is possible because we know how very blessed we truly already are.
5. Small Successes: Make small stabs at reinvention to achieve small successes. As you do, you get bolder and can stomach more risk. You can do it!
6. Carefully Chosen Words: Reinvention is self-inflicted change and change is scary. That's why, even when you're excited to reinvent yourself, you're also anxious. Instead of scaring yourself unnecessarily, why not change your words and thus your approach. If you break out in a sweat every time you say, "I'm going back to work," try saying, "I'm excited to find new opportunities to work with (fill in the blank.)"
You and I have lived our share of tragedies, losses, failures, disappointments and traumas. Whatever you’re struggling with now, it’s probably not your first set back, and it won’t be your last. When we take what we’ve learned from our struggles and use our female creative power to reinvent ourselves we are creating meaning. And, meaning is what we’re all looking for, right?
You and I are going to dig deeper this year to reinvent our health, spirituality, sexuality, careers, relationships and friendships. And as we do, dear friend, we’ll be reinventing and moving WhereWeGoNow to create inspired healing, wellness and live out loud joy!
(If you want to start your own Gratitude Practice, don't miss The WhereWeGoNow Gratitude Gems Series: Your 30-Day Guide to Jump-Starting a Lifetime Gratitude Practice comingout soon. As an added bonus, I've also created a relaxing video slideshow to watch anytime you need to recharge and reflect on gratitude.)
It's been a very depressing couple of months. The Aurora movie theater shooting, Hurricane Sandy's devastation, the Oregon mall shooting and, just last Friday morning, the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, which left 20 first graders and six women dead.
I really don't know what to say. I'm struggling between the forces of depression and heartache and somehow trying to salvage the joy of the holidays.
It hasn't been easy and there have been a lot of tears this weekend. Grieving, I go right to mental pictures of my own two children as first graders - so full of joy and innocence. I tiptoe up to the brink of putting myself in their parents' shoes. It's a place I cannot fully go - the mere thought searing me with a fear too gruesome to face.
All I can do is rely on the lessons I've learned from my own personal losses:
Honor Your Grief: Grief must have its way. I visualize it flowing through me, its current moving with an awesome power I cannot control. I am not powerless, however, because simply letting it pass allows me to withstand and survive it. I know this because I've done it before, just as I know I will have to withstand it again.
Pace Yourself: Don't get stuck wallowing in other people's grief. I can't sustain the trauma of 24/7 news coverage. I cannot listen to countless interviews and minutia details and endless suffering. I do not need the media to push every emotional button I have to know I am hurting. We are emotional, empathetic beings, but constant rubbing raw does not bring healing.
Find the Helpers: When I look back on 9/11, I remember the enormity of the loss and the enormity of the humanity that rose up against it. So many people responded to help and work around the clock to do whatever they could. My tears of grief often mixed with tears of gratitude for their service.
Since Friday, this wonderful piece of advice from Mr. Rogers has been circulating the internet:
"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." To this day, especially in times of "disaster," I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world."
The helpers let us see that there is still much good in the world. They give us hope and comfort and help us regain our sense of security. And, when we follow their lead and become helpers ourselves, we take back some sense of control.
I find the helper in me by donating to Hurricane Sandy relief and praying for the victims, family, friends and first responders in Newtown. More suggestions for helping the Newtown victims can be found here.
Happy New Year and I wish you peace of heart, comfort and joy this holiday season. I doubt I'll be writing a blog post next week, and maybe not the week after. I think I need some time to pull inward, spend time with my family and let the grief flow through me when the current gets strong.
Survival > Existence,
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This time of year is a mixed bag for many of us. We look forward to family togetherness, joy, love and celebration. But, too often, expectations outstrip reality and stress is the result.
If you're like me, that doesn't mean you don't chase the fantasy. Earlier in my career, I did my best to create the Norman Rockwell inspired family holiday. I let Martha Stewart, the goddess of all things "perfect," cajole me into impossible, time consuming projects. (I finally quit her when she seriously suggested growing your own grass for Easter baskets.)
Eventually, you learn to lighten up. But the dream of a White Christmas, perfect children, harmonious family celebrations, and all things magical persists.
What's the antidote to holiday stress? Mindful awareness and acceptance of the present moment.
With mindfulness you ratchet down your expectations and enjoy the little things. You're less likely to over plan, overspend and overdo. There is no "should" and "must." There is only "be."
Mindfulness and striving for Martha Stewart-perfect just don't mix. As chef Jacques Pepin summed up "perfectly:"
"When you are at home, even if the chicken is a little burnt, what's the big deal? Relax."
This is a hard post to write. Last weekend I had a joyous Thanksgiving with my very large family.
The next morning, I joined another family to mourn and celebrate an exceptional woman. Her name was Peggy and she died at age 66 from ovarian cancer.
Peggy and I served on the Pathways Women's Cancer Teaching Project, but I didn't know her well. In March, I was lucky to hear her tell her story. Her talk was deeply moving and I will never forget it and our conversation after she spoke. (Read the blog post inspired by our March meeting here.)
What we shared that day was all about cancer. That's why we were there. But even though Peggy was dying, as her family and friends made clear, she was always much more than her cancer.
Peggy lived the last five and a half years of her life as she had always lived, with grace, courage, commitment and strength. She was an inspiring, warm, happy, optimistic and giving person. She never complained and she treasured each moment with her husband of 44 years, their three children and son-in-law, and her family and friends. She traveled, served the community, worked and enjoyed life's pleasures.
Peggy was a human being facing dying, loneliness, denial and long goodbyes. But, her hope wasn't invested in "beating cancer." It was invested in living "the Perfect Moment" while she was here. Each person who spoke during her service told of at least one Perfect Moment they had shared with Peggy. As I listened, I realized my life was full of Perfect Moments too. Hadn't I just spent an entire day with 27 of my most favorite people in the world celebrating Thanksgiving?
In how she lived and faced dying, Peggy's example will be an inspiration to me always.
WhereWeGoNow does not provide medical, diagnostic or treatment advice.
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