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I'm so glad you're here!
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, blogger at Cure Magazine and The Huffington Post, contributor at Positively Positive, 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.
Another summer, another year after cancer. Four years ago, I was in the thick of it. Depressed, scared, lonely, stressed, angry and out of my mind tired of it all. That summer, time was definitely long.
Somehow I got through the longest summer of my life. When I finally made it to September, I hit a new emotional low because an entire year had gone by since my initial mammogram and I wasn't yet "over" cancer. (I know they were trying to be helpful, but the people (a doctor and a survivor) who told me cancer will take a year of your life and then it will be "over," did me no favors.)
I think it's exactly when we're experiencing life's losses that we best appreciate that time is long, but life is short. Those days of grieving miscarriages and infertility, the death of our dear friend on 9/11 and cancer were the longest of my life. But, they also taught me how quickly and without warning a life can be extinguished. And, in that loss of life, brought a shattering reality to my own mortality.
Of course, when the fog lifts and the sun starts to shine a little brighter, it's easy to forget the preciousness of each moment. To some extent, that's probably the way it should be. It's just too hard to maintain the heightened awareness that comes from grief and struggle every day of your life.
Yet, somewhere in our consciousness remains a recognition, a knowledge, that cannot be unlearned. We've lived the worst of times and because we know life is short:
We make each moment count: "Work like you don't need the money. Love like you've never been hurt. Dance like nobody's watching." (Satchel Paige)
We give it our all: "Too many people die with their music still in them.” (Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes) "When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, 'I used everything you gave me." (Erma Bombeck)
We don't take ourselves too seriously: "My life has been one great big joke, a dance that's walked, a song that's spoke, I laugh so hard I almost choke when I think about myself." (Maya Angelou)
We try to be kind:"Life is short and we have never too much time for gladdening the hearts of those who are traveling the dark journey with us. Oh be swift to love, make haste to be kind." (Henri Frederic Amiel)
We take risks: "Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go." (T. S. Eliot)
We take charge: "Your success and happiness lies in you. Resolve to keep happy, and your joy and you shall form an invincible host against difficulties." (Helen Keller)
We celebrate: "The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate." (Oprah Winfrey)
Dance, sing, laugh and celebrate because life is short and you deserve to be happy.
The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty "yes" to your adventure. Joseph Campbell
Why is this "THE" big question? Only because pondering it leads to immeasurable opportunities to turn your life into "your adventure."
This question hit me like a brick the other day while on my yoga mat. At the time, I called it an epiphany, but "brick" is more how it felt.
I've been a bit stressed lately, dealing with some life changes and such. Nothing earth-shattering, but I'm not one for instability when the status quo is so much more comfy. I approach change with a bit of dread, seeing the glass as half-empty, afraid of what could go wrong. To my executive brain, it feels like preparation. To my psyche, it feels like sandpaper on an open wound.
There I was, sitting on my yoga mat about to start a class, when this thought hit me in the head: "Why can't I expect good things to come from where I go next?"
Hmmm ....... let's take this thought and run with it: "If yoga is about being where you are, right now, without judgment, why can't I be okay with where I am, right now, off the yoga mat? What is stopping me from trusting that I belong exactly where I am and where I go next?"
This was an exciting thought! And it unleashed a bunch of other thoughts like a damn burst:
I am enough.
I am where I am supposed to be right now.
I am deserving of good results.
I am okay.
If saying "yes" to yourself doesn't come naturally, here are a few words of wisdom to help you get there:
"Believe you can and you're halfway there." (Theodore Roosevelt)
"I thank you God for this most amazing day, for the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and for the blue dream of sky and for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes." (e. e. cummings)
"Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence." (Helen Keller)
"At the side of the everlasting why, is a yes, and a yes, and a yes." (E. M. Forster)
It takes trust and boatloads of optimism to "say a hearty "yes" to your adventure." You'll get there by believing in your right to step into the light. Practice saying "yes" and little success will lead to bigger opportunities.
If saying "yes" still feels unnatural to you, try it the other way around: "Why can't I say "yes" to myself?" If you can't come up with any solid, good reasons, then go for it!
For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love. Carl Sagan
The greatest gift of WWGN for me is my interaction with you. Sharing our stories tears down, brick by brick, the emotional wall we inevitably hit on our cancer journey. A WWGN reader left a powerful comment that eloquently sums it up:
My personal feelings of WHAT NEXT! WOW!
The strangest feeling of WHAT next? Imaginary loneliness and isolation! Confusion! From the day of diagnosis, it was constant GO, GO, GO, FIGHT, FIGHT, FIGHT.. Never a minute of rest (although one would think fighting cancer requires a lot of rest!) But no rest mentally and often times physically. Traveling here and there, meeting this person, that person! Explaining to family, friends, repeating yourself OVER, and OVER! Prayers and hugs coming from every direction! The CENTER of attention during a horrible event! THEN! BOOM! Surgery over, healed, chemo done, radiation done.. Appointments done! Phone calls and inquiries slowly disappear! Life slowly resumes.. BUT, will my life be like it was? Am I the same? Where did everyone go? What do I do now? Do you GET WHERE I'm GOING? I was LOST.. IT was HARD to get back! I still wonder WHAT NEXT and I'm certain always will. But was it REALLY all about NATHALIE? I feel selfish! Should I? Anyone else have stories to share about how they felt AFTER all was OVER (hopefully for ever?)
The black hole of cancer sucks us into its vastness, whirling us about. Without a touchstone (what used to be called normal), our sense of direction is gone and life on the other side is unrecognizable. Then, when we are most emotionally lost, everyone else wants to move on, leaving us to ask, "Where did everyone go?"
When we feel abandoned it's hard to find the love, but it's there if you're willing to do the work:
1. Get real with your family and friends about your emotional state. I know you'd much rather just move on and put cancer behind you, like they seem to be doing. If you're not there yet, however, you have to be speak up and be honest. Putting on a brave front just leads to cance anger and resentment. Take it from me, there's a lot of power in sharing your bad attitude toward cancer.
2. Get support from others who "get it." The vastness of life after cancer is simply not bearable without the loving support of people who understand the cancer journey (cancer anger, loneliness, stress, cancer survivor's guilt,body image, fear, and other after cancer emotions.) How do you find other cancer survivors and in-tune professionals? Communicate! Join a support group, see a therapist, get involved. I just spent the afternoon sitting on a panel for the Pathways Women's Cancer Teaching Project. Not only did I educate third-year medical family practice residents as to the effects of cancer on the whole patient, but I also got to spend time talking and sharing with other survivors. Reach out and keep reaching out until you get the support you deserve.
Every time I meet with other survivors, I bask in their understanding, validation and empathy - and that to me is love. Because I wanted Nathalie to feel that same love force, I posted her comment on my Facebook page. The responses she got came across loud and clear and assured me, and hopefully Nathalie, that we are a community of cancer and love ready, willing and able to make the vastness of cancer bearable for each other.
Tell me below if you felt like Nathalie after your treatment ended. Did you reach out to others for support and find the love?
“The beauty of a woman is not in the clothes she wears, the figure that she carries, or the way she combs her hair. The beauty of a woman is seen in her eyes, because that is the doorway to her heart, the place where love resides. True beauty in a woman is reflected in her soul. It's the caring that she lovingly gives, the passion that she shows and the beauty of a woman only grows with passing years.” Audrey Hepburn
When events come together to make me think, I tend to write about it. That happened this week when a 2012 interview with Dustin Hoffman popped up in the media.
Speaking about his portrayal of Tootsie, Hoffman reveals that the film was "never a comedy for me." The shock of seeing himself as an interesting, less than attractive woman incited a startling revelation:
"It was at that moment I had an epiphany, and I went home and started crying. Talking to my wife, I said I have to make this picture, and she said, "Why?" And I said, "Because I think I am an interesting woman when I look at myself on screen. And I know that if I met myself at a party, I would never talk to that character because she doesn't fulfill physically the demands that we're brought up to think women have to have in order to ask them out." She says, "What are you saying?" And I said, "There's too many interesting women I have…not had the experience to know in this life because I have been brainwashed."
Because reading the above quote just can't do Dustin justice, make sure to watch the AFI video. It's amazing to see a man who "passed for a woman" talk about how society has "brainwashed" men to judge women entirely on the basis of their physical appearance.
On the heels of discovering Hoffman's video interview, I was asked to sponsor a post for Dove Skin Care. The questions raised in Dove's new film, "Dove Camera Shy" are quite simple: Why do we hide from the camera as adults when we loved the camera as little girls? What happened to us along the way?
I'm sure you'll recognize yourself in this amazing video. I sure did:
If you've ever run away from a camera, recoiled upon catching sight of yourself in a mirror, or cut yourself out of family photos, this video should make you think. The simple, exuberant joy we had as little girls has been replaced by "issues." Why are we always too much or not enough? How do we stop constantly agonizing over it?
How especially do we handle body image and cancer issues when we're in the throes of cancer treatment? I've written a lot about how those issues affected me after my mastectomy but, in truth, the seeds were planted long before my diagnosis. Cancer, in it's usual opportunistic way, just recognized a weakness and puffed it up exponentially.
The hard truth is that once you know something, you can't not know it. That's why there is no way to revert back to the childish innocence we enjoyed before we were brainwashed. The best we can hope is to be aware of the real issue, which is the constant judgment of women as physical objects. And, most importantly, we can stop, take a breath and focus in awareness on our inner beauty when we victimize ourselves by falling prey to those same impossible standards.
Do you suffer with body image issues? Did your cancer experience make those issues worse for you? What did you think of the Dustin Hoffman and Dove Camera Shy videos?
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