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.
It's easy to hate change, especially when it barges in frightening and unwanted. Usually, the first instinct is to fight it every step of the way. But if it's serenity you seek, you're only going to get there by accepting the changes you cannot change.
When I'm struggling with change (which happens much more than I like to admit) the following help me see things through different eyes:
1. "Without change, something sleeps inside us, and seldom awakens. The sleeper must awaken." - Frank Herbert - Change wakes us up and makes us re-evaluate our priorities and choices.
"Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next." -- Gilda Radner
Have you ever been completely satisfied with life? Everything is humming along perfectly, including your job, your health, your relationships, your kids and your community.
Like they say, "It's always something, right?" Annoyances spring up all the time to test our patience. The furnace breaks down on the coldest day of the year, endless traffic gets between you and an appointment, the cable is out again.
That's all small stuff compared to life's unexpected curveballs. For me, there's been infertility, miscarriages and breast cancer, to name a few. I bet you've been thrown a few curveballs too.
Here's the thing: When we face a curveball, change happens whether we like it or not. We may not realize it in the thick of it, but our "normal" life ceases to exist and is replaced by something unrecognizable and euphemistically referred to as the "new normal." That's why they call it life-changing.
So here you are, facing a life-changing event, but that doesn't mean you can accept it. In fact, most people stare into the "new normal" with complete disbelief:
"When will I get pregnant and have a baby like everyone else?"
"How could he leave me?"
"Why does my body look like it got run over by a truck?"
"Will I ever feel safe, normal, happy, healthy, trusting, (fill in the blank) again?"
As painful as it is, you're not wallowing when you ask questions and speak your fears. Introspection brings answers that let us eventually accept that change is necessary. Seventeen years ago, it took just one pivotal question to open my eyes during the most stressful time of my life.
I was at the crossroads of an intense job I didn't like, mothering the toddler who took five years to have, and fearing infertility and miscarriages would strike again if we tried to have another baby. I was burnt out, crying on my way in and out of my law office, and paralyzed with fear. At one point, I theorized I couldn't have a second child and keep my job, so I had to sacrifice the child.
One day, I hit bottom and made an appointment with a therapist. I don't remember anything she said, except for this: "Why do you feel you have to endure?"
That question changed my life. Why was I choosing to stay stuck in a situation that was killing my spirit and the family we wanted? Why did I feel there was strength in enduring the known, when it was fear of the unknown that was really driving my decisions?
That question and the answers it evoked led me on a journey of reinvention. Shortly after I talked with my therapist, I got pregnant with our son. The pregnancy went off without a hitch, and I quit my job after he was born.
Reinventing myself was necessary again after my breast cancer diagnosis. Treatment, body image issues, anger, loneliness and fear break a person open. I struggled for a year, all the time religiously meeting with my oncology therapist to sift through the muck cancer stirred up. Finally, I was able to embrace my "new normal" and reinvent myself as a writer and advocate for cancer survivors.
What's the difference between enduring and holding on through a difficult time? You are enduring if:
Living your life is sapping every bit of your happiness.
You get up every morning dreading the day ahead.
Your personality is changing for the worse to the point that you don't recognize yourself.
Your friends don't want to be around you.
You are making crazy deals with yourself. (Like: "I guess I have to give up having a baby so I can keep a job I hate.")
How do you know it's time to stop enduring and face the unknown? Simple. When the fear of "having to change" becomes less awful than the hell you are living, you are ready.
At that very second, you finally understand that enduring the beast you know isn't where we find the juice in life. It's only when you stop resisting change and make the best of the moment, "without knowing what's going to happen next," that the universe supports you to create inspired healing, wellness, and live-out-loud joy.
We do survive every moment, after all, except the last one. John Updike
What does surviving every moment teach us? Quite simply, that we are resilient.
If you're like me, you've had your share of challenges. Cancer is certainly up there on the list, but it's not the only entry. You've been around the block and you'll make the trip again. Life is just like that.
What gets us up, over and through our challenges is resilience. Resilience is the ability to go on despite fear, disability or hardship. It's the ability to recover and change course. We are going to break down at times, but it's resilience that lets us rebuild.
The more moments I've survived, the more I've come to understand resilience:
1. Resilience means letting go of the fantasy of control: We just survived six days of cold and darkness when Hurricane Sandy knocked out the power. We did what we could to be comfortable. As for the rest, we just had to accept that we had no control over how long it took for the lights to come back. It was difficult, but acceptance made it less frustrating.
2. Resilience feeds on gratitude: Throughout our six days without power, I heard stories of immense suffering. Lives were lost, homes were destroyed and people are without food and basics. Given their suffering, how could I not feel grateful that we are safe and our home is unharmed. At my coldest moments, I just couldn't shake my gratitude that it hadn't been worse for us.
3. Resilience is cheerful: A sense of humor and cheerfulness go a long way. If you're not feeling it, you can fake it by laughing at a funny movie or chatting with a friend. You'll be surprised how easily your mood can lift when you actively try to improve it.
4. Resilience embraces change: The most resilient people I've ever met don't fight change, they embrace it. But don't let them fool you. They don't embrace change the minute it happens; they have their moments just like the rest of us. They just don't spend a lot of time grieving the past because they are too busy adapting and moving on.
5. Resilience must be nurtured: Challenges require energy to navigate and energy, like everything else, is a limited resource. Resilient people know when to rest, relax and recharge. No one is effective 24/7 no matter what they tell themselves.
6. Resilience can't go it alone: Social support is the most important building block of resilience. Carrying challenges in isolation is a recipe for burnout disaster and unnecessary. Resilient people seek out empathetic others to help them lighten their burden.
You are resilient! Don't stop feeding your resilience with gratitude, rest, cheerfulness and acceptance and you will survive every moment (except the last one) with strength and grace.
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