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oncology therapy

What I Learned in Therapy

"Think of your head as an unsafe neighborhood; don't go there alone." – Augusten Burroughs 

The room was barely big enough for two chairs, a desk and a box of tissues.

Every Tuesday at 10 a.m., I found myself there. Usually, I showed up with a specific issue I needed to talk about. Sometimes, I was just there to be there. Every time, except one, I left feeling better than when I walked in the door.

I’ve been very open about spending an entire year in therapy after my mastectomy. Without a doubt, it was the single best thing I’ve ever done for myself. I don’t know how I could have navigated cancer without it and cannot overstate this . . .

Click here to continue reading and learn how therapy saved me.

Have you been in therapy or are you considering it? Let's talk about it.

Survival > Existence,

Image courtesy Martin Heigan 

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The "Aha" Moment That Led to My 2014 Mantra

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 debbie@wherewegonow.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!
Survival > Existence,
Copyright 123 RF Photos


How to Express Your Cancer Anger, Even if Something Gets Broken

Question: How many cancer patients does it take to change a light bulb?

Answer:  A few months after my April 15, 2009, mastectomy and TRAM flap reconstruction, I changed a light bulb. The light fixture had a cover which I removed to get to the bulb. Everything went well until I tried to reattach the cover.

As I struggled, I got more and more frustrated.I didn’t want to give up and give the job to someone else; I wanted to make it work. And then, suddenly, all I wanted to do was smash the darn thing onto the ground.

Which I did.

The cover exploded on impact and plastic shards sprayed everywhere. I stood frozen in horror and yet felt strangely satisfied. In that split second, I let go of all restraint and expressed exactly what I felt – and I felt anger.  

“Try as much as possible to be wholly alive, with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell and when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.” William Saroyan

I was good and angry all right – and it wasn’t at that light fixture. I had just gone from healthy to disability and disfigurement.  All I saw when I looked in the mirror was an angry, red cancer scar from hip to hip, a reconstructed mound where my right breast had once been and a missing nipple.

And that was just the physical stuff. Receiving a cancer diagnosis was mind-blowingly frightening. Submitting to painful tests and surgeries overwhelmed my flight or fight impulse. My body image was in the toilet. Emotionally and physically, I was a train wreck.

I was angry about it all; I just didn’t know it until I smashed that light cover to smithereens. After that, two things happened. The first was that I kept running into things that made me angry. Family and friends wanted to get back to “normal” before I was ready. I struggled with loneliness. The technologist who conducted the first mammogram after my surgeries was an insensitive idiot.

The second was that I got help dealing with my cancer anger. Luckily for me, my cancer center offered oncology therapy. My therapist helped me recognize the depth of my anger and reassured me that being angry was entirely normal for cancer patients. She also encouraged me to talk it out - first with her and then with others.

“Anybody can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.” Aristotle

It wasn’t easy facing my cancer emotions once a week for a year, but the process healed me. I hadn’t even realized how much until a few weeks ago, when I met a young ministerial student as part of The Connection’s Pathways Women’s Cancer Teaching Project.

As a patient educator, I shared that I still have pain most every day from my TRAM flap reconstruction. She seemed genuinely horrified that I was still suffering three years after my surgery and asked me if I was angry about it.

“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.” Mark Twain

My answer caught me off guard, because I had to say that I wasn’t, and that surprised me. Somehow that year of therapy and all those tears immunized me. I’m not a vessel of unresolved anger. I’m sharing my cancer emotions and living my life after cancer with acceptance. 

(I originally posted this piece as a guest blog post on No Boobs About It. To this day, that light fixture is still without its cover. Whenever I look up and see it missing, I'm reminded of my cancer emotions that day and happy to be living life after treatment.)

Survival > Existence,

Related Posts:

Coping with Cancer Anger

5 Tips for Coping with Cancer Anger at Home

Copyright (c) 123RF Stock Photos


Summer's Over! Time to Face the Next "New Normal"

The time is finally here! Our daughter is off to college and we're facing yet another "new normal."  Because this week has been devoted exclusively to spending time with her, I didn't make time to write a new post. Instead, I thought I'd rerun the piece I wrote last year entitled "What the Last Weekend of Summer Teaches Us About Moving Beyond Cancer." 

Reading it again, I was struck by the pertinence of its message to what we're facing this September. Once again I'm hoping to "celebrate (my) tenacious ability to face (my) fears and get on with the next phase of (my) life." Although I'm not quite ready to let her go, I'm going to trust again that I can handle it as I step blindly into the unknown.

I hope you have a wonderful last weekend of summer and we'll talk again in September about our newest adventures.

It's the Friday before the unofficial last weekend of summer, which of course means it's Labor Day Weekend, the last day of summer is September 20th, but no one cares about that. This weekend draws a line in the sand.  For the next three days, we continue to exist within the vast openness of summer days filled with sunshine and possibility. As of Tuesday morning, the beach chairs and umbrellas are stored away. It's not about technicalities, it's about knowing when to get on with the next phase of your life.

And get on we will because we've done this before.  If you've graduated from the third grade, you're an old hand at it.  We might complain about busier schedules, earlier wake up calls, and first day of school jitters, but we know we can handle it. Been there, done that. 

When it comes to change or transitions we haven't experienced before, we tend to shy away (actually, we often run screaming in the other direction.)  Our fear of the unknown is well known and deep-seated.  It is the fear that gripped us when we were told, "You have cancer."  Without warning from the calendar, or even our own bodies, we are suddenly plucked from our world and thrown into cancer's.  All of the medical terminology, procedures and realities of our new existence are stunningly unrecognizable. There's no "been there, done that" to rely upon.  We have to learn anew, sometimes minute by minute, what we are capable of handling.  

At some point, if we are very lucky, it starts to get a bit easier.  Not necessarily because we are "cured," but because we are healing.  Like it or not, we've gotten on with the next phase of our lives. We are survivors. We've taken advantage of support groups, exercise classes, counseling, yoga, Pilates, meditation, guided imagery or whatever presented itself when we needed it.  Nothing makes the stark reality of having cancer better.  Cancer will always be a despicable blight. But we have managed to adapt to its reality so we can survive, despite our fear, and that's made all the difference.

Next week, with my children safely in school, I will travel once again to the Breast Center for my yearly mammogram. From the first mammogram of my life to the life-changing mammogram of September 2008, I never gave them much thought. They were inconvenient, uncomfortable obligations and I attended to them dutifully, but without concern. Now, I walk in hand-in-hand with my fear of the unknown and the inevitable question, "What if?"

I live in New Jersey and have been "down the shore," as we say here, many times.  I love seeing the Atlantic Ocean, but I don't want to go in it. There's something about blindly putting my feet down on whatever might be lurking under the water that unnerves me. I'm never going to stop being afraid of the unknown. I'm just going to have to keep telling myself that I've handled it before, and I'm still here. For now, that's all I can do.

Have a wonderful weekend!  Whatever we're up to, let's make sure to celebrate our tenacious ability to face our fears and get on with the next phase of our lives.  Join the discussion and let me know how you've managed your fear of the unknown.

Survival > Existence,

Copyright (c) 123RF Stock Photos

Don't Miss Me In Cure Magazine - Coping with Cancer Anger


The summer issue of CURE Magazine is out! As promised in an earlier post, I'm quoted extensively in an article entitled Seeing Red: Coping with Anger During Cancer. It's a really interesting article on how anger is normal for cancer patients/survivors and how it can be used constructively to advance healing.

If you missed the original post I wrote on anger here at WWGN, I'm reposting it here in its entirety. I'm also working on a new post about cancer anger which I'll be posting very soon. To make sure you don't miss it, sign up at the Feedburner box to the right to get my posts sent directly to your email box. Also, don't miss my newsletter and gift to you: The WhereWeGoNow Manifesto - "20 Intentions for Your Inspired Survivorship" by signing up at the top of the home page. 

Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. But anger is like fire. It burns it all clean. Maya Angelou

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines an emotion as  "a conscious mental reaction (as anger or fear) subjectively experienced as strong feeling usually directed toward a specific object and typically accompanied by physiological and behavioral changes in the body." Notice there is no value judgment as to the negativity or positivity of our emotions. They are simply reactions to friends, family, medical professionals and cancer itself.

The truth is we often consider anger to be a and try to avoid it at all costs. The social message is loud and clear: Don't overreact, don't yell, don't curse, don't scream, and don't ever be impolite. Hold it in at all cost. But how do we cope with cancer anger?

As a cancer survivor, I remember a lot to be angry about. Although I never wondered "why me," I did feel anger about changes to my bodyloneliness, and having to deal with past emotional traumas stirred up by cancer. I was especially angry when a year had passed since my diagnosis and I was not yet "over" my cancer anger. 

I also remember being really angry at the people who wanted to move on and forget about my cancer before I was ready to do the same. I felt alone, abandoned and unheard. As my anger increased, it got too big to share with those same people. The only thing that saved me was being able to voice my anger to my oncology therapist, who encouraged me to curse, yell and be impolite. I know it is only due to her being there for me that I was able to work through my cancer anger and get to a better place in those relationships.

The experience which made me the most angry was my first mammogram after my diagnosis. I was already emotional about returning to the scene of my initial bad news, but the technician's insensitivity pushed me over the edge. She started off on the wrong foot by talking about my history in the middle of the waiting room, where our conversation could be overheard. 

In the dressing room, she asked me again about my history (she couldn't seem to understand why I only needed one breast to be mammogramed.) Finally, I realized that she didn't even believe that I had had a mastectomy, despite the fact that I told her so many times. At that point, she told me that many patients don't always know the difference between a lumpectomy and a mastectomy. Really? You try having a mastectomy and then tell me you don't know the difference.

Next, she moved on to my diagnosis, which in her opinion (despite her lack of a medical degree), was "not breast cancer." This shocked me, but I looked her straight in the eye and responded that it was in fact cancer. Not to be deterred, she responded by saying that there was some debate whether it was or wasn't. At that point, I stopped talking because I didn't want to break down and cry, or possibly punch her.

Despite my silence, she kept talking. She told me she knew someone else who had DCIS and she had a mastectomy too, "so she wouldn't have to worry about it anymore." Could she not sense my intense worry and upset at that very moment? Or did she actually think that my mastectomy made it all better and I had nothing to worry about anymore?

When the mammogram was completed, she invited me to take a rose. I considered not taking it, because I was nauseous from the whole experience, but I did to keep my head down. I got dressed, holding myself together, walked as fast as I could out of there and got to my car, where I broke down and cried. When I got home, I threw away the rose.

A day later, I was still over the top angry and knew I had to do something. I decided to call the breast center and complain. When I talked about it later with my therapist, she applauded me for calling, but asked why I felt I had to hold it all in while I was there, rather than let the technician see the hurt she had caused. It was an excellent question.

The bitterness of cancer anger was exactly what I was feeling before I made that phone call. By holding in my anger, I caused it to eat through me, rather than use it to deal with the source of the problem. Once expressed appropriately (by complaining about how I was treated) my anger burned clean my resentment and bitterness. I felt validated. I felt empowered and I felt heard.

How have you coped with your cancer anger after cancer treatment? Have you been able to express it constructively, or have you held it in like I did? To read the many comments this post inspired, make sure to check it out here.

Yours in validation,

Copyright (c) 123RF Stock Photos

How Are You Coping with Cancer Anger?

You had a lot to say about cancer anger! And for some, the phrase "cancer rage" better described your reaction to all you have been through. You have to read the comments to this post, entitled "Coping with Cancer Anger." What a wonderful, empathetic conversation!

Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. But anger is like fire. It burns it all clean. Maya Angelou

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines an emotion as  "a conscious mental reaction (as anger or fear) subjectively experienced as strong feeling usually directed toward a specific object and typically accompanied by

The "Solo Journey" of Cancer

This post asked the question, Are You Still Struggling with the Loneliness of Life After Cancer? It ran on October 18, 2011, and sparked a real conversation in the comment section about the "solo journey" of cancer: 

For almost 18 wonderful years, I've had the privilege of building a close relationship with my daughter. Whether in person, or by phone or text, we like to talk about everything and anything. Today she texted me to say how much she missed her friend who just transferred to another school. She was "lonely" and "bored" without her.

My response: "Think relaxing thoughts.

Mindful Monday - Take Action!

Do you want to know who you are? Don't ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you. Thomas Jefferson

We all know that going through the diagnosis and treatment of cancer changes you forever. Our bodies, minds and psyches are irreparably scarred in ways it takes years to understand. We've lost jobs we loved and friends we thought loved us. All those things that defined us pre-cancer get shaken up and resettle like bits of glass in a kaleidoscope. 

For me, the turmoil of cancer begged the question, "Who am I now? Physically, I was being whittled away. First, by the stereotactic biopsy

Cancer Warriors Wednesday - CancerCare

Whenever I am asked to share my advice to new cancer patients, I always say the same thing, "Get as much support from as many different sources as you need." It's a life-changing experience to hear, "You have cancer." I never could have gone through that experience, and all of the fallout that followed, without the support I received from my oncology therapist, breast nurse navigator and my family and friends.

CancerCare has been offering free, professional support to anyone affected by cancer for 67 years. Operating under the belief that no one should have to go through cancer alone, CancerCare offers counseling - face to face and over the telephone in its New Jersey, New York and Connecticut locations. If you're not from the tri-state area, CancerCare also offers support conversations over the telephone to anyone in the United States. Face-to-face, telephone and online support groups are also offered.

In addition to offering emotional support, CancerCare also offers financial grants that assist patients who need help getting back and forth to treatment (there are eligibility requirements). CancerCare also works with clients to connect them to other available resources. Over 51,000 people listen to the Connect Education Workshops annually and you can order free copies from their extensive library of publications and fact sheets (currently over 77 titles).

Several months ago I had the pleasure of meeting with Claire Grainger, LSW, oncology social worker, and Kathy Nugent, LCSW, Director of Social Services, of CancerCare's Ridgewood, New Jersey, office. We had a wonderful conversation about the importance of support to cancer survivors and I was so impressed with their dedication to people with cancer, caregivers, loved ones and the bereaved. 

I am a huge believer in the importance of oncology therapy and support. I was extremely lucky to be offered free oncology therapy through my cancer center at Overlook Hospital. If you are dealing with the emotional effects of cancer, struggling with cancer anger, cancer loneliness or just need someone to talk to, please call CancerCare's Hope-line at 1-800- 813- HOPE. All calls are answered by oncology social workers. One simple phone call can make a huge difference to a person with cancer or a loved one who is feeling overwhelmed and needing extra support. 

If you live in the United States and are in need of cancer support, call CancerCare or visit its website today. No one should go through cancer alone, and, thanks to the totally free services of CancerCare, no one has to if they are willing to pick up a telephone. 

Do You Share Your Bad Attitude Toward Cancer?

It is very important to generate a good attitude, a good heart, as much as possible. From this, happiness in both the short term and the long term for both yourself and others will come. Dalai Lama

As cancer survivors, we often run into the "have a positive attitude no matter what" message. I often heard this during the early days of my diagnosis and treatment. What surprised me most was how many times I heard it directly from other cancer survivors.

Although I never agreed with the "be positive all the time" credo, I did struggle with how to express my sometimes negative attitude toward cancer to others. After my mastectomy, my husband and I had plans to see friends, but I told him I wasn't up for socializing. My reason wasn't physical. I was emotionally exhausted from telling people I was fine when they asked me how I was doing. I felt like I was lying all the time and I just didn't want to do it again.

My husband told me very simply to tell the truth. It was a radical idea because I dreaded letting others see my emotional struggle. I also felt I was through the worst part of my treatment and should be moving on. Wow! Does that mean I felt I hadn't suffered enough to have earned the right to have a negative attitude toward cancer once in a while?

I guess so, because I sure felt deserving after an earlier, difficult experience. My younger sister and I went through infertility and miscarriages at the same time. When we both finally got pregnant, we approached giving birth in exactly the same way. I remember our adamant discussions about our "right" to skip the joys of natural childbirth.

We both felt strongly that we had suffered enough through infertility treatments and had "earned" the right to give birth blissfully drugged up and pain-free. We were fine with our bad attitudes because we felt it was entirely unnecessary to put ourselves through any more pain. We had suffered enough.

Despite my inability to see my cancer experience in the same way, I took my husband's advice. I was standing in my friends' kitchen when they asked the inevitable question, "How are you doing?" I told them the truth about how difficult I was finding the emotional healing (not to mention the physical healing from a mastectomy and TRAM flap reconstruction.) Their empathetic support and compassion actually surprised me. Although I had been sharing my negative attitude toward cancer with my oncology therapist, I wasn't trusting my friends and family with my feelings. Realizing that they could handle my less than positive spin on cancer was entirely eye opening and liberating.

It's certainly important to be as positive as you can, whenever you can. It just doesn't seem possible for anyone to have a good attitude toward cancer all of the time. To even try is exhausting and an unreasonable burden to place on yourself. Even the Dalai Lama only encourages a good attitude, "as much as possible."  When you just can't be positive, don't. Be honest with the people who love you. If you give people a chance to be supportive, you might be as surprised as I was at how beautifully they come through for you.

What do you think about being positive and having a good attitude all of the time? Is it possible? If not, how do you handle sharing your "bad" attitude with others?

Survival > Existence,

Copyright (c) 123RF Stock Photos


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