Coping with Cancer Part II: Handling the Hard and Scary Stuff

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It’s always exciting to be a guest writer on someone else’s blog. This month, I’m truly honored to be part of Shannon Miller’s Lifestyle online magazine. The article is the second in a series that I’ve written for the woman who is known as America’s Most Decorated Olympic Gymnast and the only woman to be inducted into the Olympic Hall of Fame–twice. Shannon was diagnosed with a rare form of ovarian cancer in 2011 and has a strong interest in helping others who are facing a battle with cancer. Here is an excerpt from the blog. Click on the link below to access the full article on www.shannonmiller.com.

In my first article[1], I shared some ideas about handling the first few days after receiving a cancer diagnosis. In this article, I am sharing some of the strategies that my clients and I have used when dealing with panic, terror, fear, and anxiety that often accompany that diagnosis.

As you know, if you are living with cancer, crises bring many difficult, often terrifying moments into our lives. We are stretched beyond our comfort zones, time and again, by the news that we hear or the potential outcomes that we face. Decisions must be made where the choices can be ugly or daunting and no one is available to take the blame if the wrong option is chosen.

So, how do you take back your power, when fear is threatening to run your life? Accepting that fear, terror, anxiety, panic WILL happen during this crisis is the first step in reclaiming your power.  Once you acknowledge this fact, you have lessened fear’s control over your life. Too often, we spend energy we don’t have trying to avoid the unavoidable. Want some tried and true ideas about navigating your way through tough situations without letting the emotions and uncomfortable (and unhelpful) thoughts take over your life? Try these out and find the ones that work for you.

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3 Brené Brown quotes that moved me from fear of rejection into action

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2016-04-16 10.54.47An old fear monster has been hanging out in my brain a lot these last few months. I have an inspiring, well-written and edited book available for publication (The Gift of Crisis: Finding your best self in the worst of times). There even is a proposal ready to be sent, should a literary agent or publisher be interested. Yet, I have been dragging my feet (procrastinating, “alternatively productive,” busy with client work…. ie. scared) about taking the next step—sending out letters to potential agents.

My rational brain knows that a rejection letter wouldn’t mean my book is unworthy of publication. Literary agents are not infallible when it comes to picking potential best sellers. I know this is true because I Googled it (20 Famous Authors Who Were Rejected).

And it certainly wouldn’t indicate that I am not good enough (the current old fear at play here). In fact, logical thinking continues to point out that Brené Brown (best selling author of some amazing books on vulnerability and finding our courage) had her first book turned down by literary agents and publishers.

And while this takes the whole “they know more than I do about my book’s worthiness” pretty much off the table, it hasn’t been enough to move me into action. The part of me who still carries the old fears about not being good enough has been stalling, hoping for an easier (read: highly affirming/rejection free) path to publication.

The other day, while listening to a podcast by Elizabeth Gilbert (author of “Eat, Pray, Love” and “Big Magic”) and Brené Brown on creativity and whole-hearted living, I found the key that has moved me from fear of rejection into purposeful action. *

Brené said three things that have been pinging around in my head:

“Creativity is the way I share my soul with the world.”

“The only unique contribution we will make to this world will be born of creativity.”

“Unused creativity is not benign.”

Just lately, these quotes have moved into my heart, inspiring it to speak louder than my fear. Brené’s words remind me that my soul came here to help others survive, heal, grow—even find their best selves–from the obstacles and crises in their lives. Furthermore the wisdom I have gained is unique to me—no one else can bring it into the world. And if, as Henry David Thoreau points out, I do not want to go to my grave with my song still in me, it’s time to get moving.

So, here I go into the world of query letters—holding on to Brené’s example and inspiration with both hands. All help, suggestions, or introductions gratefully received!

*Elizabeth Gilbert’s podcasts are called “Magic Lessons.” The one with Brené is Episode 12, “Big Strong Magic.”

10 Lessons From Mothering a Teenager through Cancer

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(Note: This article was recently published in Elephant Journal. Please click on the link below to access the full article)

 

 

In late September 2005, my sixteen-year-old son, Nick, sat down next to me on the couch and told me that he thought he had testicular cancer.

Knowing that Nick had a streak of hypochondriac in him, I was convinced he was being overly dramatic about some swelling in his groin.

I was wrong.

Nick was diagnosed with pre-cursor B cell lymphoma and put on a two-year protocol of chemotherapy. In a single, mind-numbing moment, our family’s priorities, conversations and just about everything else in our daily lives shifted to a single-minded focus on the survival of our child.

Our family went from one who barely used aspirin and Benadryl to one that had chemo drugs on the dinner table. It was a world no one wanted to enter and, yet, there we were—unwilling travelers on a bus ride in Hell.

Parenting a child through a life threatening illness is both scary and exhausting. Paradoxically, it is also a petri dish for rapid personal growth. The lessons that it taught me were often adopted reluctantly, with teeth gritted in resistance to their wisdom. But ultimately, what I learned changed me then and continues to guide my life today.

Here is what those years on the bus showed me:

10 Lessons from Mothering a Teenager Through Cancer.

Surviving Your New Year’s Resolutions

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self-love 2Surviving Your New Year’s Resolutions

Like many people, I enjoy setting resolutions for the coming year–even though I never achieve them perfectly. Earlier in life I judged myself harshly for any slip-ups in keeping those resolutions—believing that breaking one was a clear sign of my lack of will power (or character defect, depending on how badly I felt about the mess up). You see, I had bought into a perfectionist view of the world—the one where only the flawless are considered worthy of attention or love. Any mistake, I believed, took me off the “lovable” list immediately and made the possibility of being loved for who I really was (human and imperfect) a very chancy prospect.

It’s not true about New Year’s resolutions and it’s not true about Life. We don’t have to perform this dance with life faultlessly to be worthy of love. We are likely going to screw up, even if we have the best strategies, painstakingly laid out, to achieve our goals. I’m not being pessimistic—actually, I’m an irrepressible optimist. After all these years of imperfection completion, I still set resolutions.

During this last year, as I was following a very wobbly path to unconditional self-love, I discovered an important truth that changed how I see life, and even more, how I approach New Year’s Resolutions. Here it is:

Self-love is not about learning to love yourself despite your imperfections. It’s about recognizing that you are  lovable–including your flaws.

It’s a bit of a game changer if you sit with this idea for a few minutes. Those of us who have been using New Years resolutions to carefully cull out all of our “bad” habits and tendencies, hoping for that miracle of worthiness once those nasty aspects of ourselves are eradicated, have it all wrong. We always were worthy of love.

Somewhere, early in our childhood, someone important to us—perhaps a teacher, parent, relative, older friend, religious leader, or coach–told us that we weren’t worthy of their attention or love unless we changed some aspect of ourselves. We didn’t realize that the people telling us the story had also bought into the lie. And, they accepted this story so completely that they needed to make sure everyone else around them believed it too. So they punished, ignored, or withdrew from us if we didn’t change our behaviors to fit their needs.

We quickly got the idea that love, attention, or worthiness was externally driven and could be quickly lost. We learned that we had better hustle if we were going to be loved. Worse yet, we bought the story we weren’t lovable without changing and made it our truth.

We don’t have to change to be worthy of love. We already are—just as we are.

So, what does this mean for you? Well, if you’ve been learning to accept your flabby stomach, tendency towards self-pity, financial snafus or any other problem area of your life, that’s a great start. It’s just not the bottom line. As long as you see any trait or aspect of yourself as a reason that you are not fundamentally worthy of love, you’re treating yourself like that irritating relative that you barely tolerate for the sake of family harmony. You deserve better, really you do.

Something magical happens when you let yourself love all of you, including those dark, unpleasant or overweight aspects of yourself. It gets easier to treat yourself with love, even when you make a mistake. And, if you’re not in a spiral of self-loathing and recrimination, it’s much easier to get back on track with your resolution. In fact, my thirty years of helping people change their behaviors has shown me again and again that we are loved into a change significantly more often than we are belittled, harassed or shamed into one.

 

 

Control, Chaos and Trust

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I hit that magical 60th birthday in July this year and, since my family tends to stay active until their 80s and 90s, figure I have at least 25 years of productive living in front of me. That recognition has birthed a couple questions that seem to run through my head a lot—“If not now, when?” and, with apologies to Mary Oliver, “What else do you want to do with this one wild and precious life?

Those questions have led me to thinking about the obstacles I continue to stumble over in my life. These are the personality traits and well-entrenched behavioral tendencies that ride herd on my dreams and plans, slowing them down, often to a standstill. For me they are self-doubt, fear, perfectionism, and an obdurate* tendency to want to tell the Universe how to run things.

While I can claim some genetic predisposition to this last trait (family members, you know who you are) I think it has more to do with a fear that if I don’t stay on top of what is going on around me, bad stuff will happen.

Those of you who know a bit about my life (http://drsusanmecca.com/dr-susan-mecca-bio/) know that this is both illogical and a bit comical. Given what has happened in my last decade alone, apparently I’m really bad at running things, the Universe isn’t listening, or the Universe dances to a much more complex set of variables than I am capable of understanding or orchestrating. I’m inclined to believe the latter.

I also used to believe that playing Universe Hall Monitor would make me more love-worthy. Preventing potential crises seemed like a great way to prove my value. As it turns out, having “the” answers for people’s lives isn’t nearly as appreciated as one might think. Some people can even get a tad irritated by it.

This brings me to what I’m working on right now—trusting in the flow of life and seeing myself as lovable and perfect, even when what I do isn’t. It means giving up the idea that I can win lovability points or prevent the scary stuff by what I do. It’s a difficult process for me and often involves prying my grasping hands off of the reins of my life or someone else’s. I still catch myself in mid-sentence giving unsolicited advice more frequently than I would like to admit.

What makes it possible for me to consider retiring from my role as She Who Can Fix Things? Well, I’ve come to deeply believe three things about this human existence:

  1. We were born perfect and lovable. All you have to do is look at babies to know that. What child is unworthy of love? And if our parents and other important people in our lives didn’t reflect our perfect lovability back to us as children, it was about their own fears and doubts–not our worthiness or perfection. What we do or fail to do will not and cannot alter that core lovability.
  2. We are loved beyond measure by the Universe/God/Howard.** You figure out what that means to you, but to me “a love beyond measure” looks like the love I have for my son, immense and incalculable, and then multiplying that times Infinity. I figure when Someone loves you that much, They have your back–even if it doesn’t always look like it at the time.
  3. If I let the Universe handle the creative details, S/He will delight me. My boyfriend is a sterling example of this principle in action. I had no idea that it was possible to find a smart, loving and nurturing man in Dallas Texas who is a liberal, cooks beautifully and doesn’t like sports. Who knew? Apparently, the Universe did.

So, bottom line–I don’t have to be in charge to 1) win love or 2) prevent disasters. Don’t get me wrong. Bad stuff will happen though I really, really, really wish it wouldn’t. Normal, human safety precautions aside, the truly crappy events or situations seem to show up in everyone’s life at some time. At least, that’s been my experience and that of everyone I know and love.

But….numbers one through three (above) still are true, even when the scary, out of control, heart wrenching events of our lives come barreling through.

Lean on those ideas and consider, just for today, loosening the reins just a little bit, ok? I’m right there with you.

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*obdurate–love that word—it means, among other things, pigheaded. Sometimes an apt description of my unwillingness to let go.

**The Universe/God/Howard–as in “Howard be thy name”–thank you Anne Lamott!