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

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...

10 Lessons From Mothering a Teenager through Cancer

(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...

Five signs that you’ve crossed the line from caregiver to caretaker

Over 34 million people serve as unpaid caregivers for loved ones, helping them with the daily living and/or medical tasks they cannot navigate alone. One of the questions I frequently get from caregivers is how to cope better with the exhaustion and sense of helplessness that can come with managing the logistics of two lives—theirs and their loved one’s. When I speak with them, I’m always interested in how they’ve defined that precious boundary between themselves and the one that they are caring for. Healthy relationships require some separation of space—mentally, physically, and emotionally–but the frequent crises or watchfulness that caregiving often involves can make finding that line a bit difficult. It’s all too easy for people who care to become caretakers instead of caregivers. Consider these questions and decide if you’ve moved beyond your role of caregiver into the ultimately thankless one of caretaking. Do you think your loved should appreciate for what you are doing for him? Caretakers often believe that jumping in to help people will make those people love them more. After all, who doesn’t appreciate someone who has sacrificed for you? Many do, but hoping someone will value you more because of what you do for him or her can be a sign your sense of worth is too dependent on what others think—and that’s an bucket that can never stay full. Do you find yourself getting angry or resentful at your loved one? Frustration and irritation is common in many stressed out relationships but one early sign that you may be in a lopsided relationship can be recurring resentment. It’s is one of...

In a crisis–leverage your strengths!

Finding the center of strength within ourselves is in the long run the best contribution we can make to our fellow men. Rollo May, Man’s Search for Himself A few years ago, I began the process of interviewing senior business leaders who had experienced cancer for a book I am now writing. Generously, leaders from business, government, non-profits, and the judiciary met with me to talk about their dances with cancer and the wisdom they had learned on that journey. As I began to look back over my notes, one of the themes that emerged was the deftness with which they made use of their natural strengths as leaders. The capabilities they brought to their cancer fight were, in a large part, the competencies that had made them successful leaders—focus, discipline, delegation, communication, and other important leadership skills. It was if, in the moments following their diagnosis, they instinctively knew the assets within them that they could rely on in this crisis.  What are strengths? Marcus Buckingham, in “Go Put your Strengths to Work,” suggests that strengths have three components: talents you are born with, skills you have learned, and knowledge acquired through education, training or experience. In order to leverage your strengths in a crisis, you first have to figure out what they are. Once identified, you can begin to see how those strengths might help you in this current crisis. Here are some ways to start the process: Check your “life-skills” pantry. Our strengths don’t disappear in a crisis. The talent, skills, and abilities that have helped you be successful in your life up until now can...

Caregivers and Harleys: The Art of Letting Go

I had lunch yesterday with a woman I had met while her husband was going through an extremely rough recovery from cancer. They were a young married couple when he was diagnosed and she had been there, right by his side, throughout the rigorous protocol that ultimately saved his life. We spent lunch comparing notes about what we had both gone through and learned during the medical crises that devastated our families’ lives. We talked most about letting go—moving from patient advocate, decision-maker, head of household, and holder of hope to a time when our caregiving was no longer needed. Her husband had recovered, though with some ongoing medical issues. My son was thankfully healthy and cancer free, but my husband had not survived. Karen (not her name) and I talked about how surprisingly difficult it had been to shift from caregiver superwoman to just mom or wife. Though we admitted that we had never wanted to assume that heroine role, we both found it tough to give up the outfit. With that cape, those cool boots, and a clearly marked “S” on our chests we had discovered new strengths, resilience, and “grit” that had never been completely claimed in the past. And then there was the admiration we got, every time we jumped out of the phone booth in the service of our guys. It was hard, gut wrenching, scary work—pushing back when a treatment didn’t seem in their best interests, or sometimes just curling up next to them, trying to bring some comfort. Having people recognize both the difficulty and bravery we had to call on to...
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