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...

Control, Chaos and Trust

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...

Three lessons my pet’s death taught me

Zelda graced our household for sixteen years, serving as protector, healer, companion, and role model. She was feline, all black, supremely sure of her worth, and had a Sicilian vendetta mentality about assaults on her dignity—especially by veterinarians. Last week, in the middle of a family crisis, Zelda let me know it was time to release her and let her proceed to the next adventure. I was, of course, out of town. I had known we were heading this direction for a while—the signs were there and my intuition told me it wouldn’t be long. I just wanted to make sure it all went “right.” You see, I had a plan and I was betting against the cosmic timer that I could ensure her a pain free death while still completing my “get it right” list. Zelda, true to her nature, listened to no one except herself. I loved that about her but her timing was lousy. I’ve learned, however, that tough times have their own schedule. You can argue with that schedule—as I have done–but it doesn’t do much good. I’ve also come to understand that life’s difficulties have the ability to bring perspective into our lives. Jolted out of our comfort zones and turned upside down, we can see things we might have missed or ignored before. Zelda’s death made me look at some things that I have a tendency to overlook or ignore. You can wait too long trying to make sure things go perfectly. If you read my last blog, “Just Say Yes,” you already know I have a bit of an issue with perfectionism....

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...
test

Enjoy this blog? Please spread the word :)