Friday, January 04, 2008

What Not to Say to a Cancer Survivor

This is thanks to The Cancer Crusade, an organization that sends me weekly thoughts on cancer survivorship. They are also the creators of the brilliant survivor movie that I've posted here before:

I'm posting this because it rings incredibly true with me. Thank you for reading it and understanding.

Whether you are a newly diagnosed survivor or someone who loves him or her, cancer rocks your world. We survivors have our own issues to face, but those of you who care for us can help by learning what not to say. We know you mean well, but please avoid the following platitudes:

"God won't give you more than you can handle." This implies that God gave me cancer. I don't buy it. The God I know is about goodness and light and love and healing. He doesn't throw down lightning bolts of cancer (or other catastrophes for that matter); that kind of thinking went out with ancient mythology. My cancer was caused by some cellular misfire, some rotten biological/chemical event, a chink in my body's immune system armor. Instead of telling me that God doesn't give us more than we can handle, remind me that God helps us handle what we are given.

"I could get hit by a bus tomorrow. You'll probably outlive me." Keep that up, and I can guarantee it. Look, if you're walking blindfolded down the middle of a major interstate highway during rush hour when you say this (because that's how I feel right now), it might make sense and I might agree with you. Otherwise, it's a meaningless remark that does nothing to make me feel better. In fact, now I'm worried about you. Thanks a lot.

"You have to have a positive attitude to beat this, so come on! Be positive!" You've just added to the terror I'm already experiencing. You have implied (whether you meant to or not) that I'm hurting my chances of getting well because I'm very sad and very scared right now. If you really want to help me, acknowledge and validate my feelings. Feelings are not facts, so you can't argue with them; please don't try. Instead, help me express what's in my heart and on my mind. You don't need to respond to everything I say. Just listen without trying to "fix" things. I will find my way to a more "positive attitude" as I gain understanding of my disease and treatment plan and as I begin to regain control of my life. Be patient with me. I'll get there in my own time.

"Don't cry. It will all be okay." These words are almost always said because the person who is witnessing the crying is uncomfortable. If you're uncomfortable seeing me cry, then please don't come around for a while. I need to cry sometimes, and I don't need anyone telling me not to. Crying is healthy. It helps me get the bad stuff out, and that helps make room for the really good stuff like wholeness and healing.And you don't know if it will "all be okay" anymore than I do, so don't say that. In fact, don't say anything just to be saying something. If you can just sit with me and be with me and acknowledge through your silent companionship that we are mere mortals but we are in this together, that will be more comforting to me than anything you could say.

Thursday, January 03, 2008


I can't believe I'm having to seriously think about this. How is my little girl growing up so fast?

This week, I'm booking school tours at our top four school choices: Alki, Schmitz Park, Gatewood, and Pathfinder. I hope to learn about their educational philosophies, and try to find the school that is the best match for Tessa and our family. I take this stuff seriously -hey, I used to be a public school teacher! - and I really want to make the right decisions for Tessa. We will weigh academics, extra-curricular activities, community, philosophy, and all the rest. Tessa is a bright girl who is already showing signs of early reading, so I want to make sure that she's challenged. So much to think about!

I do not recommend this diet plan

I'm not talking about Weight Watchers - that's a great plan.

I'm talking about the plan I stumbled upon yesterday. It involved eating a sandwich that might have been tainted with something (?) and then throwing up half the night. YUCK! Thankfully, I feel somewhat human again today, but that was a real drag.

The only good news? I lost two pounds yesterday "without trying." This puts me at four pounds over my goal, which is closer than I've been in some time (maybe a year....?!). I suspect that by Valentine's Day all of my clothes will, once again, fit me the way I want them to. Wahoo!

Last night's experience made me very grateful for the fabulous anti-emetics that were available to me during chemo. I absolutely loathe throwing up - I mean, nobody likes it, but I'm practically phobic about it - and last night's experience made me even more grateful that I never threw up during chemo.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Catching up

After the holiday chaos, there is so much to do.....clean out the attic, clear our closets of clothes no longer needed/desired, filing, bill paying (blech), sorting out insurance issues, planning Tessa's birthday (what on earth to get a child who has everything?!), walking the dog, exercising, planning healthy meals, refilling prescriptions, catching up on email, thank you cards...the list is endless and this is only the beginning.

Okay, deep breath. (Oh, yeah, add meditation to that list.)

I'm trying to wade through my to-do list but it's growing in leaps and bounds. And trying to do it all while mothering, and not lose my mind in the process, is particularly challenging. If anyone has good advice on this, let me know! I keep thinking "if I could just get caught up" but that is falsely reassuring....

Insight, anyone?

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Year!

Well, 2008 has arrived. Happy New Year!

I look forward to a (hopefully) wonderful year. This is the year that I hope to run a half marathon and a full marathon, that I hope to do some local travel and camping with family, the year that Tessa starts kindergarten.

I hope that I can continue on my spiritual journey at WSUU and in my own readings. Thanks to Adrienne, I've discovered Pema Chodron's writing, and I feel that I'm newly a student once again, learning different ways to think about the world, my place in it, and the subject of compassion and kindness. I'm delighted to be on some kind of path again in this regard, even though I know it will be full of twists and turns.

Two years into my Weight Watchers journey, I do not have any grand goals about my weight - I'm already there! I'd like to drop a few pesky pounds (I'm a few up from where I'd like to be, but well within healthy ranges), but I do not, thankfully, have to make any major changes in that regard, just tweak what I'm already doing.

It will be a year of great change. Tessa's entrance to kindergarten will substantially alter my life as a stay at home mom, and decisions will have to be made about how much I work (or not). No decisions have been made; I have ideas, but I'm uncertain. That's okay, as I don't have to figure it out all at once, and the only thing permanent is impermanence. Even if I make the "wrong" decision in that regard, I can change.

So this new year, I'm looking forward to time with friends and family. I'm going to try to use my down-time more effectively, pursuing those things that give me joy rather than just filling time. I'm going to try to continue to care for my body, and to nurture my soul and mind. I'm going to try to be a great wife and the best mother Tessa could ask for. I'm going to take time out in nature to enjoy the snowfall, the rainbows, the waterfall, the scent of pine needles, pebbles on the beach. I'm going to read great books (and some mediocre ones). I'm going to volunteer in my community, and continue to further the cause to find a cure for breast cancer.

I haven't really said anything new here, and that's pretty satisfying to me. No major changes, just travel on life's road, attempting to accept what comes my way and to choose the right path(s).

Happy New Year!
(PS That shot of the Olympic Mountains over the Sound was taken today from the beach area in front of Mee Kwa Mooks Park in West Seattle. No wonder I love it here - a walk with Shep turned out to be a beautiful foray into nature, the sound of the waves to soothe me.)

Sunday, December 30, 2007

My lesson at church today

I continue to love attending WSUU. Not every word inspires me (would that even be possible?), but it offers me a lot of things. Sometimes, I have to think about the sermon for a week before it really hits home; sometimes, I hear something that connects with me immediately.

Today, it was an immediate connection. The sermon was about letting go and forgiveness - appropriate topics for year's end. There were several stories and readings, and one line from a meditation about forgiveness really stuck out to me:

"Forgive us the folly for trying to improve a friend."

In my marriage, in particular, I believe I'm guilty of this. Under the assumption of loving, caring, and compassion, I try to push my ideas on Ryan. Sometimes he is not receptive to these ideas, and I've been prone to thinking, "What isn't there to get? This is so obvious!" and I have felt frustrated and expressed my frustration with him. My mom was discussing this idea (not related to Ryan, but to life in general), and said "We are all at different stages of our life journey; we all have different levels of understanding. You can't expect everyone else to be at the same place in the journey that you are at the same time all the time," and I think that this line from the meditation speaks to that. I choose Ryan because I love him and he is a worthy partner, and I choose my friends for the same reasons. How foolish it is of me to push my ideas on others just because I'm at a new understanding, when I don't want others' ideas pushed on me. "Improving a friend" might mean "You should be more like me," and frankly, there's already enough of me to go around. I don't want a world full of me - I want a world full of the diverse people that I love.

The journey, to me, is like traveling the spokes of the wheel. We might be equally advanced, but in different areas (spokes). How irritating it is to be reminded that we are behind in one area, only because we're exploring another area.


This doesn't mean that we can't all learn from another and offer one another wisdom; there is room for that, too. But when it switches from sharing my own lessons to trying to improve another person, I'm guilty and determined to learn and grow from this new understanding.

It was a great lightbulb moment for me.

This is exactly why I choose to attend services, and why I'm embracing being a UU. I am grateful for the opportunity to reflect on these ideas, and I'm grateful for being given the space to learn and grow. No judgement, no finger pointing, just room to grow. Lovely.