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One of the most valuable lessons I try to take from my yoga and meditation practice is to be comfortable with discomfort. This infographic pretty much sums up my day-to-day feelings about my cancer diagnosis. My mind is still constantly a big swirl of crazy. Sometimes I feel like an old transistor radio – I might be tuned into a certain feeling, like full-on happiness that I’m alive and well, but there’s still a lot of white noise—fear, sadness, shame, confusion—in the background. I don’t expect this to change anytime soon. My practice is to accept that sometimes life hands you things that you can’t tie up in pretty packages with pink ribbons.
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When I was diagnosed with cancer, my friend (who is also a cancer survivor) texted those words to me. I cherished this text. He said exactly what I needed to hear. It made me wonder if I’d said “the right” thing to him when he went through treatment. All I remember is offering him a bed to sleep on after surgery (he took it), ginger tea, and some homemade cookies. Other than that, I think I was completely at a loss for what to say.
When someone close to you tells you that they are diagnosed with something terrible, it’s easy to go into panic mode where you tell them how horrible you feel for them. The truth is, there is no one right thing to say to anyone and even when people said insensitive things to me, I didn’t get angry. (Like I said above, I’d been on the other side, not knowing what to say.) But at times, it made an already difficult time even more stressful.
So, I thought I’d share four of my favorite resources for communicating with and supporting a loved one who has cancer.
1. When someone is going through a rough patch – any kind of rough patch – the best thing you can do for them is to pause, stay calm, and listen. This is where your mindfulness practice comes into play. Instead of going with your gut reaction – which may be to scream “No!!!!” or otherwise react dramatically — do your best to hold the space and be supportive. I realize that “hold the space” may sound a little woo-woo. What I mean is, keep your energy and facial expressions even while they talk to you. Create a safe, supportive environment for them to share (or not share) exactly what they can handle in that moment.
And BE POSITIVE. It’s not their job to take care of you and your emotions right now. It’s your job to simply be there for them. This video is THE BEST for giving you encouragement along these lines. My favorite line is, “If you come across cancer, let it transform you into your most positive self.”
2. If you need to talk through your own fears, sadness, and terror, that’s OK. Just don’t do it with the person who has cancer. And don’t do it with their husband. Or mother. Or sister. Do it with someone who is further away from the patient than you — this is what’s called the Ring Theory or Comfort In, Dump Out. I learned about it from this article that ran in the LA Times: How Not to Say the Wrong Thing
3. It’s important to know that everyone’s diagnosis and case is different. Even within breast cancer, there are many different types and classifications. It’s easy to slip right into, “Oh, my neighbor died of that cancer in three months.” But, doctors and scientists are making great strides with certain types of cancer. This article from the Wall Street Journal about “super survivors” chronicles patients who outlived the odds because of a new treatment that harnesses the immune system to fight the cancer: How the Promise of Immunotherapy is Transforming Oncology
4. And this last one is a link to Emily McDowell’s brilliant, funny line of cards. If you’ve found yourself hiding out from your friend and don’t want your first words to be face-to-face, you can send him or her one of these cards, designed and created by a cancer survivor. My personal favorite: “Please let me be the first to punch the next person who tells you everything happens for a reason.”
So, there you have it. These links have helped me immensely and I still look at them from time to time. I hope they’ve helped you, too. And if you’ve got an uplifting cancer-related link to share, please do so in the comments!6 comments Add Your Own
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Fear can feel painful, overwhelming, even paralyzing. Whether you’re facing a major life change like an illness or a break-up, or a more specific fear like giving a presentation to colleagues or standing in front a group and teaching a yoga class, I hope this post gives you some idea for navigating fear with more ease.
I’m not going to lie. I still have moments, hours, or even days when I’m consumed with fear about cancer. Despite the campaigns that have played out over the past 20 years, early detection does not guarantee a cure for breast cancer. (Laurie Becklund, a well-known reporter for the LA Times, faced this reality and wrote about it just before she died from metastatic breast cancer in March.)
I never used to be afraid to go to the doctor. But that’s different now. My fear arises with a vengeance when it’s time for a check-up. There are lots of them at this point. For all kinds of whacked out lady-related things that I won’t go into here. (You’re welcome.)
Last week, before one of these check-ups, I spent 24 hours moving through what I am now referring to as my Seven Stages of Coping with Fear. I am now intimately familiar with these stages because last fall they were on a repeat loop while I was constantly awaiting test results. This means that I:22 comments Add Your Own
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I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately – about consciously thanking my body for all that it does. When you’re diagnosed with cancer, it’s easy to feel like your body has betrayed you. Like it’s been sneaking around behind your back, hanging out with rogue cells in alleyways making dirty deals. It’s a horrible feeling, that.
But my whole cancer experience has reset my priorities, which means that my time on the mat is now nonnegotiable. And so, I’ve been spending a lot of time feeling all the great things that my body can do and these are the things I want to focus on.
Before I begin my thank you note, I’m going to apologize for my past transgressions. In part because, despite what my writing might portray, I want you to know, dear readers, that I’m really not all hearts and flowers all the time. And also, by acknowledging the crappy stuff I’ve done to my body, I’m hoping that I can let it go (and my cells can, too) forever.
Ahem. Where do I begin? It seems like I have to begin loooong ago, back in my late teens and early twenties since that seems to be when my poorest choices were made. So here goes: Sorry about all those French fries (although the jury’s still out, I feel twinges of guilt for those high school McDonald’s runs). Sorry for drinking alcohol. Like ever. I’ve never been a big drinker, but that doesn’t seem to matter with the type of breast cancer I had. Sorry for bumming cigarettes at college parties and for my (past) love of cakes, cookies, ice cream, and cannolis. Do I need to atone for that tanning booth experiment that one time? Let’s just say it was the 80s and we were pulling out all the stops for prom. And we didn’t know any better.
In spite of all that—through fat times and thin times, good hair days and bad, you’ve continued to be there for me. So, I thought I’d thank you, publicly. Here goes:
Thank you to my heart for beating and reminding me that I’m alive
Thank you to my belly for moving up and down when I breathe in Savasana
Thanks to my toes for feeling the sand squoosh beneath them
Thanks to my face for feeling the sun shine on it
Thanks to my arms for being so great at hugging
Thanks to my legs for running and skipping and hopping
Thanks to my hips for wiggling and having dance parties with my two year old
Thanks to my vocal chords for making it possible to sing
Thanks to my ears for being able to hear music
Thanks to my wrinkles. If I’m being really honest, I have to admit I don’t like looking at you. But, you remind me that I’ve lived and and that I have gained some wisdom since the tanning booth incident.
Thanks to my blood and lymph and all of those other elements that come together and make sure that my body keeps on keepin’ on each day
Thanks to my musculo-skeletal system for firing up so that I can do yoga and feel what it means to be embodied
Thanks to my taste buds for giving me so much pleasure
Thanks to my brain for being able to process all of this. Sometimes you are too clever for your own good and you make things far too complicated. But all in all, I’m impressed by your hard work.
And finally, a big shout out to my eyebrows. Because, have you seen my eyebrows? I just really love the shape of my eyebrows.
Thank you. Thank you. Just thank you.20 comments Add Your Own
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You may or may not know that I spent more than a decade as an editor at Yoga Journal. A decade is a loooooong time to keep any job in this day and age. And so, it’s hard to summarize succinctly what I did during my time there. In a nutshell, I worked as the deputy editor of the magazine and then ran the web site as executive editor. I was the asana nerd, the cover model talent scout and coach, and, on many occasions, the team shoulder to cry on. I learned so much from the talented editors, designers, and photographers I worked with. I developed all of my true editorial chops there — from taking the initial spark of a story idea, choosing the angle, assigning it to the right person, guiding said person through the research phase, pruning their prose, packaging the story, managing the talent for the shoot, and watching the designers and stylists bring the story to life in the photoshoot and on the page. I also got to work closely with the most insightful, skillful yogis of our time, many of whom were very influential to me: from Sally Kempton to Maty Ezraty, Cyndi Lee to Shiva Rea. And of course, it’s how I met the man who is now my better half, Mr. Crandell.