In 2001, I was told that if I was lucky I might have a year to live. That was by one doctor, the books, and my internet research. My actual medical team was more optimistic…..I still saw fear on their faces…..it wasn’t my first rodeo with cancer…..and this diagnosis was much darker. No…..it was crippling. 3 years after my first breast cancer diagnosis of Stage 1 and now I was Stage 4 and the cancer was metastasized and extremely aggressive. A potential saving grace was that my cancer might contain the HER2 protein which would indeed make it a very scary cancer AND it would make me eligible to take the chemotherapy drug Herceptin which works miracles. So, there we all were…..praying…..that I had the worst type of breast cancer and waiting for what felt like eternity for the pathology reports.
Hallelujah! It was HER2 positive!! The drive from the doctor’s office to home that day was a state of euphoria that is difficult to put into words. The grass was greener than I have ever seen it to be which said a lot since it was late fall in Iowa. The fields in mid-harvest were this golden yellow that seemed to be filled with a glitter in the sunlight and this barn that we drove by was so, so very RED…..the sky was bluer than any Instagram filter created. It was so holy that every time I try to touch that space again in my memory I cry.
I cry for the beauty of that moment. I cry that I don’t remind myself of that moment every…single…day. I cry because I fear I might be lost from that moment.
One year after that day, my cancer treatments ended. I dived head first into action. I made it my mission to give back. I had to make sure God/The Universe/Life knew how grateful I was. And, what better way to manage the paranoia of cancer coming back…..I would out run it through activism? I packed up everything cancer and put it in a backpack and carried it everywhere with me. I teamed up with organizations. I spent time giving speeches in high schools, at fundraisers, and women’s groups. I was interviewed for newspaper articles, local newscasts, and I was even featured on a national program at one point. I was lobbying for cancer research dollars at the state and national levels. I was organizing events and joining boards of directors…..all while working demanding jobs that required up to 60% travel and more than 40 hours most weeks. The backpack kept getting fuller and fuller until I couldn’t carry all things cancer any longer. I was officially burned out. I no longer wanted to be a “survivor”…..I wanted a break…..I wanted my life without the definition of cancer. Wasn’t that what I had fought so hard for?
And that was it…..I stopped cold turkey. My last event was in 2010.
At first everything was fine. I didn’t hide the fact that I was a survivor but I didn’t lead with it anymore. I soon found myself in the smallness of life. Over the years I reduced my connection to cancer more and more and as life moved on…..I was losing part of myself and completely unaware. I was absorbed in work…..budgets and revision of budgets and more revisions of budgets. An occasional all-nighter to complete the heavy work load, global travel that would take half my weekends, and constant workplace politics. My personal relationship struggles were getting blown out of proportion and I would feel like a victim at times. I was more easily reactive to others’ dramas and it was taking me longer to get to the high road in relationships. I was drinking more than I wanted to, not getting to the gym…..and I was doing this all on automatic pilot like so many do.
Then, one morning I found myself so overwhelmed by a thought…..this is so painful to share…..….my thought was…..”a cancer diagnosis would be easier than dealing with all of this.” That thought was so brutally painful for me. How could I have such an awful thought when I have been so blessed? I was soooo angry with myself. How dare I think that!?!! I learned that what I really wanted was a STOP. See, when I was diagnosed with cancer….everything STOPPED. All responsibilities, all obligations….everyone let me off the hook….I didn’t have to untangle any messes or empty my plate. It was all taken care of and when I was recovered I got to start over.
That was the moment that I realized I was missing the cancer part of me. I also realized that I wasn’t going to get a STOP and I better get conscious about what I wanted for this precious life I got to keep. I started untangling my messes and making big changes which included becoming a coach. Yet…..I still have work to do on connecting to my cancer and supporting others affected by cancer.
I am sharing all of this because I know we are all surviving something. I know that you might be on automatic pilot like I was and not realizing you are longing for a STOP. I also know that a cancer like event can hit anyone at any-time and taking care to consciously live a life you want can cushion the dark times. Coaching can be vital in supporting people in finding a healthy STOP and/or untangling themselves from a life that has become too overwhelming.
My current big intention for my life is to become an integrator of this very important part of my past. I want to find a way to connect to that euphoria I felt…..I don’t want to be lost from that moment. I want to get back involved in cancer organizations and lending my experience to others. I want to do it differently than before…..with big healthy boundaries that allow me to participate but not be taken over by it. I want to feel like I’ve overcome cancer, not just survived it. I want to live from a space of gratitude for the whole cancer experience and at the same time not have it define me. Oh the work I have to do…. ????
I have no idea how this is all going to happen for me but I have now stated my intention publicly. I’m going to be working with my coach on this. I am going to be using coaching techniques in my own self reflections too. I am excited and open for this journey and to take you all along with me. It will be a window into the best parts of coaching around integrating. This won’t be my topic every week but I will keep you up to date on progress and things that are working for me. I mean…we all want tips and tricks and maps on how to integrate all of our parts don’t we?
I would love for this to be a conversation. Please share in the comments what has worked for you. Have you experienced or created a STOP? Have you actively untangled messes in your life? We are all here to support each other.