Oct 18

Talking with Someone Who Has Cancer

Healing Forest

You’d think you’d just keep on talking like you usually do 🙂 but you know, it is hard for some folks to talk with you when you have cancer because of their own fears or just because they don’t know what to say. It may also be hard for you to talk to others about what you’re going through. It was hard on me to share with my friends, my peers, and coworkers that I had cancer – I didn’t want to bring anyone down or have them think I was going to be a sad sack to hang around with… The things we think eh? 😉

A lot of people have been touched by cancer so their response is going to be varied, and unfortunately, some people are even going to stop talking to you. Why? Because it may be too hard for them because of their own personal cancer experience or they are just too uncomfortable and that’s OK – when it comes to cancer we all need to honor one another’s feelings.  So what do I suggest from what I had learned while I was going through cancer?

  1. Let your friend, loved one, coworker with cancer know that you can’t talk to them because of your personal experiences, you don’t have to go into detail, and just let them know it isn’t because of them or anything they did.
  2. Do NOT if you can at all costs, talk about your uncle, aunt, sister who has died because of cancer 🙁 I have had a few folks do that when I was going through cancer and they weren’t being insensitive!!  They were just caught up in their sad memories, and me as a cancer educator, understood this, and listened.  But I thought if I was a regular joe, this would be devastating to hear! Actually I am kind of a regular joe and at first I didn’t know what to think, so I shined it on, the second time I thought welllll ok, and by the 3rd time, I was whoa! And started to get sad.  Let me clarify, it is ok to talk about the cancer, it is the constant talking about someone who has died because of cancer that bothered me.  When you are dealing with cancer, hearing story after story about so many cancer deaths makes it tough to hang onto hope.
  3. Please realize a person going through cancer may start crying at a drop of a hat. Cancer and chemo makes you cry; they go hand-in-hand. If you just smile, look understanding, then most folks pull themselves together and can continue on.
  4. Do not tell someone who has cancer, especially this person 😀 that they cannot do this or that because they have cancer. I think the best gift you can give someone is to still believe that they can do anything like they use to “before” the cancer.
  5. Laugh!!  Sharing laughter is one of the best timeouts from cancer!
  6. Please, please, please, I know you mean well, but if you have never personally dealt with cancer, please do not tell a person with cancer that it is all about “attitude”. You can have a good attitude, but it doesn’t help the pain, the fear, or the unknown go away.  You can have a good attitude and still be scared, mad or sad! When you’re facing cancer treatments, and wondering if you’re going to make it or not, the last thing you want to hear is “you just need a good attitude, that’s half the battle…” A lot of time I had a “bad attitude” about what I was going through, but I did my best not to vent on non-survivors, I went to my women’s cancer group to vent and get support from those who did understand what I was going through.
  7. Which brings me to 🙂 we all need to be gentle with each other and just listen, sometimes that’s all that is needed, a kind listening ear and to say I’m here for you, and a big smile does wonders. 🙂
  8. Please, if you do not know the person with cancer very well, do not offer advice unless they ask for it and DO NOT tell a person who is in active cancer treatments, some “natural” way to beat cancer or its side effects. Some over the counter or supplements can actually be harmful during cancer. They already have a cancer team to help them, what’s needed from you is a friend.
  9. And please, do not try to “diagnose” your friend, loved one, or coworker who has cancer. Once again I know folks mean well, but some days just because is person is quiet, doesn’t mean they’re depressed and need St. John’s Wort, ok?  It is OK to see if there is anything they would like you to do, sometimes just checking in and showing you care is good enough.
  10. And remember, cancer affects everyone differently, so there’s no one way to deal with cancer. Take the time to listen and don’t tell someone how they are supposed to feel when they are dancing with cancer. Shoot, I don’t like anyone telling me how to feel and I don’t think you even have to have cancer to have this one get your skirts in an uproar! 😀

Remember, we all mean well when facing cancer, and even though I have gone through cancer myself, I still get hung up on what to say when someone is facing cancer and I pray for the words to share and to comfort.  Here are some other links to suggestions on how to talk with someone with cancer.

Be gentle with one another, we are all trying to figure our way through this adventure… I wish you peace, strength and wellness.

 

 

 

 

Oct 12

How to Love Yourself (After Chemotherapy)

My Pink Flower

Adapted by Laura Revels from How to Love Yourself by Louise L. Hay

  1. Stop all criticism. Criticism never changes a thing. Refuse to criticize yourself. Accept yourself exactly as you are. Everybody changes. Sometimes by choice, and in our case, because cancer made us change and we’re doing the best that we can.
  2. Stop scaring yourself. Stop terrorizing yourself with your thoughts. Find a mental image that gives you pleasure, (mine is of me lying in a berry patch when I was a little girl staring up at the sky through the leaves) and immediately switch your scary thought to a kind thought.
  3. Be gentle and kind and patient. Be gentle with yourself. Be kind to yourself. Be patient with yourself as you learn the new ways of thinking.
  4. Treat yourself as you would someone you really love.
  5. Be kind to your mind. Don’t hate yourself for having the thoughts. Gently change the thoughts.
  6. Praise yourself. Criticism breaks the inner spirit. Praise builds it up. Praise yourself as much as you can. Tell yourself how well you are doing with every little thing.
  7. Support yourself. Find ways to support yourself. Reach out to friends and allow them to help you. It is being strong to ask for help when you need it.
  8. Take care of your body. Learn about nutrition. What kind of fuel does your body need to have optimum energy and vitality? Learn about exercise. What kind of exercise or movement can you enjoy? Cherish and revere the body you live in.
  9. Mirror work. Look in the mirror once a day. When you look in the mirror, tell yourself that you care about yourself and that you’re doing the best that you can. Express this every day. Show yourself that you care and love yourself.  It’s ok to love and care for yourself as you love and care for others.
  10. LOVE YOURSELF – DO IT NOW! Don’t wait until you get well, lose the weight, or get the new job. BEGIN NOW – You Are Doing the Best You Can!

After cancer treatments, because of the way you look and feel, having kind and caring thoughts about yourself may be difficult.  I use to have a healthy self-esteem and confidence, both which took a beating during chemotherapy, and I thought the article above was most appropriate for that time in my life.  I had started to criticize myself, and of course since my health was *ell, I thought I looked like *ell, jiminy crickets, cancer sure is a kicker ain’t it?  All we can do is keep putting one foot in front of the other, and be gentle with ourselves. We’ve been through a lot.

Here’s to healing for all affected by cancer.

Resources for how to deal with the emotional effects of cancer:

Mayo Clinic – Managing Emotions

National Cancer Institute – Feelings and Cancer

MacMillan (United Kingdom Cancer Site) – Your Feelings After Cancer Treatment

Oct 09

Talking with Children about Your Diagnosis

When I was going through cancer and its treatments, I didn’t think to share my feelings or open up space for my children to share their feelings about my cancer. I was too busy being “strong” for my kids and trying to survive day-to-day, I was a single parent and I was busy trying to provide and protect them.

We finally talked about it when I did a digital story about chemotherapy. I was so proud of making one that I shared it with my son, his reaction and that story made me appreciate, and fully understand, that my son was going through cancer with me.

In hindsight (hindsight is such a kicker ain’t it?), it would have been helpful if we talked about the cancer sooner so that we could have faced it together. It may have helped them with their fears and questions. Trust me on this one folks; your kids are affected by your diagnosis. They have fears of losing their parent. They don’t understand what this means to them and they may not understand your side effects.

I suggest talking to the oncology social worker and get resources, and talk a trusted friend. Practice what you’re going to say. Be as factual as possible, assure them that they didn’t (or you didn’t) cause it. Have some resources available including someone they can talk to about it besides you.

Have someone with you if it’ll help. It can be an emotional conversation, but if you think of it like if you were sending your children out to fish or hunt, you’d share all the knowledge you have so that they would be prepared. Talking about cancer is helping them to be prepared. <3

Here are two good resources on how to talk with your children:

http://www.cancer.net/coping-with-cancer/talking-with-family-and-friends/talking-about-cancer/talking-with-your-children

http://www2.mdanderson.org/cancerwise/2013/04/when-a-parent-has-cancer-helping-teens-and-kids-cope.html

Here is a digital story of one mom and her daughter, and how they dealt with her mom’s diagnosis. I also put in the comments, a couple of resources of how to talk with your child about cancer. I wish you peace, strength and wellness.

Charlene’s story from Alaskan Storyteller on Vimeo.

Sep 27

Don’t Quit

Clouds

Have you heard of Rabbi Harold S. Kushner? He is a biblical scholar, and I read his book, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People”, when I was going through treatments, and on page 44, Rabbi Kushner is analyzing the story of Job:

“…God is not doing this to us. If God is a God of justice and not power, then He can still be on our side when bad things happen to us. He can know that we are good and honest people who deserve better. Our misfortunes are none of His doing, and so we can turn to Him for help. Our question will not be Job’s question “God, why are You doing this to me?” but rather “God, see what is happening to me. Can You help me?” We turn to God, not to be judged or forgiven, not to be rewarded or punished, but to be strengthened and comforted.”

I read this book as I was trying to make sense of cancer and I was looking for answers to why I got it. Trying to answer this question led me down some dark places, it made me question my beliefs; whether I’d be here tomorrow and what did I do to deserve this? This last question is a loaded one. It is a question that can make us feel bad about ourselves in my opinion, and can make us angry and can get us stuck in being angry. I wanted to heal not be angry.

I had heard a few things that helped me come to grips with this disease:

  1. I asked my oncologist why I got cancer twice, I was healthy, and I didn’t understand when I was taking such good care of myself why I got cancer, and he said, “you were struck by lightning, sometimes we do not know why the lightning strikes…” He said it so gentle and kind; it helped me accept that I had a disease and I didn’t do anything to “get” it.
  2. A friend told me sometimes we need to be completely empty to receive the Creator’s gifts and we just don’t know why, it just is. This helped me to quit questioning my faith.
  3. The last sentence in the Rabbi Kushner’s story above made me start facing cancer in a different way. I wasn’t alone, and I was strong before cancer and will be strong after cancer. I have been in other tough spots and cancer just happened to be one of my biggest tough spots…

I also started to honor my feelings, they were a part of me and to fight them was to fight myself. I needed to be healing, not fighting myself. Besides, cancer treatments beat you up enough and doesn’t need any help from you to beat yourself up 🙂

There were many other things I did to get through cancer, but that’s a story for another day…

I wish you peace, strength and wellness.

Sep 24

As one season ends another begins

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.” – Rachel Carson.

Autumn WalkWhen going through cancer treatments, you leave one part of your life behind as you get ready to face another. The changes in you, your health, and your life, seem like you have no control over it… You can feel like the color, the sun and beauty of your life is slipping away; this is OK to feel this way. Honor your feelings, and from one person who has danced with cancer to another, you will get through it. Sometimes you just have to dig way deep within yourself and find the beauty of your life, friends, family and faith and keep putting one foot in front of the other. Remember, you got yourself this far in life – you can do it. I’m rooting for you and I wish you peace, strength and wellness.

Sep 13

Strength and Courage

Strength and Courage

This plant is known as Devil’s Club. In the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian Cultures, it has been used for many generations as a medicinal plant for healing. It can also be unsafe to handle or be toxic if you do not know how to prepare or use it.

I’ve spent the last few years writing about dancing with cancer, about having courage and hope even when I didn’t feel it myself. I’ve wrote about treatments, reconstruction, depression, side-effects, fear of reoccurrence, losing friends to this #%@$ disease and hope. And now I’m writing about hope and transitioning from patient to survivor…

I’m still not healthy as I need to be, I’m tired, my joints ache, but I’m happy to be here. I have learned to pace myself; I’ve learned to focus my energy and time on my family and on myself. I’ve learned to enjoy myself in different ways from “before”. I’ve learned to be OK with having to live life in the slow lane for now. I’ve learned to have courage when going in for my mammograms and checkups. I’ve learned to have courage for my friends who have to face this dance with cancer…

I’ve also learned that survivorship is different for everyone. Bouncing back to the way you were “before” sometimes doesn’t seem like it is happening fast enough or happening at all. I’ve learned that “before” is just that, before. I’ve learned not to apologize for not being like “before” because I’m here today and I’m good with that.

I’ve learned we need to be gentle with ourselves as we heal and decide what our life will look like from here on out.

So my words today, my friends, is to have courage, have hope and celebrate that you can put one foot in front of the other, and to all those who are dancing with cancer, I wish you peace, strength and wellness.

Aug 13

You Have Cancer

Act With CourageWho knew when I was diagnosed with cancer that I would become so immersed in cancer education, advocacy and storytelling?  I knew cancer was not going to be a walk in the park but I wanted to know what that walk was like. What was I up against? Was I going to live? What about my children?  It was a heck of a ride and I wrote an article for Indian Country Today about it and it’s still on their site (that was a surprise to me this morning!).  Here’s the story:

“You Have Cancer” published in 2009 for Indian Country Today

I feel very strongly about how cancer education is shared with the Indigenous People and that’s what really drove me to get involved with cancer education and advocacy.  I was not finding stories of strength from other Indigenous Women of how they faced and got through cancer and all of its treatments and the emotional roller coaster that comes with cancer…

I’m now on my 7th year of dancing with NED (no evidence of disease) and here’s to hoping many more of our People who face cancer will also be able to dance with NED.

Together through sharing our stories, may we change the story of cancer for our People.  I wish you strength, wellness and peace.

Laura

Jun 13

Words of Wisdom

I am honored these two are my friends and think the world of these two, Amy and Doug Modig. Their story is the story of many of us and when we are brought up as being “unacceptable” or “less” than others, it affects us mentally, emotionally, spiritually and these impact our health, our well-being, and our place in the world.

Grassroots Healing (http://www.ktva.com/shows/frontiers/web-extra-grassroots-healing-376/)

Grassroots Healing

 

Jun 10

Honor Yourself

Beaded Bear

I beaded this bear in honor of a dear friend who had to deal with cancer.

I don’t know about you, but when I was going through my cancer treatments, my self-esteem took a beating.  It took everything I had to go out in public because I felt so ugly and unsure of myself 🙁 I know part of this was because of the way I looked and because of the way the drugs made me feel: depressed and sick.

Now I’m always talking about honoring yourself and your feelings and I sure needed a boost…  Well this morning I found an article on “10 Ways to Honor Thyself” by Rev. Laurie Sue Brockway, and there is a section I’d like to share with you.  She talks about taking a word that may have a negative meaning and giving it a positive spin, her example was the word “selfish”:

S Nurture your SPIRIT.
E ENJOY moments alone.
L LOVE yourself.
F Keep FIT and FEEL good.
I Make your unique needs IMPORTANT.
S SHOWER yourself with gifts.
H Be HAPPY and open-HEARTED.

What I like about this, is we cancer survivors need to learn to be “selfish”. 🙂 I liked this idea of taking a negative word and putting a positive spin on it, so I did it on the word Cancer:

C CARE about you and your feelings.
A ALLOW others to care for you.
N NURTURE and pamper yourself.
C CELEBRATE your successes!
E EMBRACE your life!
R RESPECT yourself.

And although I do not like how cancer made me feel, I can honor the experience and my feelings 🙂

It is ever one foot in front of the other friends; here’s to honoring ourselves and our experiences!

Jun 07

Today is National Cancer Survivors Day

Act With Courage

 

“Cancer Forces You to Live a Different Story”

I have learned when it comes to cancer and its treatments that it affects everyone differently… However it is faced, we
do not get through it untouched. It impacts your life, your loved ones; it messes with your head and emotions, but we
get through it.

Dancing with cancer is a hard dance; it sometimes changes our pace, our rhythm, our thoughts, and it makes us come face
to face with what we do not want to face. It forces us to live a different story, but it’s our story and we get through it.

Honor and hold those who have had cancer or are facing it, we will get through this together and may there be many more
of us who survive cancer and may one day, may there be a cure for cancer so we will not have a need to have a National
Cancer Survivors Day…

I wish you strength, wellness and peace.