Anniversaries are usually a time to celebrate.
We had a lot to celebrate in 2015 as one son turned 16, my husband and I achieved milestone birthdays, and we celebrated a landmark anniversary.
2016 has been a bit different, also full of anniversaries, but not anniversaries I’m particularly inclined to celebrate.
March 24, 2016 was the first anniversary of the ski accident at Lake Louise that left me on the couch, recovering from a full shoulder dislocation and broken arm. Suffice it to say that while I skied this year on March 24, I did not ski well, spooked by thoughts of another fall.
Late May marked a spate of medical anniversaries, culminating on May 29, the day of my cancer diagnosis.
In a serendipitous bit of good fortune, Aspen Mountain was open on the 29, so my family and I skied on this bittersweet day.
And then there is June 17, the of my diagnosis with Lynch Syndrome, a hereditary genetic mutation that causes cancer and which my two sons may have inherited. This diagnosis has been difficult for me, and, at times, devastating.
More Lessons, Darn It
Over the past year, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve written about some of the lessons I’ve learned, but I’ve largely been silent since August.
So today, as a means of marking all of these anniversaries, I’m sharing a few more lessons and hard-won knowledge. I hope you find it helpful.
Erase the Happy Face
While I had a very fortunate outcome (and believe me, I express gratitude every day), not all of my news was good. Not wanting to burden anyone, I flipped my feelings on their head and became more grateful, mindful and meditative.
On the whole, this was a good response. But I didn’t allow myself to grieve and found myself psychically paralyzed as winter turned to spring.
Long story short, there is no way to avoid processing and acknowledging painful feelings. You can’t take any shortcuts. You have to feel what you are feeling, and at least in my case, therapy has helped a lot.
Circles of Caring
When I announced that I had cancer, the outpouring was incredible. The love, support, energy, prayers and kind thoughts I received bolstered my spirits and the love of friends, both known and unknown, overwhelmed our family.
We were staggered by the goodness of our fellow human beings. Truly, it was humbling.
One of our friends shared an article full of excellent advice for dealing with friends and family and in crisis. We’ve referred to it again and again when talking to friends who’ve had bad diagnoses, a death in the family or some other type of loss.
“How Not to Say the Wrong Thing” was published in the Los Angeles Times in 2013. It can be easily summed up as “comfort in, dump out.”
And while the illustration is helpful, the text is brilliant. I hope you’ll take the time to read it.
Beyond this article, here are three additional don’ts to keep in mind when a friend tells you she has cancer (or any other bad news).
- Don’t let your first response be about you. Yes, cancer is terrifying, but express concern and love before scanning your body for similar symptoms. If you’re interested in the symptoms of a certain cancer, don’t ask, Google.
- Don’t say “You’re lucky you had a good cancer.” The doctor who diagnosed me led with this, telling me that I was lucky and that “if you have to have cancer, this is a good one to have.” This was the first of many other stupid things, so I fired him. While I am endlessly grateful for my outcome, there is no good cancer.
- Don’t insinuate that the person gave themself cancer. One person suggested that my cancer was a “self-fulfilling prophecy.” Another asked “Do you think you gave yourself cancer?” No, I do not. Nor do I think that an occasional bad attitude will cause cancer to return or that I can cure any disease by being relentlessly positive.
- Do check in with friends who’ve suffered illness and loss. I have a friend whose husband died in a car accident. After one year many of her friends expected her to move on. She was still grieving and felt isolated and alone. Learning from her story, I’m making a point of reaching out to friends when I think of them. It’s so easy to shoot someone a quick text, send an email or meet up for a walk to them know that you care.
- Do speak up for yourself. If you suspect your family may have a genetic predisposition to disease, advocate for yourself and discuss this with your doctor. Be aware that current genetic screening guidelines may not address all the realities. Depending upon your family health history, you could have a genetic mutation without realizing it. Because my mother did not have cancer, we thought she didn’t carry the mutation and I hadn’t inherited it. Wrong on both counts.
- Do be forgiving and thankful. No one is comfortable talking about disease, death or misfortune. Until I walked this walk, I probably said some unintentionally devastating things to friends in need. I hope they have forgiven me, as I’ve forgiven others. As for being thankful, I am, on so many counts.
Most of all, I’m thankful for those who have helped through the past year (and that includes YOU!)
- The Rock In My Way, June 8, 2015.
- The Not At All Brave (Ski) Mom, June 22, 2015.
- Holding You In the Light, July 6, 2015.
- Lessons Learned, August 3, 2015.
- Today is Lynch Syndrome Hereditary Cancer Awareness Day, March 22, 2016.
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