“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” — C. G. Jung
By Beverly Vote
I learned how Dad and I were disabling you.
These words were a defining moment in my healing journey. How I looked at my life and how I took care of my healing from that moment on were forever changed.
The words froze me in time, it became a surreal moment. My daughter Laurie kept talking, but I no longer heard anything she was saying because I couldn’t get beyond her words — I learned how Dad and I were disabling you.
I was shocked, weren’t we playing the cancer survivor and caregiver roles the right way? How were we to know that doing for me what I could do for myself was weakening my healing abilities and causing harm to our relationships? In hindsight, it was like we were routinely training my mind and body to be sicker instead of healthier. The label of breast cancer was sticking and spreading to too many parts of my life.
Family, dishes, laundry, cooking, self-care and a business to take care of were all too much for me. Even simple decisions were no longer simple to make. So I turned everything over to my willing husband, daughter and son. I hadn’t given up on my life, but I had given up on being able to take care of my life.
This was almost two decades ago. Laurie was a young mother, my son Brad was finishing high school, and my husband David remained deeply devoted to our marriage and ever committed to doing whatever he could to make sure I wouldn’t die.
In that moment Laurie was sharing with me what she had learned at a Christian retreat she had recently attended. She was aglow with energy and strength, and I was excited to hear what had touched her life so richly.
But this one simple sentence stung with truth. Laurie wasn’t sharing her new found wisdom to hurt me, or to tell me how to fix my life, she was just sharing what she had learned and how she felt deeply inspired to live and to see her caregiving role differently as a result of learning how she and her dad were actually harming me in my healing quest.
I had no idea my family and I had fallen into such a trap, and the last thing I ever wanted in my life was to be a burden to anyone and to let my loved ones do for me what I really could do for myself.
This was a wake up call to do the cancer experience differently and not repeat the unhealthy survivor/caregiver roles that I had witnessed of my cancer diagnosed relatives. As Christy James has learned — what is good for the patient should also be good for the caregiver.
The Booby Trap
Today I refer to this as a cancer trap — thinking and behaving as cancer would want us to think and to behave, as if we are powerless and staying stuck in feelings of overwhelm and despair and letting bottled up fear drive our life. Actually I call it a booby trap because too often we let a diagnosis of breast cancer rob us of our self worth and too often we let our outer silhouette define our real beauty and the real strength of who we are.
This booby trap will also try to rob us of our happiness. Yet a diagnosis of breast cancer is an ultimate time to bring more happiness and joy into our life. If not at this time, when?
I just wasn’t aware that I had slipped further into that cancer vortex where I was actually seeking negativity and wanting people to commiserate with me. If someone had something positive to say, I didn’t want to hear it or if they tried to encourage me to see a stronger side of myself, well that just wasn’t my cup of tea. In fact it angered me and I asked myself why don’t they understand my misery and pain? It was almost as if I wanted to stay stuck in misery.
I now realize that at the core of my pain and trauma was the fearful belief that there was absolutely nothing I could do about the course of the disease or the quality of my life and that any thing I might do would never be enough to heal from breast cancer. I was also afraid of making fatal decisions. How could my loved ones understand this?
As a result of just a few minor changes in my head, things began to change for the better. With practice, I was able to shift my mind from all what I wasn’t and would never be again to what my very best friend in the world would want me to see about myself, all the beauty and riches already in my life that I had let the cancer booby trap pull me away from seeing and from enjoying. Whatever time I had left, I now wanted to spend it in the least amount of misery that I could. I knew on a soul level that it was important for me to begin from a new place within me.
I started a list of ways that might help me heal and that list grew longer and longer. It was like priming a well, once I got the stream started, new ideas and hope kept flowing and flowing. I began to realize there are endless ways to lift the spirit and to empower our minds and bodies. I focused on what I could do, versus the overwhelmed feelings I had. The key for me was where I intentionally and consistently put my focus.
I could keep playing over and over in my head how horrible my life had become, how my body was dying, and how I was no longer the woman I used to be. I could call friends and drawl out with them how life just wasn’t fair and how I didn’t deserve breast cancer. I could have done these things, but I didn’t. What I did might have been more harmful in that I kept so much bottled up. But things had to change because in the blink of one moment, I finally saw my life wasn’t working well and that I could do better.
When sleeping women wake, mountains move. — Chinese proverb
This wake up call changed the quality of my life and the relationships with my loved ones. Sometimes it takes a lightning bolt to shake us awake and to put our lives on a better course.
5 to Thrive
Sometimes we have to break things down to have a break through. By consciously doing five little things every day, I became stronger. Simple things such as walking in the grass, listening to my favorite music, praying, snuggling, finding something to laugh at, calling a friend to see how she was, listening to the wind, watching a sunrise, deep breathing, all simple free things.
By being present, really present with just five little things each day, shift happens. Don’t be surprised if after listening to your favorite music one day if you aren’t actually singing the song the next day, or that you are the one telling the joke. This simple little concept helped melt my bitterness, and helped me take more responsibility for my life. It is very simple, but very empowering. Just because we have been diagnosed with breast cancer, doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy our life the best we can while we can.
I invite you to think like a Thriver. Thinking like a thriver doesn’t mean you wait until you reach a five or ten year milestone and it doesn’t mean you have to be declared no evidence of disease. Thinking like a thriver applies to any age, any stage of life. It simply means that you shift your thoughts to a better place.
Thriving thoughts are more apt to move us toward thriving actions. James Allen has written a classic on how our thoughts affect our life, “As a Man Thinketh,” and of course there is the very powerful teaching book, the Bible: As a man thinks in his heart, so is he. [Proverbs 23:7]