This last year I have learned, learned and learned some more. I have learned an overwhelming amount of medical terms, become an (at best) amateur caregiver, was forced to face a challenging, shitty life change and made a big life change by choice as well. Last year I was faced with my most challenging crisis to date. My mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer on December 14, 2015. She’s been through a complex surgery and grueling recovery, six months of chemo and six weeks of radiation. People told us that it was going to be a roller coaster. If this figurative roller coaster had a name, I would call it “To Hell and Back.”
There have been so many lessons learned in the last year it would take a few posts so I’ll highlight the ones that have stuck with me the most.
1. Don’t Assume Someone Isn’t Hurting, Sick, Sad…Just Because They Don’t “Look” It
Many people have this image of what someone with cancer looks like, but I can tell you that just because someone doesn’t look sick, doesn’t mean they aren’t. I have a lot of hopes. One of those hopes is that we remain mindful that everyone is fighting a battle of some sort. If you can’t find it in you to be kind, civility would be greatly appreciated. Here’s a picture of my mom in her last month of chemotherapy. Isn’t she beautiful?
2. Your Mom Earned That “Protection” Badge, Damn It!
Even when you’re a grown adult, Moms will always want to protect you especially when they aren’t feeling well. Moms don’t even care about how crappy they feel, all they can seem to do is worry about their kids and feel like they are inconveniencing everyone around them. You will want to remind her that you’re an adult and she can talk to you about her concerns, her fears and very private things like whether or not she has eaten enough, what she had to eat and when, has she had a bowel movement, how much she weighs but when she doesn’t want to, don’t push it!
“Protector” is a title our moms earned and we shouldn’t take that away from them during rough times. Moms devoted oodles of time and energy making sure we looked both ways before crossing the street, protecting us from germs, feeding us, clothing us. Moms want to be the ones that are always there for us…they want to be our pillars, not the other way around. And just because we (children) don’t always agree with that way of thinking, we should respect it. When our mothers aren’t feeling their best for whatever reason, it’s important for them to feel strong and I believe they feel strong when they are protecting us from hurting emotionally. I bet my mom is laughing so hard reading this wondering when I’m going to start taking my own advice! Ha!
3. There Will Be Days You Won’t Be Your Best You No Matter How Hard You Try
And that’s okay, but don’t be a jerk because you’re not the only one dealing with crap! There are quite a few people who will give you the benefit of the doubt a time or two but not much beyond that. During my review with my sales manager this last year, she took that opportunity to address the struggle I was having with compartmentalizing. I was so grateful she brought that to my attention. I now know that is something I need to improve on so I try to be cognizant of this daily. On the days you’re not your best you, own up to it.
There will be days you don’t know who the hell you are anymore. You’ll wonder if “not knowing who you are anymore” is another one of these “new normals” you have to start adjusting to. The original me did resurface, but not without a few scratches, dents and flat tires along the way. This is resilience. I learned about this last semester. Sometimes it takes people longer than others to bounce back, and sadly, some never do.
4. Dealing With Crises Is Not “One Size Fits All.”
An expert shared with me that when most people are faced with a tragedy, they often become an exaggerated version of themselves. A negative person typically becomes more negative. Sometimes optimistic people will be so optimistic they end up in denial to the point where they won’t entertain important options. Everyone handles crises differently and that’s why a lot of times there is conflict during crises. I recently came across some incredible advice for everyday life but is also very useful when having a different perspective from someone else…
“Try to see where the other person is coming from, not where YOU WISH they were coming from.”
5. People Will Surprise You
People you expected would always be there for you don’t always show up when the going gets tough. People will distance themselves or completely vanish from your life. This goes along with the previous lesson that people handle crises differently. Just remember that is about them and how they have learned to cope. It’s not about you. But guess what?
6. AGAIN, People Will Surprise You!
In a good way! There will be people who make up for the ones who vanish and sometimes it’s people you never would have expected offering sincere, much-needed support. Often times you won’t want to accept it because you don’t want to feel like a burden. Well, let me tell you something! There really are a lot of terrific people in this world with lots of love in their hearts who want to do good and feel their purpose is to lend a hand, an ear or a shoulder to cry on. Let them. It’s truly a win-win.
7. Eliminate and/or Learn To Deal With Toxic People STAT!
There are toxic people you can rid of by cutting ties. Unfortunately some toxic people are people in our family or people we work with. If there are toxic people in your life that you haven’t set boundaries with, start working toward setting those boundaries now. Don’t wait. Toxic people are the last people you need to worry about during a crisis because even (and sadly sometimes especially) during a crisis it will be about them. Setting boundaries is an acquired skill. It can be uncomfortable at first but setting healthy boundaries is something I started working on a few years ago and I’m so glad I did. I can’t imagine what this last year would have been like for me mentally if I hadn’t learned to develop this skill.
8. Self-Care Is A MUST
If you don’t take care of yourself first it will make it very difficult to help care for another human being. This could be its own separate post so I’ll mention a couple ways I practice self-care.
– Take time for yourself even if there is only a small window of opportunity.
– I joined a cancer support group for a short time and it was very beneficial for me to spend time with people who could empathize with what I was going through.
– Don’t ignore your emotions.
– Ask for help.
Most importantly remember…
9. Cancer Patients Are Silent Soldiers.
People fighting cancer are fighting a battle that so many of us can’t possibly understand unless we’ve walked in their shoes. We can’t fight this battle for our loved ones (it took me a long time to finally accept that), but we can fight it WITH them. I received the best piece of advice from one of my mentors when I told her how helpless I felt. She shared the most valuable advice I have ever received…”Just be with your mom. Laugh with her. Call her. Text her. Hug her. Make sure she never feels alone because there’s nothing worse than feeling alone.”
I’ll leave you with the words I try to live by every day…
Be GRATEFUL for each day.
Be HOPEFUL for many more.
BELIEVE there’s a reason and
Have FAITH that God will help you through it.