The Gifts of Life and Death

I’ve been mulling over how to process being bombarded with too much bad information yesterday. So, bear with me as writing is catharsis for me.

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Yesterday morning, Craig told me that a co-worker of his died. I didn’t know him. I think I only met him once. But he had a family. A wife. Two small children. Lots of people he loved. Lots of people that loved him. He had cancer. Ugly, crappy cancer. Oh, how I hate cancer. I hate it with every fiber of my being. The fact that it claimed another innocent soul makes me shake with anger. I thought about him and his family all day.

His name was Naphtali Y. Matlis.  I think there is power in names.  In naming, we give power and presence.  Remember Naphtali.

Then, I find out yesterday afternoon that a dear soul that I DID know also died. She died suddenly. Just collapsed. We still don’t know why … it appears that her heart might have just stopped. She was 43 years old. Less than 2 weeks ago I was celebrating meeting her in person for the first time. We laughed. She taught me new words (like how an “e-poo-phany” is when you have a great thought on the toilet.).  We danced in the grass, barefoot. We cried happy tears. We connected – soul to soul. And just like that, she’s gone. I thought about her and her family all night.

Her name was Kimberly Davis.  Remember Kimberly.

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When I woke this morning, after a night of strange dreams, I realized that my mind was not settled on just Naphtali and Kimberly. No. I was dreaming and thinking about ALL the people and ALL the families last night. Not just the ones who have died … not just the ones I know or have known. I was connected to all the people in the world that have faced death in some form or another. In other words, ALL the people in the world. The connection faded quickly, but it left an imprint I’d like to share.

Life and death are a circle. Visually, the Ouroboros is how I imagine it – the snake that is eating it’s own tail. For me, the cycles of life and death are inextricably intertwined. In life there is death, in death there is life. We witness both constantly and continuously on a daily basis – life and death in nature, in our psyche, in our actual physical lives. The problem with this view is that it can appear that we are constantly moving toward death. Which isn’t wrong, per se, but it can be a little morbid to think that all we’re doing … all we’ve done … that it always results in death.

IMG_0038This type of thinking – this constant comfort with the idea of death – sometimes leaves me feeling a little jaded. There’s the whole, “well, death is just the inevitable truth of life.” A dead tree in the yard just seems like more work to be done.  I squished bug is just waiting for rain to wash it away.

Naphtali and Kimberly lifted the fog for me, yesterday. Even if only for a moment. This is a great gift that I want to celebrate.

We carry on each day doing the best we can to be the best we can. When we truly witness death – when we allow ourselves to feel the grief and strife that comes along with death – well, that lifts the veil on life. That thin cloth that we are shrouded in daily slips ever so slightly. Our vision is brighter, more discerning, more aware.

For me, this awareness – this exposure to the brightness of life – well, that’s how I choose to celebrate the lives of those who have left us. I don’t know any other way. I am so deeply saddened by deaths … but  I am strangely exhilarated in my own life. It does not feel cliche, at this time, to say, “Every moment, every life, is precious.” I want to continue feeling this way, even in the face of death.

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This morning, Craig and I got up and worked out. That seems such a normal thing to do, but it wasn’t until yesterday that I was cleared by my doctor to go back to an exercise routine.  Is it strange that I was told I could return to my normal activities – the thing I LOVE – on the day that I was confronted with multiple messages of death?  I choose to believe that it was not a coincidence.

When I first woke to the sounds of Craig waking, I didn’t want to get up.  I was comfortable and cozy and ever so sleepy. But Craig’s motion, his moving about – his choice to face today – helped me shake off the fog. I got up and dressed and prepared. I felt a brightness. A fullness. I felt LIFE. I felt A-LIVE.

As we went about our morning routine of getting the kids fed and prepared for school, I could feel the veil beginning to close in again.  It’s comfortable, so I’m not completely saddened by this.  But LIFE has a way to showing itself at the strangest moments. I am reminded that life has a mind of its own … a way to insert itself into the harshest of conditions and thrive.

I witnessed this in my own daughter, who found a IMG_6442four-leaf clover this morning.  Her excitement and beauty … her life … reminds me that THIS life is all we have.  This, my friends, is the gift of life.  Life gifts us the knowledge that there is always another day. That THIS is the life we must live.

And there are also gifts in death. Death gifts us a knowledge, a stopping of time, a moment to appreciate life. That while death may be inevitable, it doesn’t have to be morbid or sad or scary or ugly. It can just BE if we let it just be.

The message that I am left with, after a day of emotion and a night of dreaming, is this:  Please, don’t waste your gifts. Don’t turn away from them. Rip them open with aplomb and enjoy your gifts fully and openly and joyfully. At the end of our days, whenever that may be, those gifts will be what we’ve left behind – our legacy – to those who continue the circle of life and death.

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Top 10 Reasons You Don’t Need A Top 10 List

I was recently featured in an article entitled, “10 things NEVER to Say to Someone With Cancer.” It’s a well written article and even got picked up by MSN.com … which is super exciting and awesome. I mean, I love the exposure, so no complaints there.

But, it got me thinking.

Then, I was on The Stupid Cancer Show podcast, yesterday. During my segment Matthew Zachary, the founder of Stupid Cancer, noted that Top 10 lists are what get the most traffic on the Internet today. He asked me if my book gave people a “top 10” of things to say or not say.

No.  It doesn’t.

“While I don’t give a top 10 list,” I replied, “I think I give you the basis for figuring out what your personal Top 10 list is.”

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NOT a picture from THIS morning. But, it is a picture from A morning.

This morning, I was still thinking about Top 10 Lists. I know. You can smell the smoke from the gears turning right?

Anyway, it dawned on me that Top 10 lists are so popular because they are fast and easy. I mean, if you just never say what’s in the “10 Things Never to Say to Someone With Cancer” article everything will be ok, won’t it? And, if you only say what’s in some “10 Things You Should Say to Someone With Cancer” article, everything will be ok, won’t it? If you just walk the path that others have laid … follow their advice and never deviate … everything will be ok, won’t it?

Well, No. It won’t, necessarily, be ok.  Here’s why:

When someone is in a crisis, do you know what they are craving more than anything?

CONNECTION.

They want to be connected to the people around them. Emotionally. Physically (if possible).

They want to be connected to their families. To their caregiver. To their friends. And the thing is, connection is not something that either exists or it doesn’t.IMG_4570

Connection is something that is CULTIVATED between two or more people.
Tweet: Connection is something that is CULTIVATED between two or more people. @JennMcRobbie http://ctt.ec/ecdno+

Connection is something that can’t always be put into words. It takes effort to build — and can be torn asunder quickly in little time at all. Connection is what we crave as humans … I’d even argue it’s what makes us human.

To me, a Top 10 list is the anti-thesis of connection. Top 10 lists woo you into believing that if you just commit them memory you’ll never make a mistake.

And that’s just not realistic. In order to *really* connect with someone, you have to be willing to make mistakes sometimes … and to own up to those mistakes when they happen. That’s another part of the human condition folks.  We do dumb stuff.  And that’s ok.

Now, I’m not saying that Top 10 lists aren’t helpful because, they are. I mean, I read Top 10 lists ALL the time. But, they are not a replacement for emotional connection with someone. They are not a replacement for honesty and vulnerability. Top 10 lists are a resource, plain and simple. They’re something to take with a grain of salt as you evaluate how to best connect with the people in your life.

So, I’m not saying don’t read Top 10 lists.  What I’m saying is, don’t take it as gospel.  It’s not going to save you or your friendship. It might be a good place to start (or end) a conversation, but that’s about it. You still need to put in the work to maintain a connection with the people around you.

In the interest of delivering what I promise, though, here it is:

Top 10 Reasons You Don’t Need a Top 10 List:

IMG_0010_210.  You don’t need to limit yourself to 10 of anything.  Live a little.  You might even *gasp* “put it up to 11.”
Tweet: You don't need to limit yourself to 10 of anything.  Live a little...
(Thank you “This is Spinal Tap” for that gem.)

9.    You are invested in the outcome of your interactions with other people. The writer of a Top 10 List is not (and cannot be as invested as you are because they don’t know you)! They have no idea what will work for your personal circumstances. So take all Top 10 lists with a grain of salt.

8.    You probably already know what you’re going to read before you read it. (Most Top 10 Lists are recycled information from somewhere else. Obviously, this list is the exception to this rule.)

7.    You are a problem solver. If life hands you lemons, don’t let other people tell you what to do with your lemons. Turn them into a rocket powered jet engine.  Or squeeze them into your friend’s drink. Or, throw them out. You decide.
Tweet: If life hands you lemons, don't let other people tell you what to do with your lemons. @JennMcRobbie http://ctt.ec/DWGkR+

8.    You have a style all your own.  When you try to co-opt someone else’s communication style, it’s painfully obvious to those close to you. Be you – mistakes and all. Your relationships will thrive because of it, not in spite of it.

6.    You know that building connection requires ACTION.  Reading stuff on the Internet is PASSIVE. If you want to bond with someone, then ACT.  Bond with them in the ways you already know how!

5.    You can’t substitute someone else’s experiences for your own. Build connection by building experiences, together.
Tweet: Build connection by building experiences, together. @JennMcRobbie http://ctt.ec/e9Qnd+

4.    You know that life isn’t one-size-fits-all.  Not all relationships are created equal.  So, don’t pigeon hole your relationship into a Top 10 List.

3.    You have an opportunity to create a connection. No one else can do that for you.

2.    You don’t need the Internet.  Even if you met on the Internet, only interact with this person on the Internet, think this person owns the Internet … the Internet is not what led you to establish a connection in the first place. Remembering why you wanted a connection in the first place can guide you.

1.    You are an adult. Or nearly. You don’t have to do what the Internet tells you to do. Tweet:

So, am I totally off base here?! Do you live and die by Top 10 lists? Let me know in the comments!!

The Magic of Worry

*NOTE:  This is from my April 15 Newsletter.  I’m working to merge the content that I send people on my list and my blog so that it’s memorialized.  Thanks for your patience while I do this!

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Boy oh boy.  It’s been a whirlwind as of late.  Why is it that whenever things seem to be at a low, then good things start happening?

Wait.
That’s not your experience?

Yeah.  It wasn’t always my experience either.  It used to be that when bad stuff happened I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop.  I was constantly tensed and wondering when things would get worse.  And you know what?  They almost always did.  Get worse that is.

As a kid, I’d hear there was going to be a test.  I’d worry and freak and wring my hands.  “I’ll never do well.”  And guess what?  I didn’t.

As an adult, I’d stress over calling a client to tell them about a new litigation they’re involved in.  I’d fully have the conversation in my head before I even called the client on the phone.  It would go (in my head, remember) something like this:

Me:  Hi.  I’ve been hired by your insurance company to defend you in the lawsuit that’s come out of the car accident you were in one year ago.

Client:  WHAT?!  I can’t believe this.  My life is terrible.  I’m terrible.  I’m broke.  I can’t handle this.  I’m going to die!  I hate this.  I hate YOU!

Me:  *crickets*

Did the conversations EVER go that way once I finally had them?  No.  Of course not.  But I spent an inordinate amount of time getting myself worked up over nothing.  Mathematically, you could see it like this:

Event + Worry = Bad Things Happen

Worrying is part of our nature as humans.  And it sucks.  So, if you Google “why do we worry” or “how do I stop worrying” you’ll get all sorts of articles from the existential to the 3-steps-to-success variety with the goal being, to stop worrying.

Cancer has done a number on me and worrying.  If there was an Olympic event for worrying, I might have won.  I worried about the mundane, “what if I look weird bald?” to the extraordinary, “what if all the treatments don’t work?”  Me and Worry, we were BFFs.  Worry kept me up at night telling me long stories about how freaking horrible everything was going to be.  Worry convinced me that without her I wouldn’t be prepared for the inevitable horribleness that would ensure.  Worry told me she was going to protect me from harm.

A friend of mine recently called Worry a “thief.”

But, here’s a lesson I’d like to share with you….with the world:

Worry didn’t mean to hurt me.
Worry also didn’t save me from anything.
Worry just kept me from saving myself.

Huh? Well, let me explain:

Since we’re worriers by nature, it’s a natural response to evaluating threat in our lives.  That threat may be to our bodies or to our minds and souls.  Worrying is a key element to making sense of the world around us.  It helps us define what is important to us and can even be a great precursor to saving us from harm.  For example:

You’re walking down a dark street at night and you see 5 hooded figures blocking the path ahead of you, what goes through your mind?  What do you worry about?  These natural feelings — fear and worry — could protect you from walking into a very dangerous situation.

It could also be that your friends have arranged to surprise you and have chosen an unusual way to go about it.

But in either case, crossing the street to walk on the lighted sidewalk away from the hooded figures would probably be a pretty good decision, right?

And THIS step — the taking action — is where I think most of us get stopped up in our worry cycles.  Instead of taking action about our worry, we just keep on keepin’ on.  And in this case, the mathematics are quite sound:

Worry + Worry = MORE WORRY

When you introduce ACTION into the equation, things change:

Worry + Action = Something Else

The thing is, I can’t promise you that taking action on a worry won’t result in something bad happening.  In the example above, you might cross the street to get away from the hooded figures.  Then, they might cross the street to block you on the lighted path.  I’d say that’s not a good chain of events.

BUT, I can promise that taking action will stop that initial cycle of worry.  And that might just save you from Worry and all her good intentions.

I’m sure you want to know what actions are going to save you from worry. Unfortunately, this part is sort of a trial and error to see what works.  And the thing is, it might be different every time.

For example:  I just had surgery on April 9 (don’t worry, it was planned; part of the reconstruction process after breast cancer).  Before surgery, I found myself falling deep into a “what if” cycle of worry. So, I turned all the worrying into action by scheduling fun stuff to do AFTER surgery.  (For a preview, see the EXCITING THINGS ON THE HORIZON box below.)

Post-surgery came with a separate set of worries.  So this time I turned to writing. I sat down, analyzed what I was feeling and typed this out to you.  It helps me break my own cycle of worry if I can imagine helping even one other person do the same.

So, thanks for that.

Either way, it seems like magic, to me.  My kind of magic is the kind that you can create for yourself any time, any day.

So, tell me — what’s your magic?  What do you do to stop your worry cycle?  Or, what are you willing to try?  Click on the e-mail button at the very bottom of this e-mail and let me know!

Don’t Know What To Say?

*NOTE:  This is from my March 23 Newsletter.  I’m working to merge the content that I send people on my list and my blog so that it’s memorialized.  Thanks for your patience while I do this!
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One of the coolest things about being on social media is seeing all the pictures on Facebook of people with MY book in THEIR hands.  There is no better reward for an author … well, THIS author … than to see that people are reading and enjoying my book.  I mean, how can a photo series like the one above NOT make you smile?
(That’s Nate, by the way.  He’s demonstrating his thrill at finally finding out why she was acting so weird. He’s a TOTALLY talented photographer/videographer and all around good guy.  Visit his Facebook page:  The Vine Productions.)
Despite all of the outpouring of support and love and pride, I know that there are people out there that just don’t know what to say to me.

You might be shaking your head upon reading that.  But it’s true.  It’s not that they aren’t proud or happy or impressed.  It’s not that they begrudge me success.  It’s not that they don’t care.

They just don’t know what to say.
And, frankly, this phenomenon is one of the reasons why I wrote Why is She Acting So Weird? in the first place.  I mean, the entirety of Chapter Five is about what to say or do when you don’t know what to say or do.  While the focus for the book was what to say during a crisis – the principles that are peppered throughout the book apply to anytime when you don’t know what to do or say.
So, what can you do when you don’t know what to say to someone?  It’s pretty simple.  Start with:
“I don’t know what to say.”
Huh?  Say what?  I know you’re thinking I’ve finally lost the last remnants of my mind, but I haven’t.  Let me explain.

Just yesterday I got an e-mail from someone that I haven’t heard from in quite some time.  Amidst some very flattering text about how proud and happy she was for me was buried this sentence:

“I’ve been sitting at my laptop for the past 15 minutes typing and deleting parts of this email because I just don’t know how to express how damn happy I am for you.”
This stood out to me.  When I read that sentence I put my hand over my heart and made an “awwww” sound that’s usually reserved for cute puppies or funny kitty videos.  This sentence was (and still is) SO touching to me.
Why?!  It’s not that the rest of the e-mail wasn’t meaningful to me.  Having a friend profess their pride and happiness is lovely.  But, having a friend really open up their heart to tell me EXACTLY what they’re feeling at that moment?  Well — that’s unparalleled.  That’s how you connect.

We don’t tell each other the absolute truth of our emotions, though, because we’ve been taught that raw TRUTH is bad and should be hidden.  We’re instructed to carefully craft our truth – managing and molding and manipulating until it’s pretty and presentable.

But in reality, TRUTH lies in the present moment … in what is in your heart right now.  Truth is naturally a thing of beauty — even when it’s hard or ugly.  When you share those parts of you that are a little uncomfortable or hidden, that is when you’re revealing the true you.  And that’s the you that your friends want to access.

So, I have a task for you:  reach out to a friend this week.  Tell them what you’re thinking at the time you’re thinking it. Don’t be surprised if that simple action brings you and your friend closer to each other than ever.  Click any of the links at the bottom of this newsletter to connect and let me know how it goes!

On Feeling Like an Author

There’s this thing about writing a book: just because you write a book and publish it, that doesn’t automatically make you FEEL like an author.

You might be thinking, “What the heck is she talking about?”

To be honest – I have no idea. 😉 In all seriousness, people have been telling me “You’re an author now” and I’ve felt a little like a fraud. Yes, I wrote a book. Yes, it’s published. Yes, it’s doing great and making a difference. But there’s something about the title “author” that feels very venerable and almost mystical.

So, I’ve been setting out to own this whole “I’m an author” thing. And guess what? It’s working. This morning it’s really settling in…and it is SO MUCH FUN!!! (And on a Monday morning, that’s a big deal.

IMG_6229Check out this picturesque scene.

Coffee.  My laptop.  Fun pens!  Labels, envelopes, stationary, and copies of my book!  So much fun!!

What am I up to?  Well, I conducted a giveaway for 10 of my books on Goodreads for the last month. The Giveaway ended yesterday, so today I’m sending the books out to the winners.  What really floors me is that 700 people signed up for the Giveaway!!  If even a small percentage of those folks REALLY want to read my book (and didn’t just enter because “HEY!  FREE STUFF!”), well, that leaves me a little teary-eyed and grateful.

If you entered and didn’t win:  Don’t worry.  I’ll likely hold a giveaway again soon because there’s something about sitting here autographing my books, writing notes to readers and lovingly packaging them (some are going as far away as Great Britain, Australia and Canada) that really makes me feel “like an author.”  So, thank you Goodreads and Goodreads Readers.  You all have made my day.  Seriously.

Of course, you always have the option of buying my book (I know, I know, free stuff is so much more fun).

I’ve been up to some other fun stuff too, so while I’m celebrating, here’s a list of places where you can read my writing or hear my voice.  Stay tuned, though, because there’s a lot more in the works.  I’m so excited!

(1) Catch Good Health Radio with Erica Haray-Butcher
Click the link to listen to us chat about breast cancer, friendships, what drives us crazy and more! (WordPress won’t let me embed the player because of “security reasons.” pppfffttt.)

(2)  Ulman Cancer Fund Blog for Adolescent Young Adult Cancer Awareness week.  (UCF interviewed several members of the Young Adult Cancer community including yours truly. The compilation of answers were split into 3 parts, which paint a broad picture of what young adults facing cancer experience.)
Part 1          Part 2          Part 3

(3) Guest Blog Post on Ruby Slippered Sisterhood
http://www.rubyslipperedsisterhood.com/guest-post-jenn-mcrobbie/

(4) Guest Blog Post on the Midlife Midwife Project
http://www.midlifemidwifeproject.com/2015/03/15/different-at-40-by-jenn-mcrobbie/

(5) Women of Uncertain Age Podcast with Karen and Phillipa, Episode #54

(6) Featured as a Rockstar Runner on Running with Curves.
http://www.runningwithcurves.net/rockstar-runner-jenn-mcrobbie/

(7) Women of Uncertain Age Podcast with Karen and Phillipa, Episode #53.

WHAT’S COMING UP:

4/24/15: People & Time Cocktail Party for the White House Correspondents Weekend

4/26/15: Attending a local book club gathering

5/4/15: Appearing on the Stupid Cancer Show Podcast

5/16/15: 2 of my books will be auctioned off (along with loads of other items) for the National Fibromyalgia and Chronic Pain Association (NFMCPA) fundraiser.

6/6/15: Speaking at the Young Survival Coalition Regional Symposium in DC

9/11/15: Speaking to the NOVA Women’s Network Luncheon

9/??/15: 2 more of my books will be auctioned off (along with loads of other items) for another NFMCPA fundraiser.

There is no “New Normal”

_McRobbie_Cover_FINAL-KINDLE_wquoteThings have been exciting as of late.  My book launched on March 11, 2015 — and the launch was a huge success.  I feel so blessed and so grateful for all the support and love that’s been poured out to me in the 5 days since my book went live.  If you’ve read it already … thank you.  From the bottom of my heart.

If you haven’t – or didn’t even know I was writing a book … then I say, “GET THEE TO AMAZON.COM!”  There’s an e-book and a paperback, so no excuses.  🙂

Anyhow – that’s not what I want to write about  … which is a surprise because I’ve been everything book for the last few weeks.  But not today.  Today, the excitement was drowned in old fears.  Today, I made new realizations that I want to share with you.

This morning I went to see my plastic surgeon for my 3 month follow-up.  I woke up with a low grade panic underlying everything.  What would he say?  What would I say?  Will I ever be normal?!  There’s something about going to see a doctor, since my cancer diagnosis, that turns everything upside down.  Even if it’s a “good” appointment or one that I’ve known about for months.

Sitting in the waiting room, I began to calm down.  Their office is nice and quiet and familiar now.  When I saw the doctor, we discussed how I was healing from the first phase of reconstruction.  We talked about how I’m STILL healing 3 months later; the thumb sized gaping hole in my breast is now a “pinprick” thankfully.  He said, that’s “normal.”  I don’t know his definition of normal – but taking 3 months for skin to heal doesn’t fit within my definition of normal.

Then, we talked about “phase 2” of my reconstruction surgery; the part that the doctor’s office very clinically calls “symmetry surgery.”  This is when the doctor goes in and does his best work – the work designed to give me a normal look. What does he consider “normal?” I can’t help but think that I will never look normal. Normal, to me, is my body before cancer. I won’t ever have that back.

Don’t get me wrong. My medical team did wonders. Up until this point, all the surgeries, the chemotherapy, the radiation … they were all designed to rid me of cancer and give me some semblance of life back.  In all those appointments we talked about the physical maladies that come along with cancer.  “GET IT OUT” was the game plan.  My team did that as best as they could.  I have no regrets.

But now?  Now is where the psychological mess comes into play.  Now I have to reorder my thinking, putting it back together onto the organized bookshelves in my mind. It’s a slow, methodical process because my thoughts are strewn asunder … like a library after a hurricane.  Yesterday I was SO ANGRY that my hair wouldn’t lay the way I like.  I mean, really?  It’s just hair. Or so people tell me. But it’s so much more than that to me.  It’s a constant reminder that things are not as they were — and they never will be.  That I’m not normal.

A good friend, who is also a cancer survivor, tells me that she hates the term “The New Normal.”  I agree with her.  If you do a Google search on “new normal” and “cancer” you get a bunch of hits for articles purporting to help survivors reclaim their life.  The sentiment is nice.  It really is.  And I hate to be the contrarian, but …

You can’t reclaim your life after cancer.

Nothing will ever be the same. NOTHING. The phrase “New Normal” evokes the feeling that some things will go back to the way they were.  But they won’t.  They can’t.  After cancer, your life is marked by difference.  Not normal.  And I think accepting that is the quickest way to get through the fear and the panic and the anger and, yes, the mourning.

That’s not to say that things are going to suck forever.  Quite the opposite.  I’ve already had some incredibly happy and wonderful times since the cloud of cancer has been lifted from me and my family (cue last week).  But I don’t call my life the “New Normal.”  I’m not looking to create a “New Normal.”  Screw normal.  Normal or abnormal, well, it’s all just living, isn’t it?! So, I wish you as much normality or abnormality as you can handle.  Then, I’ll have what you’re having.

header photo courtesy of Christa Gallopolous

Are You Surviving or Thriving?

Last week I went to a focus group at the Smith Center for Healing and the Arts.  The focus group was aimed at young adult cancer survivors (ages 15-39). Don’t scoff.  Yes, I am 40.  No, I’m no longer considered a “young adult.”  BUT, I was diagnosed at 38 which puts me in the illustrious category of being a “young adult cancer survivor” or YAC.  But I digress …

The survivors in attendance were invited to share experiences with friends and friendship before, during and after diagnosis and treatment.  Turns out that the Smith Center is considering developing a program aimed at training/educating friends of survivors and volunteers in the YAC community to learn how to “be there” during diagnosis, treatment, survivorship and through to end-of-life if necessary.  Kind of a hot topic for me given the fact that, oh, I just wrote a whole freakin’ book about the topic!

Anyhoo, the thing that has been stuck in my head for a whole week isn’t just how cool it is that the Smith Center is thinking about a program that is perfectly aligned with my book.  Don’t get me wrong — it is so unbelievably cool that I was walking on sunshine for several days. What really stuck with me, though, was a conversation I had with another survivor after the focus group had ended. Specifically, we were talking about how hard it is to delineate between “simply surviving” and “thriving.”

I don’t think this is an uncommon feeling among survivors. When you receive a cancer diagnosis it sort of puts a hold on your life.  Everything seems to be whizzing past you as you stand still.  It’s disconcerting, especially for young adults, who are facing so many challenges just by virtue of being young and on their own for the first time.

We didn’t come up with an answer during our conversation; it was more about bonding than problem solving.  But it continues to vex me because there are a lot of people in my age group that are simply surviving regardless of whether they’ve had cancer or not.  Hell – I think there are people of ALL age groups that are simply surviving with no clue how to thrive.  When we’re stuck in survival mode, how do we make the transition from simply surviving to thriving?

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If there was an easy answer to that question then I’d be a millionaire.  I don’t know the answer.  I think I know the path though … and in my estimation that’s the key to thriving.  Finding your path … finding what invigorates you … finding what sets your heart afire … THAT’S thriving.  Standing in place waiting?  That’s just surviving.

Once you find the path, you’ll be called to walk it.  Oh sure, it’s laden with potholes and hairpin turns and nary a road sign to be seen.  But you KNOW when you’re on it.  You can feel it.  And that feeling will be what sustains you during the long stretches of loneliness and doubt.

I know it sounds like crap.  But you only think that because you’re not on your path.  You’re either standing still or wandering in the wilderness.  If you feel lost, I offer you this: just pick a direction. Any direction.  Find a sunny path lined with art or books or exercise or whatever it is that revs you up.  Now go in that direction.  If it turns out that you’re not that into it, guess what?  You can turn around.  You can find another path.  As Martha Beck said in her book, Finding Your Way in a Wild New World, “To thrive in our wild new world, you’d be well advised to play until you can’t think.”

Well – for me – there is no alternative any more.  I am running full tilt down this path I’m on … and I’ll keep running until I reach a dead end.  Then, I’ll cut a path of my own because that’s what thriving looks like to me.


P.S.  For updates on my book release (set for March 11, 2015), you can go to my website.  The book is titled, “Why is She Acting So Weird?  A Guide to Cultivating Closeness When a Friend is in Crisis.”

P.P.S.  Smith Center for Healing and the Arts is a nonprofit health, education and arts organization based in Washington, DC.  They specifically offer programs for adults living with cancer and their caregivers, patient navigation and programs promoting the use of arts in healing.  All in all an amazing local resource for anyone staring down the face of cancer or other illness.  Check them out.