A rather important milestone quietly slipped into my thoughts this week . . . so subtle that I’m surprised I remembered it at all. Five years ago today was the day that my then-boyfriend / now-husband was diagnosed with colon cancer after a colonoscopy procedure that was supposed to “rule-out-the-scary-stuff” and confirm that all that was bugging his tummy was a pesky case of IBS. But, our journey over the last five years has been a much different one.
I’ll never forget that day or that moment when the doctor came in and said “We have a problem.” Time stood still for a bit and my reaction was incredibly calm . . . it’s almost like I wasn’t even surprised by the news. Maybe it was shock. Maybe it was denial. Perhaps it was the confluence of angels surrounding us at that very moment. But, my initial reaction was something like “Well now we know what is wrong with you . . . and so now we can get you fixed!” I just knew that I was meant to accompany Brian on this journey. We approached the situation with as much “let’s work the problem” determination as we would a technical error while under the gun on an important deadline. I didn’t have much “emotional” reaction until the next day when, after Brian’s first CT scan that morning, I decided to take a “mental health” day from work while Brian headed to the studio.
I came home, called my best friend, cried my eyes out, joined my friend for lunch, cried in my soup at Cozymel’s, then went to Saddle Creek for a little retail therapy. Shopping for clothes was something small that, in that moment, I could control. As I was getting out of my car at the shopping center, one of my co-workers and dear friends was leaving the Apple Store. She gave me exactly what I needed in that moment – a hug and assurance that Brian would pull through this without a doubt.
So, if, knowing what I know now, I could go back to that day and provide that devastated and fear-paralyzed “me” with a few words of wisdom, what things would I say?
- Allow yourself a moment to grieve.
- Nobody knows what the next days, weeks, months or years will bring. A loss through death is not the only experience that merits grief. A diagnosis of cancer brings with it the loss of a particular lifestyle and sense of security. It’s okay to take some time and acknowledge that.
- It really does work.
- Stay off Google.
- Seriously, knock it off. All you’ll find is a bunch of scary statistics from a decade ago when a lot of the drugs they have now didn’t even exist that were tested on people who were much older, much sicker and not nearly as bright or good-looking as we are. And, besides, statistics are meant to be screwed with.
- Open just one door at a time and don’t worry about the stuff down the hall.
- This is the decision that Brian and I made on day one, and it was the best mutual decision that we have ever made. About anything. Your mind will wander to scary places if you let it, but only two things really matter . . . (1) what is true right now? and (2) staying focused on the desired outcome – CURE, baby!
- Sleep and exercise are like oxygen right now.
- Do whatever it takes to be a good steward of your own body during times of crisis.
- Do a mind sweep.
- Grab a piece of paper and ink it out.
- Create a network of support.
- Some people have strong existing support networks. Some need to assemble them – family, friends, doctors, advisors and a great therapist are essential.
- If someone offers help, let them.
- For their sake, not yours. If a person offers help, then they see the opportunity as a privilege. Don’t steal their joy.
- Read (or listen to) some books.
- Unglued, Getting Things Done and Boundaries. There are many other books that provided me with insight and support, but these three changed my life.
- Cut people some slack.
- If certain people makes you feel worse, don’t blame them. I promise they aren’t trying to bum you out. It’s a suck-tastic and awkward situation all around and they are 10 times more mortified than you are about the interaction. Truth is, there are no “right” words to say at a time like this.
- Cut yourself some slack.
- You might lose your cool and have a Level 10 reaction to a Level 3 problem on more than one occasion. It’s terribly embarrassing in the near term, but it’s not the mountain to die on and people who are awesome will soon forgive and forget (or if they’re REALLY awesome, they will pretend not to notice the fifty-shades-of-crazy).
- Share only what you want to share.
- Some people find comfort in blogging, posting and tweeting every step in their journey, and that’s okay. Others prefer to use more discretion, and they’s okay too.
- Try not to let the condition define who you are.
- It’s terribly frustrating to be perceived as Mr. or Mrs. Cancer-person when we’re so awesome at directing, designing, creating, producing, parenting, partying, etc. Do whatever you need to do to not let “being sick” be what people think of when they think of you.
- Clean a drawer.
- If nothing else is going right and you’ve lost all sense of control, go and clean a single drawer. It’s amazing how a little “win” can jerk you out of a funk.
- Embrace the learning experience.
- Sometimes it seems that your friends’ problems are about as significant as a debate on which flavor of Skittle-bomb is superior. Meanwhile, you’re over here having a 40,000-level dinner*. It’s amazing how quickly we have to “grow up” in the face of extreme adversity. It can be very scary-in-a-good way . . . appreciate the perspective and enjoy the ride!
- Stay focused on your purpose and core values.
- My purpose? To love Brian. Every. Single. Day.
Brian and I both feel strongly that the last five years have been the BEST of our lives. Happiness is not a destination, it’s an adventure. To my dearest Brian, thank you for the adventure.
* If you have no idea what a “40,000 level dinner” is, Google “horizons of focus”.