Doris Cardwell received a life-changing diagnosis of inflammatory breast cancer in 2007. While undergoing treatment, she co-founded a mentor program for the cancer center treating her. She also created community events to educate, encourage and empower people regarding cancer. Doris was the first Survivorship Community Outreach Liaison for her local cancer center. She is an advocate, educator and encourager on issues facing cancer survivors. Doris is a wife, mother, empty nester, survivor of life and lover of all things coffee. An avid speaker and blogger, she is available at www.justdoris.com.
I have not always been good at respecting others differences. Receiving a cancer diagnosis is one of those times we may all handle life in a different way. My experience taught me a deeper respect for how we process challenges.
Sitting on my porch watching hummingbirds is interesting to me. They are tiny, and they have fast wings. When they are feeding, and another bird tries to come into the feeder, the challenge begins. The bird having its meal will fiercely defend its time and space drinking the sweet nectar. I have seen other hummingbirds come in and dive bomb the approaching bird to protect the one feeding.
When I was first diagnosed with cancer, there was so much to take in. I was on information and challenge overload. Our lives changed drastically, overnight. Not only were we facing a very aggressive and often deadly cancer, we lived in a rural area. We did not have a local cancer center, nor did we have the funds for constant travel three and a half hours to get to one. We quickly decided that we needed to return to our hometown 1,700 miles away. There we would have access to not one, but many cancer centers within a 30- to 45-minute drive. We literally left the day we got the official inflammatory breast cancer diagnosis to meet an appointment back home. When we left, we did not realize we would never return to live in the same house again. Months later, our friends had packed up our things. Other friends drove from the many miles with my husband to move our things back. This was not part of our life plan.
In that time, I relied on those closest to me to behave like the hummingbirds. It was important for me to only have people around me who could be strong. I didn't want people who were negative or draining in any way. My prognosis was a difficult one, my doctor wouldn't speculate as to my odds of beating the disease. Many expected that I would not survive. I didn't have enough strength or energy to let people drain me with their own heaviness. I needed people who believed I could survive and who could focus on things other than the fact I had cancer. This required my husband and friends to run interference — often. They answered the phone, answered the door, hid me in the grocery store more times than I could count. People mean well, but we all can say and do the darndest things. Some who had previously been unkind to my family, decided it was time to fix our relationship. I needed protecting, this was not the time for that. Others felt that they needed every detail of every doctor appointment. It was not good for me to spend hours on the phone recounting details of doctor visits all day. I needed peace, tranquility and time to focus on my children and husband. I needed to find my purpose and my own way in this difficult and challenging time. Our lives had been turned upside down and we were uprooted all at the same time.
There were those who did not understand how I felt. Some were offended and unkind. Others said I was in denial. I understand that my way of processing was not what they expected it to be. We are all different in how we approach and process hardships. You may find that it is healing to talk about things, you may find it is not. Peace comes when we know what works for us and are not afraid to do it. Good friends acknowledge our differences and understand we process trauma differently. Supportive friends learn to follow our lead and allow us to draw strength from that. I have not always been good at that. My experience with cancer has taught me many lessons and this is one of them. We need to respect the fact that we are all different and respond appropriately. One way is not right and one way wrong, we all have to find what works for us. I have also learned that just like the hummingbirds I can be strong and at the same time rely on others to have my back when I need to focus on something important.