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.
We all have stress in our lives that takes many different shapes and forms. Giving space to each other to feel, to grieve and to vent is part of community. It's part of friendship, family and faith that we are all in this thing called life together.
One day in the cancer center, I saw a man code right beside me. The nurses were quick to pull the curtain and get me moved to another chair. The staff worked with him and sent him up the emergency room. I never asked if he survived.
Years later, I worked at the cancer center. A dear friend of mine was getting her first infusion. While in the lobby I heard them call her doctor to the chemo suite. While he had many patients that day, instantly I knew. My feet went so fast up those stairs I got there just as he did. I guided her support person a few feet away and let her know that she was in good hands. All the while I prayed hard under my breath for a good outcome. She had a reaction and they were able to resolve it.
Another day a patient that I had come to know and love collapsed in the lobby. She was assisted immediately and rushed to the emergency room for care.
While I can be calm on the outside in these instances, my insides never forget. These moments, along with many others, remain seared in my brain. Watching others go through life and death moments brings a feeling I can't exactly put words to. I am not a medical person. I worked in survivorship. I have no training except to know who to call for help.
Cancer brings so many uncertainties into our lives. Every appointment, each milestone, watching people around us suffer; it can all bring monumental stress. How we handle this stress is individual and personal, but we each need to learn how to thrive in the midst of it.
Personally, I have to step away at times, to take a break from heavy things. When I worked in the cancer center, I needed to take time to focus on positive projects that made people happy, like a slogan in the lobby or a remodel for the wig shop. In my personal life, there are times I need to not read posts in the online support group. There are times when people call to ask me to talk to a newly diagnosed person, and I know it will cost me to say yes.
Then there are seasons when I just need to talk about it and feel heard. I hate it when I try to express what I'm feeling and people don't listen. There have been times that I have reached out and heard, "But Doris, you are fine, you survived." In those moments, I realize I am talking to the wrong person. What I need to hear is that it is normal to feel overwhelmed. I need to be reminded to practice good self care. Now I have a wonderful licensed counselor to help me sort out what I feel and keep me grounded.
Life and death moments are real in everyone's life. My husband experienced two recently, within two weeks of each other. As he was driving down the interstate, a collision occurred right in front of him. Thankfully he was able to drive off the exit ramp to avoid it. But then a week later, while driving home from work, two young girls darted out in front of him and he had to slam on brakes to avoid hitting them.
In the world of cancer, it can feel like you have those instances as often as daily. There are times you can't escape it. Getting help is strength, not weakness. Facing our hurts and questions can be painful, but not as bad as holding it all in. If you are a survivor and need help dealing with all that you see, please hear me: I am a strong, independent, and sometimes sassy woman. I have walked through many difficult things in my life. Yet, it took me years to realize that seeking help takes more strength and courage than not.
I am stronger because I have sought help. Please find the resources that you may need, don't wait until you have your back against a wall.
If are not a survivor, but you have survivors or oncology professionals in your tribe, listen. Listen to them when they need to talk. They may have seen or experienced hard things, they may do hard things every day. That is their life. Listening is a gift you can give them. Let them vent. Please don't tell them not to feel how they do, just let them get it out. It can help, I promise.
We all have stress in our lives that takes many different shapes and forms. Giving space to each other to feel, to grieve and to vent is part of community. It's part of friendship, family and faith that we are all in this thing called life together. Supporting each other, encouraging each other, loving and laughing with each other is priceless. Seeking help allows us to be a healthier part of our tribe or community, and it can be life-changing.