The Y in the Road

The Y in the Road

Today is my parents 48th wedding anniversary. What a remarkable day to celebrate this special, and (frankly) uncommon milestone. Only they know all of the memories they’ve created over the last 48 years together. In sickness and in health, good times and bad, annoying habits and all. I am filled with love, admiration and respect for what they have created and I am grateful they are healthy, happy and continue to support and love each other. There’s so much to learn from relationships that have endured years together.

Today is also a pivotal day for Jeff and I. As I sign their anniversary card, I find myself feeling the tension between fear and hope. Today, we get the latest scan results. We’ve been through this several times – actually, every 3-4 months. We head to the hospital, meet with the oncologist and learn whether the current treatment is working. If it’s working, we continue. If it’s not, we switch to something else. I’ve been intentionally upping my FQ (fun quotient) and gratitude exercises the last few days to ward off the worry. Yoga, movies, playtime with the dogs have been great tools. And, it’s also helped that I’m in the middle of final exams which keeps my mind focused (most of the time).

Today, we greet the Y in the road.

When Jeff was diagnosed, the oncologist created with us, a roadmap of viable treatment options that outline levels of toxicity and impact on quality of life. We’ve been using that sheet of paper over the last 2 years, evaluating and selecting the best option, including clinical trials, based on scan results.

We’ve reached the end of that roadmap. 

And, herein lies the tension between fear and hope.

Will we walk out of the oncologist and head into chemotherapy for the next 3 days?

Or – will we go back home to start a different set of discussions.

To be continued…

Courage -SecondhandCancer

How I lost it in a sea of lanyards.

Last Friday, I found myself standing in the middle of a Seattle sidewalk, swimming in a sea of lanyards and I started to cry.

Hundreds of employees from the surrounding tech companies were breaking for lunch and bombarding the streets to hit their favorite eats. I watched these employees buzz by me with their prepared salads and curry bowls. At every bistro and coffee bar, there were long lines out the doors. I overheard a bit of shoptalk around the future of customer experience. I smiled. When we moved to Gig Harbor, I knew there would be times I would miss this energy yet our dream to create an intentional career shift and more simple life carried far greater benefits. What I didn’t expect was how incredibly out of sorts I felt in that very moment.

Literally, two streets over, was SCCA house, a temporary living stop for those going through cancer treatment. Jeff and I decided to stay there after chemotherapy that night. The place is filled with paperbacks, puzzles, a quiet room, and plenty of cancer literature. Instead of lanyards, this is the place of head scarves, ports and slow moving patients who seek a place of quiet rest. While a comfortable and well-designed space, one can’t escape the visions of illness throughout.

It’s hard to imagine a juxtaposition capturing so vividly the profound nature of what was and what is. Only 2 streets away, life looks – and is – drastically different.

In that very moment, the experience of walking between those two spaces, from the past to the present, was overwhelming.

I placed one foot in front of the other, walked intentionally through the sea of smartphones and stopped at a quiet corner. I stood there, took a deep breath, grabbed our bag of ‘chemo snacks’ and walked into SCCA house.

 

DelightfullyInsensitive

10 Things Not to Say to a Family Battling Cancer

Between the shock of receiving a cancer diagnosis and the sh*tshow of treatment, you begin to share the news with loved ones. Since Jeff and I have been through this rodeo twice (head and neck cancer, 2006 and prostate cancer, 2014) we’ve learned that most people want to know as much about the details as you’re comfortable sharing: What stage? What are the treatment options? What are next steps?

 

This is about the time you start to hear all sorts of cancer stories and advice. Most are helpful, hopeful and supportive. And then, there’s the comment that leaves you wondering why.

 

Most of these were said with the best of intentions (I hope). And, I know not everyone knows what to say when faced with scary news. My hope is that this might help others stop. think. and then respond with a more supportive option.

 

Here’s the tour of our top 10:

 

#10. “Well, if you’re going to get cancer, at least it’s not (insert type of) cancer. I hear that type of cancer is really deadly.” 

All cancers are capable of killing.

 

#9. “My (grandpa, uncle, etc.) died of cancer – it was really horrible. At the end, he was all bones and was in so much pain.  It was just awful.” 

 

#8. “I know what you mean. My neighbor’s son was just diagnosed with bone cancer and he’s 30 years old. Can you believe that? I mean that’s so young. I feel so bad for him.”

 

#7. “So, now that treatment is done, you guys can move on and forget this ever happened, right?”

No. And especially no when someone is battling metastatic disease.

 

#6. “Please call me and let me know how I can help” 

To help a family battling cancer don’t wait for the phone to ring. Pick it up and put it out there. And keep calling. I promise it makes a big difference.

 

#5: “I don’t know how you guys are getting through all of this. It’s just so horrible.” 

 

#4: “I hope things go well for you both with your cancer journey.” 

Yeah, it’s a journey alright. Want to hop on for the ride?

 

#3: “Stay positive and focus on fighting” 

Usually said in passing or at the end of a conversation. This is our favorite.

 

#2: “Be strong” 

I promise you, we’re fighting to stay alive.

 

#1: How long before you’re cured? 

Metastatic disease is not curable.

 

For more tips, check out: 5 Ways to Bring Relief to a Family Battling Cancer

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5 Ways to Bring Relief to a Family Battling Cancer

When someone we care about is battling cancer, we want to support them and their family. We want to do or say something that will make a difference, maybe make things easier.

What does support look like, sound like and will it really help?  

When Jeff and I are at SCCA (Seattle Cancer Care Alliance), we meet families who are all trying to navigate and manage the challenges cancer drops into daily life. Below are the 5 common themes we consistently hear from other families – combined with our experiences with cancer over the last 10 years.

#1: Acknowledge the Situation.

Maybe it sounds crazy, maybe too basic? Helpful support comes in the form of thoughtful words that acknowledge the pain, fear, and difficulty the family is experiencing. It’s OK (and normal) if you aren’t sure what to say or you don’t fully understand what they are experiencing.

Families battling cancer aren’t looking for perfection – what’s important is that the words are heartfelt and honest and they know you are willing to walk beside them. 

What it sounds like:

  • I’m so sorry. (yes, this is enough)
  • I love you and want to help in some way. What can I do to lighten the load? (see #2)
  • I’d like to stop by and chat (meet for coffee; go for a walk). What day works for you?
  • Call often, send cards or small goodies that remind of times spent together. (tea, books, movies)

#2: Go Beyond Offering to Help – Make It Happen.

Asking what you can do to help is a thoughtful gesture. What brings relief is taking steps to make it happen. Families battling cancer are focused on preparing questions for the doctors; scheduling treatments, making work, childcare and pet care arrangements. Life changes day-to-day and feels chaotic.

What it looks like:

  • Offer to arrange for house cleaning. (check local cleaning services – some offer free cleaning for families undergoing treatment.)
  • Make soups and bone broth and deliver in air-tight storage containers. (broth provides super-powered nutrients during chemotherapy!) See Recipe: Magic Mineral Broth from Rebecca Katz
  • Help with lawn care; walk the poochie; water plants while families are at the hospital.
  • Put together a ‘Fun Kit’ for the kids to keep them occupied during appointments. Or, create a Chemo Survival Kit to make surgery, radiation or chemotherapy a bit more manageable.

Treatment days are long and hospital food is well, hospital food. Coming home to a warm meal or a clean house provides practical, much-needed respite for families. Families comment how much they appreciate it when relief comes in the form of helping with day-to-day chores, allowing them to focus on more immediate issues.

#3: Remind Them They Are More Than Cancer.

When families are living with cancer, it’s easy for life to revolve around everything cancer. Life is different; however, they are still your unique friends, co-workers, and neighbors. Many times, relief comes in the form of reminding them that cancer is a (big) part of their life – yet not their entire life.

Share the story about the crazy boss, the funny neighbor and tell a funny story about the kids. We want to know what’s good and not so good in your life. And, we want to share non-cancer stories and give our minds a break. These normal conversations help everyone come up for air and create perspective.

What works for us:

  • Jeff and I have learned to limit our ‘cancer conversations’ to 10-15 minutes among ourselves and with others. The caveat is when we’re preparing for an upcoming oncologist appointment. Keeping the conversation short prevents us from diving into the rabbit hole of negative thoughts. It’s our way to maintain a positive state of mind and give time to talk through important items.
  • At the end of every day, we share 3 good things that happened that day. Whether it’s eating dinner together, keeping dinner down :), having an interesting client conversation or starting a new project – it’s a proven daily exercise to increase positivity and gratitude. Watch Video: Why 3 Good Things Works 

#4: Don’t Disappear.

When a friend was diagnosed, her siblings never asked how she was doing throughout the entire year of treatment. She felt abandoned when she needed them most. What she wanted was to know they cared. What she felt was alone and hurt by their choices.

Sometimes, family and close friends disappear when they hear the word cancer. It hits too close to home, they feel helpless and they choose to leave the building. It happens more than you think.

Dr. Rainer from Georgia Southern University who studies grief and relationships describes this “kind of distancing as “stiff-arming” – creating as much space as possible from the possibility of trauma. It’s magical thinking in the service of denial: If bad things are happening to you and I stay away from you, then I’ll be safe.” Read the full New York Times article

#5: End of Treatment is NOT the End of Cancer. 

When treatment is over, returning to life “pre-cancer” often doesn’t feel right. Many family members, especially the survivor, asks themselves: “What now?”. For those with metastatic disease, new concerns arise and the focus shifts to survivability and quality of life. Each family may celebrate the last day of (active) treatment in a specific way; however, the next morning, things are different.

Providing support to the family battling cancer is recognizing that life is different. Perspectives have changed; what was once important tends to shift and it will take some time to feel steady again.

What tips do you have for helping a family battling cancer? Share in the comments.

 

Up Next: 10 Things Not to Say to a Family Battling Cancer

You’re a Fun-Sucker

The other day, I walked by a small group of kids, standing outside of a shop. A little girl, about 8 years old, said to her friend: “You’re being a fun-sucker! I don’t want to be around you right now because you’re sucking out all of the fun!”.

Growing up, my friends and I used to create new words. Fun-sucker could have easily been one of ours. We also liked to create weird food combos like peanut butter, cheese, and mustard sandwiches. Sounds gross but if you like all three ingredients, the sandwich is pretty good.

“You’re being a fun-sucker!”

My immediate reaction was giggles. I was excited this little girl was leaning in and expressing herself. I felt sad for the little destroyer of fun who was apparently having a tough moment. As I kept walking, I thought about how some moments in life are downright fun-suckers. Cancer tops my list as King fun-sucker.

 

Making Cancer Fun?

It’s really important to me to have moments of fun as a way for Jeff and me to stay connected. There are plenty of ideas online to create “fun” during cancer treatment. Head shaving dates, wearing costumes to treatment or hosting end of treatment parties. I found a video of a patient dancing into her double mastectomy. She asked friends and family to dance to Beyoncé’s “Get Me Bodied” wherever they happened to be the morning of her surgery – a virtual dance party. I think these ideas help make cancer less scary, they create smiles, keep the hope engines revving and let family and friends know things are OK.

 

Fun with 3 C’s and a T: Champagne, Cartoons, Cards, and Travel

After initial diagnosis in 2014, Jeff and I celebrated with champagne after radiation treatment. Every day for 9 weeks, he signed into rads as a cartoon character. Marvin the Martian was the all-time team favorite. Every Friday, I gave him a little gift and card to mark another week down and sometimes, we’d hit our favorite bakery in Seattle and grab goodies for the weekend. My co-workers sent us a surprise box of FUN filled with toys – it was a great reminder to PLAY. When Jeff was able to travel, we went to Ireland. It was a bucket list adventure filled with fun. We didn’t talk about cancer once on the trip – not once. It felt normal.

When Jeff was re-staged with bone and liver mets, we had a head shaving date after his first chemotherapy session. During infusion, we listened to music and watched movies, played games and shared stories with the nurses. Friends sent cards (no flowers for chemo patients – immune system risk!) and a chemo survival kit to help us through the brutal treatment.

 

Fun, Redefined

Jeff’s cancer isn’t slowing down (yet) and he’s struggling with daily pain, nausea, and fatigue. We seek fun. Walks, dinner out, hikes with the dogs, long trips – these are not possible right now.

When we define fun using our pre-cancer definition, we can get snarky and sad which doesn’t help. So we’ve decided to redefine fun as finding small, daily moments to connect. 

UCLA’s Center for Integrative Oncology posted an article about “Fun Quotient” (FQ) and the importance of couples upping the FQ during cancer treatment. It basically says that improving your FQ is an important part of cancer treatment and that most people (cancer or not) could benefit from a higher FQ.

“Cancer treatment often requires a great deal of time and energy and must take priority over other activities. Life is reshuffled. It is not uncommon for patients and caregivers to become focused on the tasks of getting well as defined by their doctors and other medical professionals.

…Being involved with negative activities over time can whittle away at your sense of well-being and hope. This process also can arise for the same reasons and with the same intensity for family members and caregivers. Relationships that once were strong can be weakened if this negativity goes unchecked for long.” 

 

Let’s Do This.

My coaching clients know I like visual triggers. They are helpful reminders when we want to accomplish something. So this morning, our trigger is front and center on the fridge:

“What’s our FQ for today? – Do It!”

Maybe tonight we’ll sit outside on the deck and play a fav song; watch a movie or catch up on a TV show.  We also like to look at pictures from our travels and laugh about funny stories. We miss how active we used to be and are grateful there are many things we can still do to stay connected. We’re working on acceptance. But that’s another post 🙂

How are you upping your Fun Quotient?  Leave me a comment!

Other Good Reads:

My Appointment with Worry

When you live with someone battling cancer – you worry. You worry about treatment options, doctor appointments, getting things done, creating little moments of normal, seeing your loved one sick…there are times the worries seem endless. Thoughts pop while I’m driving, hiking with the dogs, working, even sitting outside enjoying a few minutes of solo time. Early morning is prime-time for the worry show as the house is quiet, the dogs are fed and my cup of tea is made. The moment just before the day starts, that’s when my worries kick into full gear.

The Worry Monster

I worry about…

  • seeing him in pain
  • watching him lose weight
  • a super active guy, now lying in bed for hours
  • the loss of our future dreams
  • feeling sad
  • hope – do I have enough? am I being realistic?
  • accepting that this IS happening
  • his wishes and whether I’m supporting them
  • having a plan
  • knowing what to do when he’s not here
  • the future – without him
  • feeling lonely
  • celebrating and honoring the time we have together

Tea time 6:30am. 

I asked my therapist for a tool to keep these worries from invading my every day. She recommended I invite them for tea 3-5 minutes daily to listen to and acknowledge the worries. The concept is called a “worry appointment”.

Basically, my worries are like a 3-year old toddler in my head that isn’t feeling heard. This little one is persistently nagging for the gummy bears in the check out line. And every time I give in, it’s taking me away from more productive thinking.

The goal of the worry appointment is to give my worries a few minutes of my time every day. Once they’re on the table and heard (note: I didn’t say solved) I get on with my day.

3 Easy Steps To Keep Worries In Check

  1. The worry appointment must be at the same time every day to create stability; otherwise, the little one starts to get nervous and jerky as they aren’t sure when they will be heard. You can list your worries in your head, write them down or say them out loud. Whatever your preference.
  2. Set the stopwatch for 5 minutes. If one day you get all of the worries out at 3 minutes, don’t stop.  Keep at it and get everything out – be dramatic.
  3. If a worry pops into your head later in the day, throw up the STOP sign and invite it to teatime tomorrow. Late attendees are no longer welcome.  They are only allowed during the scheduled meeting time.

IMPORTANT: Where people go wrong (and I can validate this happens), is that they stop after 3-4 days when they feel less worried.  If this happens, get back on schedule with a time that works.

Have A Persistent Worry? Tell It To Come Back Tomorrow!

I set the timer for 5 minutes every day. I download what’s in my head and give it the time it deserves. Once the 5 minutes is over, I remind myself that I’m trying my best to handle this challenging situation with grace. Then, I find it’s easier to shift gears to something more enjoyable and productive. If a worry creeps in while hiking the dogs, I tell it to come back tomorrow (sometimes I need to tell it a few times – stubborn thing).

How do you address worry in your life? 

 

Get More Tips @ Co-Survivor Corner

10 Must-Haves To Survive Cancer Treatment

When the nurse puts on a hazmat suit to administer chemotherapy – you know it’s toxic. Ask anyone who has gone through chemotherapy and they’ll tell you they wouldn’t wish it on their worst enemy.

Whether a friend, co-worker or loved one’s treatment plan includes surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, hormone treatment, etc., there are several must-haves that make treatment a bit more manageable. Placed in a box, bag or basket sends a caring message and creates a smile – both of which are much appreciated by the one who endures the treatment AND their loved ones.

Chemo Survival Kit: 10 Must-Haves

Chemotherapy Survival Kit
A “survival kit” lets them know they are in your thoughts and are loved.
  1. Everything Biotene for the mouth
  2. Hard candy to help produce saliva (this helps to soothe mouth sores)
  3. Sleep caps – the body temperature of someone going through treatment changes drastically and they tend to feel cold.
  4. Knit caps for outdoors
  5. Emu oil or lotion for body – keeping skin moist prevents cracking, which prevents bacteria infections. Remember, immune systems are compromised!
  6. Lip balm
  7. A gentle shampoo to protect the scalp when hair falls out.
  8. Multiple water bottles – lifesavers as getting enough fluid is key.
  9. Magazines and/or books
  10. iTunes gift card – because music feeds the soul.

Co-Survivor Kit Ideas:

  1. Chocolate – just because
  2. Magazines and/or books for distraction and to combat the constant waiting….in….the…doctor office.
  3. Adult coloring books and markers – coloring a scene from Harry Potter is an escape even if it’s 5-10 minutes 😉
  4. Water bottle / Hot beverage mug – tea, coffee, water. You’re on the run…a lot.
  5. iTunes gift card (same reason as above)
  6. Journal (capturing random thoughts, questions for the doctor, create a “bucket list” together of things you’d like to do together, movies to see, etc.) A friend shared she journaled during treatment to relax her mind.

What items might you add? 

 

> Get More Treatment Tips @ Co-Survivor Corner

 

Creating Calm During Cancer Chaos

CashRelaxing

Seattle has been blessed with a few days of sunshine and warmer temps. Everyone is out walking the neighborhood, the lilacs are blooming, and Spring feels officially here. The dogs know instinctively how to take advantage of this beautiful moment. They chill on the deck, hang out the car window and soak in the warm sunshine. Cash knows how to relax and live in the moment.

Lessons From Cancer Survivors

Last week, I was honored to host the 3rd Annual Renewal Retreat by Project Pink’d.  A program near and dear to my heart, I co-created this cancer survivor experience with President, Cynthia Sturgeon. Every year, I learn valuable lessons from these women living with cancer. We laugh and cry and I get to see first-hand the transformation that occurs when these women realize they CAN choose to thrive – and that “surviving” is no longer an acceptable path to living life. In spite of their cancer diagnosis, they can challenge themselves to look beyond their fears and dare to envision a future for themselves that makes them smile.

This year I stepped into this magical weekend with my “coach hat” on. I wanted to observe how the experience creates awareness and encourages each woman to take a small step forward towards thriving.

As I took off my “coach hat” and put on my sleepy pants, I reflected on what it felt like to be enveloped in their vulnerabilities. How many of their fears, are also my fears. How many of their questions, are also my questions.

While I cannot understand what it’s like to be in their exact shoes, I can relate to many of the struggles they are experiencing as a result of a cancer diagnosis.

Moving From Victim to Thriver

One of my favorite activities during the retreat is to create a vision board – one at the start of the retreat and one on the last day.  The first board is a visual representation of what life is like currently and the second represents their future. These images and words tell an important story – their unique story. These are women that walk in anxious, curious, afraid, nervous and self-conscious. Many feel and behave like a victim. In 3 days, they leave stronger, shoulders back, feel less alone and they have new tools to help manage the bad days.  And, they have new sisters to walk beside them as they dare to thrive.  While the weekend may begin with uncertainty, it ends with a lightness that offers hope, renewal and a sense of peace.

During the second vision board activity, we noticed a theme emerging. These strong women were making a commitment to themselves to appreciate and value the present moment. They cannot change their diagnosis or that life has changed in ways they never expected (or wanted). They cannot change the past. Instead, they can choose to celebrate the present moment for what it is. For that moment, they are choosing to soak in the sunshine and feel the warmth of the sun.

Finding My Calm

I was excited to return home with a refreshed energy and sense of hope and was welcomed with big hugs and poochie kisses. I knew this week would be a tough one as Jeff had bone and CT scans to see whether cancer has spread or whether chemo treatment is slowing down the disease. When you live with someone diagnosed with metastatic cancer, each day is different as a result of pain, fatigue, etc.  There’s a certain level of chaos always present in the house.

Yet, today – in this moment of Seattle sunniness, I joined Cash and Ali, did a few belly breaths, soaked in the sunshine and felt the warmth of the sun on my face.  I gave myself the gift of calm in that moment.

How do you find calm in the middle of cancer chaos? 

CashRelaxinginSun