Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Cancer Sucks: How to Deal When Someone You Love Has Been Diagnosed

One year ago today, my mom was diagnosed with a rare type of cancer, Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma. The memory is both sharp and fuzzy, somehow. It was a Tuesday; I was at work when she called. I remember going into the next cubicle, crying.  I kept working, for a while, before leaving and calling my supervisor to let her know I was headed home.

Since that date she’s completed many weeks of treatment (and the corresponding side effects). She’s completed physical therapy to re-learn how to speak and swallow. She’s currently considered in remission.

Me and my mom, having fun at chemo!

When I told my mom I was writing something about coping with a love one's cancer diagnoses, she commented, “Yeah, you know, you took that pretty hard”. I wasn’t really sure what to think about that. Pretty hard? YOU HAD CANCER!!! OF COURSE IT WAS HARD!!!! WHAT DO YOU EVEN MEAN?!

But she was right (of course). I did take it pretty hard. Certainly, that is a natural reaction, a fully human response. I had already been struggling to balance full time work with part-time graduate school, and then after her diagnosis I felt like I was coming apart at the seams.

Hearing the news that someone you love (a parent, significant other, anyone) has been diagnosed with cancer can be life changing. Today I am going to share some of the things that got me through it.

1. Take care of yourself. 

I knoooow. Go ahead and roll your eyes. This is what you hear all over the place. “Take Care of Yourself”. What does this even mean?! you may be asking yourself. It means many things.

It means it’s ok to not be strong. I know you want to be strong for your loved one, and that is awesome. Seriously, awesome. They need a lot of support. However, being strong for them means you are going to need extra support yourself. Whatever you do that helps you feel grounded and centered, crank it up. Take care of yourself physically, emotionally, spiritually. Before my mom was diagnosed I could skip a week’s worth of exercise or “Michelle time” without too much damage if I picked it back up the next week; after she was diagnosed I needed to be extra intentional about scheduling those activities for myself. Working in an office and going to grad school online meant I did not have a lot of movement in my regular routine; giving myself intense physical activity (whether it was yoga class on Saturday or going to the gym before work) was amazing as an outlet for stress and worry. Keeping in contact with my closest friends and taking time for myself were also part of my magic combo; feel free to find yours. Balance is going to be key in this area.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Even More Things I've Done (with Endurance!)

I'm beginning to feel redundant with blog titles. Anywho, I'm working on a series to remind myself I'm awesome. Because sometimes I like to compare myself with others and then I feel crappy about it. So instead I made a list of things I should be proud of.  If you'd like to catch up, you can read 1-5, 6-10, 11-15, and 16. Today's entry is continuing on the theme of endurance.

17. Enrolled in a Graduate Degree Program
     I was always one of those kids that loved school and loved learning. I’m certain it’s at least partially due to the fact that academics generally came easily to me. However, I always remember having a difficulty in finding a focus: a particular subject that was easiest, or that I enjoyed more, or something I felt more passionate about. I remember taking a vocational assessment given to me by my high school guidance counselor that displayed results in a bar chart. I remember mine coming out flat- I apparently was equally well suited for all professions.
     I really loved my AP Psychology class my senior year of high school and simply chose that as my major. I spontaneously picked Neuroscience as a minor after my friend’s roommate implied I was too ditzy to complete it. I generally saw myself going on to pursue an advanced degree following earning my bachelor’s, but again found myself in the same position as high school. I enjoyed all my classes, but didn’t particularly feel a calling in any one direction.
     It took me nearly 5 years to decide to pursue a Masters in Library & Information Science. I was talking to a friend (who is a librarian) about feeling sort of directionless and interested in many different things when she observed that the latter quality makes for a good reference librarian. I had previously considered Library Science simply because I’ve always enjoyed libraries; my grandmother was a librarian and I had long admired her for returning to school not just to go to college but to earn a Masters degree after having 4 children.
     Once I made up my mind, it all happened very fast. I contacted some former professors for references. I applied to my first choice, and was in the process of applying to my second when my acceptance arrived. The whole process took less than 6 months (partially because I had taken my GRE’s less than a year after graduating). I’m now just over a year into classes, and I can definitely say it was the right choice.

18. Competed for two years on my high school track team
…despite coming in last place every meet that entire time.
     When I decided to join the track team, the only thing I knew was that I didn’t want to do distance. In fact, I hardly liked running at all, so I decided to be a jumper. I competed in the long and triple jump, but avoided the high jump because I didn’t want to break my neck.
     I’m not fast. Never have been, never will be. What I do have, is endurance. Unfortunately, this is pretty much the opposite combination of skills needed to win at long and triple jump—speed is important, endurance not so much. However, I stuck in there, and even went a second year. If I could do high school over (which I’m actually glad we can’t because uuugggh), I would definitely still join the track team because I was in the best shape of my life…but I would pick a distance event.