Sunday, January 31, 2016

Now Let's Talk About Work---and Cancer

Yes, we talk a lot about cancer and love, cancer and marriage on this blog. But what about cancer and work? It was Freud who said that man's two great concerns are love and work--so too in CancerLand.

Did you know that 44% of people with new cancer diagnoses last year were folks of working age?
Did you know that 20% of people with cancer report work limitations affected by cancer-related issues?
Did you know that almost 1,000 people made EEOC claims based on cancer discrimination?

And I bet you did wonder--at least one--if you were being treated differently at work because of your cancer.

There are many ways that cancer affects us at work: We use up our sick time, we lose productivity when we don't feel well, we need a lot more schedule flexibility for chemo, radiation and just so many more doctor's appointments. We also have to say "No" to overnight assignments or conference travel or promotion to positions that involve longer hours and multi-city assignments. So do you share? not share? lie sometimes? Much discernment is required.

A great resource is the national nonprofit organization: "CancerandCareers". They are a group of both professionals and volunteers who can answer every cancer and work related question: financial issues, EEOC, FMLA, and how to talk to the Human Resources Department, the Finance Office, and your boss. They also have great advice on how to interview for a new job--in your current company or at a different organization.

I'm putting the link right here. Do share this one with your friends, and any coworkers with cancer and maybe even with your HR Department if you want them to get much better at helping colleagues in CancerLand. Here is the link:

Monday, January 25, 2016

What Does Love Look Like in CancerLand?

Most of us have a sense of where boundaries are in a good relationship. It’s always imperfect, but we have the idea of balancing dependence and autonomy. Our boundaries are permeable and we can go away and come back, and we can give our partner both space and attention as needed.

But then cancer arrives and we get muddled. Our boundaries—and our relationships --go to hell. Sometimes we are praised as good caregivers even as we are sacrificing the autonomy that made the relationship great pre-cancer. What’s a wife/lover/girlfriend to do?

How do we keep a relationship strong when one half of it is very weak? How do we keep a
separate sense of identity even as our partner, medical professionals and maybe even our friends are celebrating (or nudging us toward) a dependent role as caregiver?

It is not easy. But I knew early on that I wanted more than John’s physical survival; I also wanted our sexy, happy, and intellectually stimulating marriage to survive. And that meant finding the line between caregiving and codependence.

Here is a quote that I have to read again and again. It’s a great reminder and antidote to the “teaching”, controlling, and all manner of codependency I am so tempted to tumble into. This is Scott Peck on genuine love: 

“A major characteristic of genuine love is that the distinction between oneself and the other is always maintained and preserved. The genuine lover always perceives the beloved as someone who has a totally separate identity. Moreover the genuine lover always respects and even encourages this separateness and the unique individuality of the beloved. Failure to perceive and respect this separateness is exceedingly common however and the cause of much suffering.”
--M. Scott Peck, MD
I do not want to be exceedingly common.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

How Not to Say the Wrong Thing

Maybe you saw this fabulous article making the rounds on Facebook. OR maybe someone sent you the link or handed you the clipping. (In that later case read it twice because maybe there is a hidden message there for you.)

But I'm posting it here because it is simply smart and funny and true.

In CancerLand we know how it is to be on the receiving end of, "Dear God, did she really just say that?" kind of comments. But we also want to be careful that we are not the deliverer of such things either. And, given the stress and distortion of cancer, it's possible that out of love or pain or fear, we might say the screwiest things.

This fabulous article by Susan Silk and Barry Goldman  reminds friends and loved ones how to, as the title says, not say the wrong thing. But it goes to a place none have gone before--it adds this diagram to help you
determine whether you should say that thing you want to say to this person. Or maybe you can say it to some other person instead, or maybe just shut up and write in your journal or have a good cry.

The bottom line is: "Comfort IN. Dump OUT."

Here's the link to the article:

Take the time to click and read,  and do share this one like crazy.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Fight Fear with Self-care

Self-care never leads us away from our highest good; it leads us toward it.” 
--Melody Beatty

This is a lesson I have to learn over and over. So I’m sharing Melody Beatty’s quote here for you and maybe to remind me too. 

When cancer’s fear hits my first reaction is Control and then, Get Busy. I understand the dynamic. Fear cannot hit a moving target. So when we get scared we get busy, and when we get busy we get more tired and more stressed. It makes sense and is understandable. But...

in CancerLand there is so much to be afraid of: words we can’t pronounce, side effects that come and go and which can sometimes be terrifying (He stops breathing when he opens the refrigerator door—not even the freezer—just the fridge!). And the lingo of the medical establishment and copays that go up and up and up. Then of course the medical reality: people die of cancer. We know that so even though we experience so many cancers as chronic illnesses now, some are still fast to the finish line.

And for caregivers there is also the secret fear with the more chronic cancers: “Will this be my/our life forever?” “Will quarterly blood tests rule my emotions all year?”

In this Land you will be tempted to do more, move faster, read more and that means less self-care (for both patient and caregiver)—and note: medical appointments are not self-care—they are just business –as-usual in CancerLand.
I know, fighting fear with self-care seems counter-intuitive but believe me, it works.

What’s not easy is learning what true self-care is for you. Start with the standard prescription: manicure, massage, lunch with friends, a new pretty blouse. But then dig deeper. Maybe for you self-care means getting away alone for an overnight. OR maybe it means a movie marathon with someone else who loves Downton Abbey or going for a long run or doing a 5K.

Or –and this is radical—try some volunteering. (But absolutely not cancer related activities) Instead volunteer to hang an art show at a school gallery or tutor young kids or plant bulbs in a city park. Find people who don’t know you as a cancer patient or cancer caregiver (and don’t tell them). Take time to experience yourself apart from cancer.

You will be tempted—very tempted—to say, “I can’t do that, I’m needed, things are not great right now…” But it is life—and living life –that is the best self-care and the best antidote to fear.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Happy Introvert Day

Today is January 2. The day that introverts get to breathe a sigh of relief.  We can come out of hiding; it’s safe to answer the phone and we can stop pretending we feel the flu coming on. Yes--the holidays are over. 

From mid-December through New Year’s Day, those of us with an introverted nature live in a state of perpetual dread. The weeks of office parties, neighborhood potlucks and open houses drain all our energy. But today we can relax; we made it through.

I speak from experience. I am an introvert. It surprises most people because I’m outgoing and friendly and very far from shy, but I prefer one person and one conversation at a time. 

I fought this for years, always trying to be someone else. I made myself go to parties; I
tried to fix what I thought was “wrong” with me. It didn’t help that other people would press, “But you’re so good with people” as if being introverted meant living on the dark side.

This is also one of the blessings of self-care. I no longer eat or drink in order to fit in or to numb the discomfort of social activities I don’t like. It’s a great relief. 

It’s no wonder that we introverts are sometimes defensive. Seventy-five percent of the population is extraverted; we’re outnumbered three-to-one, and the American culture tends to reward extraversion. 

Here’s what introverts are not: We’re not afraid and we’re not shy. Introversion has little to do with fear or reticence. We’re just focused, and we prefer one-on-one because we like to listen and we want to follow an idea all the way through to another interesting idea. Consequently small talk annoys us.

Many great leaders are introverts and many of our better presidents have been introverts: Lincoln, Carter and the John Adams—both father and son.  No, maybe I’m not being totally fair, but life isn’t fair to introverts. Introverted kids are pressured to “speak up” or we were hounded to “be more outgoing”. 

The philosopher Pascal wrote, “The sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room.”  Introverts do. So let’s make this day, Happy Introvert Day. We’ll be quiet and happy, and grateful as another year of "Love in the Time of Cancer" begins.