health · relationships · renewal

How To Help Someone Heal (When You Don’t Know How To Help)

Although we wish it would never happen, there will come a time when major illness / surgery / medical care affects someone dear to us.

As a cancer survivor who has battled multiple surgeries, chemotherapy treatments, and more, I have often been asked how to help someone in a similar situation. The most recent came last week and prompted this post.

The following list is a small sampling of ways to reach out. It is not just for illness but for anyone suffering through a difficult life event and is only limited by your own creativity.

Whatever gesture, no matter how seemingly insignificant, can have an incredible impact on how another person heals.

WHAT BROUGHT LIGHT TO MY DARK DAYS

 -Meal Service: Organize a network of dinners via Meal Train or Sign Up Genius. Meals are catered to allergies and tastes, and menus can be as complicated or simple as you like. During my chemo weeks, friends provided delicious home cooked and carry out meals for my husband and son.

-Dinner Gift Cards: A gift card for meal delivery or carry out on those nights when they are too tired to cook will be appreciated.

-Meal Alternatives: If they are unable to eat due to intensive treatment or recovery, consider doctor-recommended Ensure. There were many days when I could not stomach food and textures made me nauseous. A friend included a pack with her donated meal, and it worked to provide vital nutrients when I could not eat.

-Seasonal Arrangement: This one is obvious. I am not a flower person, but the sentiment certainly did brighten my days.

-Group Gift Basket: If your friend is part of a group or club, have the members contribute an item to a collective gift basket as a way to cheer them up.

-Media: A friend of mine gifted the season one DVD of a popular television show. I became hooked enough to catch up on the entire series while I was sick. Books and crosswords are also wonderful ideas to help pass recovery time. If you order from Amazon, you can gift almost any item (digitally or via mail) to another person.

-Drop A Note: I still have (and cherish) all of the handwritten greeting cards, notes, and kid drawings that came through the mail or were given to me. One friend sent a funny card every week to let me know I was not forgotten.

-Social Media: I received countless wall posts and private messages of support. A second of your time can make a world of difference to someone who is feeling down, isolated, or alone.

-Child Care: Offers to babysit, host play dates, pick up from school, or run a child to/from activities can be a lifesaver on those days when it is difficult to even get out of bed.

-Provide Transportation: If they are unable to drive, offer to take them to appointments, the store, etc.

-Run Errands: Save them a trip. Ask if they need groceries, a run to the post office, or a stop at the discount store.

-Home Care: Offer to do light chores. If you use a cleaning service, see if they provide free services for medical patients. Cleaning For A Reason offers free maid service and the opportunity to gift to someone battling cancer.

-Be Social: Friends invited me for coffee, movies, and more on a regular basis. Though I was not always up to it, I did go on many occasions. It felt wonderful to be included and escape the diagnosis for a while.

-Check In: Let them know you are thinking of them, just because and with no expectations. One morning my neighbor and her children brought me a bouquet of wildflowers after their morning walk. The visit took less than five minutes but made the day.

-Join The Fight: More than once, I was shown public support via fundraising, sponsorship, or recognition on my behalf.

-Prayer Chains: Regardless of your religious affiliation, it is heartening to know someone is praying for you. My hometown church included me on a weekly prayer list and a complete stranger who knew of my fight sent a lovely card.

These are just a few ideas and as you can see, I still remember them almost five years later! Each person is different and every situation unique, but there are some basic things to remember:

DO
  • Respect their privacy: ask permission before sharing with anyone
  • Ask questions and then listen to the answers
  • Allow them to choose topics of conversation
  • Avoid negative stories about whatever it is they battle
  • Help them feel normal whenever possible
  • Let them know you are willing to help if needed
  • Reach out!
DO NOT
  • Post on social media or make it public if they do not want it
  • Offer advice unless they ask for it
  • Judge: everyone fights in their own way
  • Hover: allow them the freedom to heal on their own terms
  • Minimize their pain or emotions
  • Call or visit if they are not ready
  • Avoid them just because you do not know what to say or do!
WHEN…

they seek companionship, be there.

they ask for space, leave.

they want to talk, let them.

they need silence, give it.

Honor the struggle. The greatest gift you can give someone who is healing is your patience and understanding.


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acceptance · health · letting go · simplicity

Master The Art Of Letting Go

I have been letting go of a lot lately. In truth, I have been doing it for years. It is not always an easy or smooth process. Too often, I find myself caught up in a cloud of worry. What if I make a bad decision? What if I hurt someone’s feelings? What if I follow the wrong path? What if? What if? What if?

What if we simply let go of…

THINGS: Where is all of your stuff? one friend asked when he visited our home. I am a lover of beautiful, useful, and sentimental things. I am also a minimalist. Letting go of clutter is not as difficult as one might think. With some practice and guidelines, I consistently maintain a large, lovely home and active family without much excess. This is a wide-reaching topic, so stay tuned for a future post.

OBLIGATIONS: I say no whenever necessary. If it does not fit into our family view, I refuse. Sometimes, I must say yes when I want to say no because well, that is just the way of life. But when I do, it is on my terms. Consider the options. Do not agree out of guilt. Say no to certain things so you can say yes to something better.

TO DOS: I am a list maker – daily, work, seasonal, etc. I am also a wish-list maker. I create grand, sweeping, dreamy lists of everything I would like to do. The secret? When I am done, I go line by line and slash and burn. I cross things off without doing them because I understand my reality. In the end, I am left with the priorities, the things that matter, and a lot less pressure.

DREAMS: Sometimes I have to pause and re-evaluate what it is I really want. Daily demands, previous choices, time constraints, finances, and more can have a major influence on what I hope and envision. Taking stock of where I am in the present moment helps determine where I get to be. Dreams can be changed. Dreams can be postponed. Just never, ever stop dreaming.

EXPECTATIONS: I have made the mistake of expecting too much – from myself, my family, my friends. And when I did, I was inevitably disappointed. It is nearly impossible to match the conversations and interactions I create in my mind so I have stopped doing it. Try to take things as they come and be in the moment because when you just do life, it often amazes and exceeds any expectations you could have set.

PERFECTION: I try to do the right thing, make good decisions, and be the best version of me. But I still have moments when I push myself too far, believing I can control A if I just do B and when I do, things will be perfect. Of course, perfection is a myth and once I remind myself of that, I go back to being perfectly imperfect. 

REGRET: There is not much I regret and the things I have regretted, I made an effort to correct. If you struggle with the after-effects of a bad decision, release the guilt and shame. Direct all energy into fixing whatever is wrong. And if you cannot correct the mess you made, lighten the emotional load by giving yourself the gift of forgiveness.

INDECISION: Making a decision can be difficult, especially if the consequences seem high. Once I make a decision, however, I rarely go back. I have the ability to embrace it, move forward, and give everything I have. One tip? Sit with the idea for a bit before actually committing. If your head and heart are good with the prospect of a new direction or change, follow your instinct and go with it.

PEOPLE: This one is difficult. Even when we know someone is harmful or no good, we tend to hold on. It is human nature to believe we can somehow alter a relationship if we simply try harder, do better, explain our side, convince them, or love more. But the hard truth is: some people are not meant to be together, whether in marriage, family, or friendship. If someone is perpetually negative, demeaning, unsupportive, emotionally unavailable, spiteful, mean, or abusive, it is time to leave. Letting go of toxic people is not an act of cruelty, it is an act of self-care.

TIME: With every passing second, I let go of something precious – time. Cancer scared me enough to realize just how important each moment can be. Yes, I still waste too much time doing stupid things. It is impossible to fill every minute of every day with grand experiences. However, I am hyper-aware of how irreplaceable most of my life is and protect my time every chance I get.

There are countless areas where we can learn to let go – fears, self-doubt, judgment, hate, anger, the list goes on. We are all a constant work in progress. Try one area at a time, then tackle another. With practice, it will not only become easier but welcome. You might even enjoy letting go once you feel the weight lift from your shoulders and the ability to focus on what truly matters. And if you ever feel stuck or unsure … listen to your heart. It knows when to let go.


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discovery · fears · health · learning · self

Depression: My Story

Months before I was diagnosed with cancer, I suffered through moderate depression. Living in the Upper Midwest, I often self-treated for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) in the late, gray months of winter, but this episode came early in the fall and it came hard.

DISCLAIMER about depression: There are many different types and causes. More importantly, there are tons of resources available regarding symptoms and treatment, tests to self-diagnose, and articles/tips on how to manage it. I will not pretend to be a resource nor will I provide medical advice. This is my personal experience. Everyone’s situation is unique. If you believe you suffer from any form of depression, please consult your doctor.

I am a fixer. I do not back away from problems and as a result am an avid seeker of solutions. When people confide their troubles, I want to help make it better. I am no different when it comes to myself. So when I realized what I had, I took action. First, I told a few people close to me and while most were supportive, some were unsure how to deal with it. Much like cancer, people become frightened when someone they love is “sick.” As if they might catch it, too. Or perhaps they are just someone who is afraid they will do or say something wrong.

I had this: I confided in someone important, and they essentially avoided me. No appreciation of my honesty, no acknowledgment of how difficult it was to open up. The sad part is I told them in order to improve our relationship. It had been a bit off because of my actions due to the depression, and I hoped to explain and clear the air. Even in my low state, I wanted to make them feel better. As you might expect, their lack of support was not a good reaction to someone who is already at the wobbly edge of a precipice. It made me feel insignificant, unloved, and a bit ridiculous. I knew what I was going though and yet this person made me question myself even more – as if I was making an excuse for my abnormal behavior. As if it was all in my already mixed-up head. As if I could just get over it. I tell you this because even if others do not recognize the pain, your feelings and needs are real – they matter.

And despite those who tried to tell me it was nothing and would soon pass, I knew better. I knew me. I did not want to linger there. And this – whatever it was – was not right. It was not the person I wanted to be. It was not me.

I was sad more than happy and overly emotional to the point of crying daily. I was impatient, lethargic, and extremely self-critical. I was uninterested in anything or anyone. I was anti-social and fearful. I was without purpose or direction.

I believed no one knew I was lost and even worse, that I would never be found.

My college minor was Psychology so I recognized my plight and knew there were options. With my time, budget, and minor symptoms, I chose basic therapy. (ANOTHER DISCLAIMER: Be wary and do your research, especially if considering online therapy: this is a hotbed for scams and unqualified people who claim to be experts. Seek advice from a trusted medical professional before you do anything). My referral came from my own doctor and over the course of our sessions, the therapist gave me in-depth questions to answer and projects to complete. And when it was all done, I came to realize why I was depressed. Turns out it was more mental than biological, and I was able to determine the cause was my reaction and negative thoughts to something that happened earlier in the year. Looking back, I knew this was the reason but while lost in depression, it becomes difficult to find a way out.

Seeking help provided much-needed guidance, a map for me to work through the messiness and discover ways to improve my thoughts and reactions.

That was over five years ago, and I have not suffered from that type of depression since. Even better, we now live in a warmer climate so I no longer get SAD. Yes, I have been down. Yes, I have been sad and melancholy too many times to count. Heck, I even battled cancer. But thanks to the lessons from therapy, I know to dig deeper and prevent myself from falling too hard. I have not only learned to release the negativity, I have chosen to do it. I am unafraid to seek help when I need it. I try not to belittle my feelings – they are not insignificant or ridiculous, they are real. I no longer blame others, but I also do not blame myself. I have compassion for me.

Often we believe life just happens to us, as if we have no control. And although there is much we cannot foresee or prevent, how we approach this life is a choice. Our reactions are up to us. When there is loss or frustration or hurt or rejection, feel the loss, frustration, hurt, or rejection. But as you work through it do not allow yourself to retreat to the point of no return. Make the effort to move forward and eventually past it. Depression is a part of life for many, but it does not have to be the everyday. More importantly, depression is not a weakness and you are never, ever alone! You do not have to do this by yourself. There are people who will understand. And while finding help is easy, working through the problems might be hard … but I promise, it is so worth it.

Rise above the storm, and you will find the sunshine. — Mario Fernandez


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~Inspired ME, Joyful BE

acceptance · happiness · health · letting go

When Life Hands You Lemons

 

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February is an important month. On February 24th, 2012 at the age of 42, I was diagnosed with Stage IIB breast cancer. I won’t go into all the details of how I came to that point, but I will stress the importance of monthly self exams, following instinct, and being your own advocate during medical appointments.

I admit the first month after my diagnosis was the toughest on me mentally. As in I-never-want-to-go-through-that-ever-ever-again tough. Once further scans confirmed the cancer had not spread beyond my breast and lymph nodes, however, something switched inside me. My oncologist and I had a plan (rounds of intensive chemo, further testing, and of course major surgeries). I am good with a plan. Once I had that, I was ready.

Ready to fight. Ready to move forward. Ready to smile. Ready to laugh.

When facing a major challenge, whether it be health, relationship, financial, or personal loss, the power of laughter can change everything. No, it cannot erase the struggle itself, but it does possess some amazing healing magic.

The outlook. The plan of attack. The outcome. With a good sense of humor, coping becomes easier.

Dealing with the treatment, pain, and fear was not easy. It never is. But aside from the hurt I remember this: the ridiculousness of everything around me. The time and energy I wasted on stuff that did not matter became glaringly obvious. Television sitcoms were funnier when I was sick. Social media jokes made me laugh out loud – literally. Friends and family were vital during this time because they tried so hard to help, even when they felt helpless. Funny greeting cards arrived in the mail. Silly quotes and memes appeared in my newsfeed. Most days after chemo were unbearable to wade through but on the one week per month when I felt well enough to get dressed and out of the house, my friends would take me to a stupid movie. I had no hair, incisions that refused to heal, poison running through every ounce of my body, but we laughed. Together.

I was honest about my journey (probably too honest for some) but it was important for me to pull back the layers so those close to me could better understand. The fear. The pain. The fight. The ridiculousness of our worries. The reason I made jokes. I wanted them to know.

This was serious, heady, life-or-death stuff, and they showed their love and support by following my lead. They made jokes. Stupid, stupid, oh so stupid jokes.

I knew I was facing this nightmare the correct way when I bid farewell to my oncologist. My family was moving out of state, and I was sad to leave my doctor. He and I were an odd pair. Him a young Nigerian who often did not get my sarcasm-laced comments. Me an almost-middle-age woman who faces life with an at-times unfair pragmatism. He was intelligent, confident, focused, and totally immersed in the medical side of my case. I was curious, scared, foggy, and unwilling to settle for status quo on information or treatment.

When we said goodbye, he looked me in the eye and admitted his worries about me in the beginning. My depressed outlook and sadness were pervasive, leaving him to become concerned about treating me and my ability to fight. But once I got past that, he became amazed. Amazed at my determination, my strength, my desire to do whatever necessary and never complain. He liked how I made jokes about the things most people fear. He appreciated the way I not only listened but heard him. I would be remembered as one of his favorite patients, he told me.

I was honored and emotional. Of course, I cried a bit. Thanks to cancer, everything makes me cry. And when I went to hug him and whisper a simple thank you, he seemed shocked. Believing I crossed a line, I immediately apologized. He brushed it off with a shy smile. No one has ever done that before, he told me. Countless had given heartfelt thanks but no one had hugged him? You should do it more often. Patient’s orders, I joked.

And with that, our final moment and memory together was filled with laughter.

Cancer itself is not funny, and it does not always end happily. My year of fighting and the battle scars sketched in my mind and on my body are permanent reminders of its brutality. I do not know if it will ever return. It might. It might not. The fear follows me – every moment, every day – but I do not allow it to linger. The only thing I can be sure of is the magic of positivity. The healing power of simple joy.

Even if the situation is not the one we want, it does no good to become lost and absorbed in negative thought or anger. Yes, these are normal reactions to dealing with a challenge but please do not stay there. Life is finite. We only have this moment.

When the opportunity comes to choose joy, take it.

Today, I am in full remission. July 2017 marks 5 years cancer-free for this girl. Every anniversary has been met with celebration but this one is big. Very big. But that is months away. I do not have time to dwell on something that has not happened yet. I have some laughing and loving and living to do – today.

Emptiness at sunset on the salton sea


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