Cancer & Emotions: A Guide for Patients and Family Part II: Coping with Grief & “Why Me?”

Cancer & Emotions: A Guide for Patients and Family
Part II: Coping with Grief & “Why Me?”

Any article on grief when you’re coping with a cancer diagnosis and undergoing treatment would not be complete without the often-cited “Five Stages of Grief” by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. Often cited is actually an understatement. The “Five Stages of Grief” model is discussed or mentioned in almost every article, blog post, book, or magazine publication on illness, death, loss, or any moment in life when things don’t go as we plan (i.e., the rug is pulled from under our feet or we fall smack down on our faces and don’t know what to do). It’s understandable, though, because Dr. Kubler-Ross definitely knew what she was talking about. Although the model was initially created to help people prior to death, it is now used to help people going through all sorts of issues, whether you’re dealing with an illness yourself or you’re supporting someone who is going through difficult times. Here I offer my spin on the “Five Stages of Grief”.


Stage One: Denial (“Who? Me?”)

When initially diagnosed with cancer, some people believe that it’s a mistake or that it can’t be happening to them. They might even put off beginning their treatment because of disbelief, but at a deeper level, they are really just overwhelmed with emotions, questions, concerns, and fear. When we’re stressed or scared, denial is our friend because denial is a survival instinct: It protects us from the potentially dangerous and damaging effects of stress. If you don’t believe that something is happening, then as far as your mind is concerned, it’s not happening. Denial kicks in when we need to process something new, unknown, and/or scary, but we need to process it slowly, at our own pace, so that it’s not so overwhelming.

Stage Two: Anger (“Why me?!”)

This stage is characterized by feelings of frustration, especially towards those closest to the grieving individual. Some people will enter the Anger stage immediately after diagnosis, while others will experience Anger after Denial. Feelings of Anger sometimes occur when the grieving person can no longer stay in the Denial stage (i.e., the diagnosis becomes too real). In this stage, a lot of blaming can occur. The grieving person wants to blame someone, anyone, for the illness. Some individuals feel they are being punished for some reason and will blame themselves.


Stage Three: Bargaining (“I’ll trade you.”)

Sometimes, people wish to try to avoid their illness and feel like they can still go back to the way things were before diagnosis. Individuals will promise themselves or others (or a sky-borne deity) that they will change their ways or sacrifice something in exchange for health. Bargaining involves a misplaced sense of responsibility or blame that the grieving person puts on themselves for the cause of their illness. They feel that if they become “a better person” then a miracle will occur or they will be given a second chance and they can be well again. This implies that the person feels as if they were “bad” before and the illness is their “punishment.”

Stage Four: Depression (“What’s the point…”)

Some individuals will enter a depression stage after they recognize that they can’t avoid their illness and that the illness is real. Just like in the Denial stage, they are overwhelmed with their circumstances, but unlike the Denial stage, they accept their illness (and feel like giving up). The thought of fighting the illness feels bigger than what they believe they can handle. Many individuals will withdraw from family and friends and demonstrate an “I don’t care” or “Leave me alone” attitude.

Stage Five: Acceptance (“Everything might be alright.”)

Many individuals come to the point where they accept their illness and even embrace it. They figure that there’s nothing they can do about it, so they may as well accept it and stop stressing. This stage involves the person having a more calm view of the illness and more stable emotions about their circumstances.

Research hasn’t supported Kubler-Ross’ model, but regardless, people like it and people can relate to it and I guess that’s important too. These stages can occur in any order and some people might skip some stages, repeat two or three of the same stage, or remain in only one stage. Grieving is a process that is so unique to every individual, but understanding the process makes us feel a sense of relatedness. A sense that we are not on this journey alone and that when we read things like this article or the numerous other self-help texts and advice on how to cope, we know that these things exist because others have gone through and felt what we are feeling. This is proof that we are not alone in our struggles.


Top 10 Steps to Increased Personal Resilience – Part 3

Top 10 Steps to Increased Personal Resilience – Part 3:

The word “resilience” comes from the Latin word “resilíre,” which literally means, “To leap back” or as I like to say, “spring back from”. Resilience helps to grow from and beyond the challenging and uncertain things in our lives. Knowing how to “spring back” from adversity and life challenges is something that all of us can do. Here are the last three of the Top 10 Steps to help you increase your capacity for personal resilience.

8. Unknown Only Means Opportunity
We hear people reference “being open” to things, changes, possibilities and so on – but I am not sure many of these folks really understand what being open to something means. Yes it means to listen/consider something you typically would not – but this suggests an other or alternative. Being open really means to whatever can be – without necessarily knowing. There is a tendency for us to back-fill an unknown with the absolute worst possible scenario we can and then commit to building a strategy to thwart it. Why expect the worst without any reason, cause or actual information to suggest it? For all the bad in the universe you are aware of – there are mountains more of good that you are not. Allow yourself the opportunity for something new and wonderful to surprise you. Back-filling with assumptions and fear doesn’t protect you – more times than not, it takes from you.

9. Compassion with Community
There is an old saying that goes, “there is no better way to know how much you have than to help someone who has less.” Acts of service are a vital part of our spiritual resilience. Engaging in acts of kindness, with intention, towards others others has an impressive impact on our mood and even our chemistry. Charity and service are also important lessons in character development and I would even say in maintaining it. Join a youth group service day, rally your employer to support staff volunteering for a day at a local food bank, sign up to be a docent at the local museum, zoo or hospital – or go solo and just join the annual beach clean up round up. If you Google “volunteer” and your city’s name – you’ll likely be amazed at what is out there.
True giving, without any expectation, brings back so much to us. Altruism really is more of a lofty goal or ideal – but we strive to be as close to it as possible here. While a part of us knows we will get “good feeling” from giving – make a point to not take other benefit from this. In these efforts there is no place for ego or acknowledgement or being credited in some way. It helps to be anonymous or part of a serving group if possible.

10. Voice Your Gratitude – specific and frequently
At first look this may seem a lot like #6, so bear with me. Scribe and Herald are a bit different in that they focus on a set time and can be alone or with a confidant – this is a more public and shared action. It’s important to get into the habit – really making it a habit – to state and share your gratitude outwardly. Tell your friend how much you appreciate your spouse and how lucky you are to have them. Tell your co-worker about your favorite uncle and what you appreciated about how they contributed to your life. Share with your neighbors or friends how you overcame a major illness or challenge in your life and how you will forever be grateful for it. Sharing our gratitude inspires it in those around us and soon we are all hearing more and more of what to be joyful about instead of complaining about the minutia of everyday challenges. There is a deli attendant in my neighborhood that upon being asked how she is doing always answers that she is blessed and one reason why. She’s got me answering her with one too. (I gotta thank her…and I will this weekend.)
Ideas of entitlement have all but killed off “thank you” in the common exchanges in commerce and community – at least in some areas. But it’s very easy to restore. Thank the waiter – even if it wasn’t the best service. Tip the grocery sacker – something. If you can’t – then reach out and shake there hand and tell them. A bit of personal humility doesn’t push you down – it raises you up. If you know a teacher – any teacher – please, tell them how much we need them and how much they matter. (And if you are a fellow parent – please remember, you are the most responsible for raising your children and you wouldn’t likely raise someone else’s for what a teacher makes!) Look over your day and see the list of people that in some way or action – served you. Commit to letting them know you appreciate them.

Top 10 Steps to Increased Personal Resilience

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Top 10 Steps to Increased Personal Resilience – Part 2

Top 10 Steps to Increased Personal Resilience – Part 2

The word “resilience” comes from the Latin word “resilíre,” which literally means, “To leap back” or as I like to say, “spring back from”. Resilience helps to grow from and beyond the challenging and uncertain things in our lives. Knowing how to “spring back” from adversity and life challenges is something that all of us can do. Here are the second three of the Top 10 Steps to help you increase your capacity for personal resilience.

5. Progress Forward In Steps (one step at a time…)
This takes a bit of focus for some of us and some restraint for others. It’s very easy to get overwhelmed with the “parts” of a task or intention. Sometimes it’s pulling back on our zeal to “plow forward” and finish. This is not always the best option and when it comes to relationships, health and our own sense of self in the world it’s a surefire way to miss the greatest gifts available to us. Try to segment out the part of the task in front of you – do it well, not perfect – just the best you can at the place you are in your life at this moment. Then breathe, take a moment to reflect on what you accomplished before you move on. Remember, “trust the process – it’s often more important than the progress”.

6. The Scribe & the Herald
Different areas of the brain are in play when you say something, hear something or write something down. And when we learn something through multiple modalities we are often more likely to remember it more easily. Sometimes it may be stronger imprinting from an experience – like remembering the cologne/perfume (olfactory), the song on the radio (auditory) and the warmth of touch (tactile) when you first kissed a partner. Other times it can be as simple as when you learned a list of facts in school by putting them to a tune or rhyme. Whatever the situation – increased fronts is likely to yield increased potential for recollection. So (and yes, I mean “old school” scripting – not typing). If you are open to journaling – great! If not, even a short couple of sentences is fine…and easy to make time for (no excuses). Try getting into the habit of taking a few minutes at the end of the day to write down three things that are unique to that day and that you are grateful – and write that you are grateful for them. No global or general comments, no “carry-over” content folks – “I am grateful for my job” or “dog” doesn’t work here. Specific and unique to the day; “I am grateful that today I met a new neighbor while walking my dog” -or- “…grateful that the solution I proposed at work this morning worked well for the team”. But wait – we’re only halfway there. After you write them down, read them, thoughtfully, out loud to yourself – or even say them aloud with a trusted confidant. Scripting gratitude and speaking it aloud help us to reflect more easily and frequently on those things that we feel good about. Revisiting good, even small ones, more frequently gives us more “clock hours” in a positive frame of mine – this can have a fantastic impact on us – if we just put it into regular practice. (sounds too hard to do? – re-read #3 and #5.)

Local Tip: Wanna experience Scribe & Herald live? – check out the folks at Pink Phurree.

7. Celebrate the wins
It’s important to embrace and celebrate when we do something well – even a smaller success. Pride may be challenging to keep in check but being a little proud of our accomplishments is a good thing. Keep it simple. This isn’t about grand-standing, excess or desire. It’s about the ritual space – the honoring. Host an old fashioned ice cream social and yard game party at your house with friends to celebrate your promotion, take friends to the beach or lake for the day to celebrate your recovery anniversary or start a new tradition: take cupcakes to someone you know as your birthday celebration. Celebrate the successes in your life!
Sometimes the people around us don’t know how to do this. You may have to teach them along the way. Be okay with that – jump in. If habits die hard – then start some new, positive ones. Wear a ridiculous hat to work on co-worker birthdays, challenge neighbors in your apartment to a make-shift annual “grill off” – an architect I know got his entire team to play laser-tag together each time a project was complete. Be creative – think beyond consumption – think new or shared experiences. Celebrating the wins – on top of Scribe & Herald (#6) – can bring you more strength, happiness and resilience in your every day life faster than you may expect.

Top 10 Steps to Increased Personal Resilience

 Live Better Live Now /

Top 10 Steps to Increased Personal Resilience – Part 1

Top 10 Steps to Increased Personal Resilience – Part 1

The word “resilience” comes from the Latin word “resilíre,” which literally means, “To leap back” or as I like to say, “spring back from”. Resilience helps to grow from and beyond the challenging and uncertain things in our lives. Knowing how to “spring back” from adversity and life challenges is something that all of us can do. Here are the first four  of the Top 10 Steps to help you increase your capacity for personal resilience.

1.Take Care of You
This may sound simple enough, but most of us rarely put it into a regular practice. It doesn’t have to be anything big, expensive or time-consuming. Set 20 minutes aside each evening for a walk around your neighborhood (without text/talk), take a class in something new just for fun/fit/relaxation (pottery, painting, yoga) or carry a book with you when you stop for coffee and sit for 30 minutes to read. Be creative as you like or not – but do something other than the “have to’s”, “musts” and typical obligations and roles you exist in.

2. Embrace Purpose
Even when all else seems pointless, mundane, overwhelming and so on – engaging in purposeful acts can make all the difference in the world. Everyone – every one – of us has the ability to help another or engage in some good for the greater community. Small is fine – just do. Help someone from another country learn to read, volunteer at a local church or community center, offer to teach something you know to a local scout troop, sign up as a volunteer at a local hospital. Don’t let physical or time limits stop you – there is always something to offer and a place that can really use your help.

3. Begin and Forever Commit to Believing in Yourself
Your Mental Attitude Will Determine Your Mood Altitude”. Start taking steps to change the way you think about yourself to a more positive and pro-active definition. It may feel odd or difficult – but start to say, out loud, the things you do well and what is just plain great about you. This isn’t about inflating an ego – it’s more the fact that the words we speak, over time, often become what we believe. Chances are there are some negative and restricting messages you have told yourself for a long time now – to the point you may even hold them to be “mostly true”. Think beyond the negative and demeaning limits. And try to make it current and present – keep it focused on what was great about you today.

4. Accept that all things change and this Is Out of Your Control
This is a really hard one for many of us and quite frankly there is a lot here that I won’t be able to cover in this post. Sometimes the urge to control something or someone comes from a place of love and caring and this makes it even more confusing. Relationships, jobs, roles, passions – they all begin and they eventually come to a close. Fighting to avoid that can whittle you down and in fact will begin to hurt the healthy relationships, roles and habits you do have.

Part of mindfulness practice is to embrace and be fully be present, as you are, in this moment. Enjoy your partner today – for who they are and what you share in this moment. Do the best you can in your job today – because that is your commitment to you – and not just for the possibility of a promotion or raise. Play with your kids the games they want to play, watch a show (they like) and talk about it, go for a walk with a friend or meet them for coffee – there are so many ways to enjoy what is here, while it is here. Resolve to be okay with who you are and where you are in life at this moment. There is a lot to be said for self acceptance.

Top 10 Steps to Increased Personal Resilience

 Live Better Live Now /

Your Sobriety is NOT Recovery

Sobriety Is Not Recovery

by Texas Recovery Support

I still to this day am surprised to discover, that at times, my closest peers in true recovery may not be addicts or alcoholics, but rather cancer survivors, trauma survivors, heart disease patients or those going through bereavement.

Why is this?

Because like it or not; being clean / sober is NOT recovery. Yep, I said it – it’s not. If this statement upsets you – you might want to take a hard look at how your definition of recovery might be impacting your life and the lives of those you love.

Sobriety is only the state or condition of non-use. It is not a state of healing or change. Being sober or clean is essentially a measure of current condition and nothing more. Important? of course it is! But healing and recovery it isn’t. (Meetings are full of people with years of sobriety and not an ounce of recovery in their lives – it doesn’t take long to recognize the ones on a true recovery path.)

Recovery, unlike sobriety / being clean, is an ongoing, whole life philosophy of healing and integrity – in action. It’s easy to forget that recovery is an evolution of healing that is not restricted to addiction by any measure. Notice I said “in action”. True recovery is not just staying sober / clean and going to meetings and talking with your sponsor – you have to employ recovery in your life; the way you engage others at work and in your personal life, the choices you make, the lifestyle you live – and especially the relationships with those you love and care about. Attendance and participation are means to get there – but you don’t “pass the class” for showing up. You have to actually live your recovery – be it addiction, grief, cancer – whatever the dis-ease.

One of the most amazing experiences I ever had was facilitating a recovery group that had both addiction recovery clients and cancer recovery clients in the same group. I will never forget this experience and am incredibly grateful and honored to have been a part of it. As the group moved forward and grew together – each member heard the story of pain and suffering, disease and healing, strength and weakness, fear and courage and so on – of each other member. Soon the “lines” of us and them faded and it became the most grounded and compassionate exchange of honesty and support I have yet to witness. This group raised each other above suffering, shame and terror and moved together to and incredible community – in fact the words “cancer” and “addiction” disappeared and the group on their own used the word “disease” for both.

For me this experience was truly a spiritual one and personally was also an opportunity to truly understand what a disease model of addiction/affliction really is. I have never seen it’s equal in any group since – and I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of several amazing healing and recovery communities

My point in all of this? It’s my hope that some of you who read this will be inspired. Perhaps to start a conversation with a friend or family member facing addiction, cancer, death of a loved one or serious illness. Maybe to stand up and talk about the difference between sobriety and recovery in your next 12 Step meeting or support group. Perhaps to start a conversation in your church or temple – or even to re-visit your own definition of recovery.

Whatever you may think or do – consider taking an action to bridge the promise of healing to another person who may be suffering. Acts of service, no matter how small or simple, heal the world and in doing so – a part of us finds peace and promise as well.

Journey Well –


Quick Tip

If you are looking for a sponsor or mentor – ask them how they define “recovery”. If they give an answer relating to time sober or clean – keep looking. A good sponsor will know that recovery is across all facets of our lives.