Three Lessons of Taking Your Life Back During and After Breast Cancer

By Paula Holland De Long ACC, CPCC

Possibilities

Asking for What You Want. “It’s been over two years and I almost no one besides my husband knows I was sick,” confessed the striking African woman, arriving at my workshop three hours late. Despite surgery and treatment, Doreen’s day to day life was virtually unchanged. “We have three small kids,” she explained. They need me.” She wept as she whispered, “I can’t go on like this anymore. I’ve got to have some time for myself.” The idea of asking for what she wanted, and for their help, shocked her.

I asked the group to help her role play asking for what she wanted.  As she practiced saying “I’ve been feeling tired and want a quiet hour to myself each day. Will you help with household chores so I can do that?” her confidence grew.  She committed to talking with her family that same night, and her time to herself began the next morning.  

Six months later she founded an organization to make mammograms available to woman in South Africa. Often, asking for what you need is even scarier than cancer. The first time is by far the hardest. Practice makes it easier and more natural. Practicing in front of a mirror, or asking someone you trust to role play can help you see that getting what you need will be easier than you think.

Waht if?Ask yourself “What if?”  “My boyfriend wants to get married right now,” Doretha, recently diagnosed with breast cancer, scoffed. “No way am I risking that. How could he possibly want me with half a chest, knowing I might die? I’m thinking about breaking up with him.” Her miserable face told its own story.

“It feels like you’re making this decision out of fear of what might happen.” I observed. “How does this decision make it easier for you?”

She hesitated. Took a deep breath. “I love him and I want him with me but I just can’t get married now. I just can’t risk it.“ And then admitted her deepest fear. “Even if he does still want me, what if I don’t make it? I can’t do that to him.”

 “What if you stay together and just put the whole idea of marriage on hold until you’re done with treatment?” I could see the relief on her face. She smiled. “That would make if so much easier.”

That was over a year ago. I ran into her and her fiancé last week. They’re getting married next month. Doretha’s fear of what might happen in the future almost cost her the love of her life, and valuable support during her treatment.

Sometimes we get so caught up in negatives of what might happen we lose track of what that is might be really good, or what we need now.  Consider:

  • What is the best thing that could happen? What’s the worst?
  • What if I decide/do it now? What if I wait?

Your physical, emotional and intuitive responses to these What If? questions will help you deepen your understanding of what you want and need. 

Find out What’s Possible. Torn between financial stability, physical health, and the desires of her heart, Sharon‘s anxiety about returning to her job had taken over her life. Eight years from retirement, she hated the work, and while knowing she could do it, feared the physical demands would weaken her over time. She was filled with a vague new yearning to do more, and dreamed of somehow giving back. 

Within a few hours, my professional balance assessment quickly identified what she would be happiest doing, and our brainstorming transformed her vague dream into a plan to create a blog and ezine, sharing her knowledge of how art and music therapy helps patients and survivors.

Together, we created a transition plan that allowed her to keep her job while she creates and launched her new business, which will be in early 2013.

Sharon’s anxiety came from her mistaken belief that it was impossible to be financially secure and do something new at the same time.

If you want something more, but don’t think it’s possible, invest time in finding out. Most likely you’ll find out that it is.

Each of these women is exactly like you and I. We make choices and we live life. It’s choosing making to ask for what you want, consider all the “what if’s”, and find out what’s possible that bring us the feelings of choice and freedom we must have to take back our lives during and after cancer.

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Life AFter Cancer

Are you ready to take back control of your life?  Learn more about my new Living Well After Cancer 8-week telecourse. Past participants have taken back control of their lives by changing careers; breathing new life into their relationships; sustaining lifestyle changes like losing weight; overcoming depression and fear; and report huge improvements in their quality of life.

Learn more HERE.

July 12, 2012 at 5:53 pm Leave a comment

Building Your Muscles of Choice and Change After Cancer

“After it sunk in that I couldn’t take time for granted, I felt compelled to make spending time with my children my top priority. It was challenging, I kept reminding myself that if I could do cancer, I surely could do this.”- Angelina Provst, age 43, 4-year lung cancer survivor

Change, by definition, requires doing things differently. To have more of what matters most, YOU MUST want it badly enough to step out of your comfort zone and take a new action instead of an old one.

 The first step into the gym, ice cream skipped before bed, or salad ordered instead of a burger is the absolute hardest. As much as we wish that we could lose weight and keep it off without exercising or changing our diet, we won’t.

Changing how you do things is like strengthening a muscle. It can take weeks to finally set foot in the gym. The first time you lift the weights, muscles weak, your first repetitions are hesitant and uncertain before you get the feel of it. Next time you feel a groove. Soon, the workout seems easier so you add more weight. Your confidence grows. And then one day see muscle where there was none when you do the muscle-man arm flex. You feel inspired to keep going.

Of course, you won’t go from your first workout to muscle-man arms overnight. Life will get in the way.  A rush assignment at work and sick kids will intrude on your routine. One morning you will wake up and decide “I can’t do this right now.” Like we all do, you’ll get stuck, sometimes for weeks, months or more. THIS IS A NORMAL PART OF THE CHANGE PROCESS.

 This process of transition comes in uneven spurts: three steps forward, one step back, with a frustrating stuck place, or plateau, where nothing seems to happen. Know that healing is happening in that stuck place. You are processing the growth you have made, and preparing for your next steps. Remember to show yourself compassion when things slow down or aren’t progressing as fast as you’d like. Instead of feeling wrong, celebrate your progress. You’ll reduce stress, gain confidence, and feel more control over your future as you begin to focus your attention on the choices you’ve made.

When you heard “You have cancer,” did you believe you could do what you have now done? By no choice of your own, you’ve faced the thing you thought you couldn’t do. Fighting cancer has created a new muscle, the If I Can Do Cancer I Can Do Anything muscle. Flex this muscle when your normal resistance to change appears.

 Sign up HERE for my FREE Three Easy Steps That Build Your Muscles of Choice and Change Telecall on Tuesday May 15, 2012 8-9 pm EST / 7 CST / 5 PST. Can’t make the call? Sign up and get the audio after the call.

Learn more about building the muscle of choice and change in my What’s Next After Treatment Ends? LifeBook. Look Inside HERE.

May 7, 2012 at 7:37 pm Leave a comment

Applause for the Fear That Comes with Cancer

I’m honored to be a new expert columnist for Beyond the Boobie Trap! My first guest post on the BTBT site is below. Listen to me talk about Beyond the Boobie Trap here,  and be sure to check out Beyond the Boobie Trap!

“I’m totally stressed out; I wake up at 2 a.m. terrified my cancer will come back; and I think I’m seriously depressed,” my new client said hesitantly, with tears in her eyes. “I finished chemo over six months ago and every day I tell myself I’ll feel better and I don’t. I should be grateful just to be alive,” she broke into sobs that lasted several minutes, and then raised her head.

I burst into applause. She looked at me like I was crazy.

 Applause“It takes a lot of courage to say your deepest fears out loud. It’s a lot easier to bury them or pretend they don’t exist. How long have you been carrying this fear and stress around with you?” I asked. “I’ve felt it since my diagnosis,” she sighed. More applause from me. Louder. Her shoulders go back as she sits up straighter.

 “Take a deep breath. How’s your stress now?” “Better,” she said, surprised. Then smiled. “MUCH better. I feel like I’m taking charge of my life instead of just tolerating it.”

 “Close your eyes, take deep breaths, and imagine that your stress and fear are standing in front of you. If you had to name them something, what would it be?” Pause. “Rat –On-A-Wheel.” “OK. Client, shake hands and say hello to Mr. Rat –On-A-Wheel.

 Her giggle surprised me. “What about Mr. Rat makes you giggle?” He’s a sneaky, ugly little rat, like a cartoon character.”

 “Is this cartoon rat running your life? I queried. “Heck no,” she said strongly.

 I asked my client to stand up, take a bow, and give herself a round of applause.  Mr. Rat and I clapped and cheered.

 “Why are we applauding?” she asked. 

 You are applauding yourself. You just stood up to this Mr. Rat character who was trying to run your life. You’re giggling at him.  How cool is that? Whoo hoo to you! Mr. Rat’s applauding because he’s relieved. He’s truly is a rat and he’s tired of you and ready to move on. I’m applauding because you’ve just managed your own fear, and you can do it again.

Clap! Clap! Clap! Clap! Clap! Clap! Clap! Clap! Clap! Clap! Clap! Clap!

Use these simple steps to take your life back when fear, despair, and stress take over.

1. Acknowledge and release your emotions.  

  • Explore your feelings honestly. What’s your truth?
  • Release them: Write them down,  have a pretend conversation with them, share with someone else.
  • Applaud yourself for your courage when you’re done.

2. Create a persona for the feelings and get curious.

  • What does this persona want and need? Does it really want to be doing what it’s doing?
  • Applaud yourself for your curiosity.

3. Decide what you want to happen next.

  • Take one small step to get started, like asking for help.
  • Applaud yourself for making the choice and taking the first step.

Right now, I challenge you to pick one thing, take these steps, and tell me if it works for you.

April 23, 2012 at 3:29 pm Leave a comment

What’s Empowering About Cancer? You’ll be Surprised.

Now I know that if I can do cancer I can do anything. But on that dark day when “you have cancer” came out of my doctor’s mouth, I felt anything but empowered. I didn’t think I could handle the surgeries and chemo, physically or mentally. Wasn’t sure I even wanted to try. I didn’t feel empowered while I was going through treatment. But when it ended I was amazed by what I had done.

It WAS empowering to make it through nine surgeries and four rounds of chemo. To laugh about my GI Jane haircut. To remember my “Three tries and you’re done” rule for needle sticks. Who knew?

I might have been sick and bald, but as long as I could choose to laugh and refuse to be poked, I didn’t feel like a victim. This little bit of control was enough to keep me sane. It was a valuable lesson that carried forward into my healing and my new  normal life.

What about you? How many things have you done because of cancer that you never would have dreamed you could? What are you proud of yourself for accomplishing? What did you do that surprised you? How does it feel?

I believe the essence of empowerment comes from feeling the fear of not knowing how something will turn out, and doing it anyway. You may not realize it, but you’ve become an expert at doing it anyway during cancer.

 The experience facing your own mortality may have shaken the foundation of who you are. Pieces of your old life may not fit anymore. Your priorities may be different now. Dreams and goals more urgent.

Your shaken foundation has also created an unexpected opportunity. Now you have the chance to bring more of what matters most to you into your life. If you could wipe the slate clean and have it all; what would you want? Give yourself permission to think about this without worrying about how it could happen. Millions of survivors report that their lives as survivors are more passionate, fulfilling and joyful than before.  

Like me, they feel that nothing is scarier than cancer. They’ve learned to use fear as a spring-board to move out of their comfort zone and into that fully alive, I CAN DO IT feeling. You can too.

Leave a comment about what you’ve done that you never believed you could because of cancer below and inspire others with your courage.  

Learn more about the empowering aspects of cancer at my If I Can Do Cancer I Can Do Anything FREE Telecall. Join me, award-winning author Paula Holland De Long ACC, CPCC, for this inspiring discussion of how you can use the courage and inspiration cancer creates to get more of what you want from life. All participants receive a free learning guide.

Tues. February 28th from 8-9 pm EST / 7 CST / 5 PST

 Register Here for FREE Telecall! 

 

February 16, 2012 at 6:47 pm 1 comment

Why Do You Need A Cancer Coach? Answered in CURE Magazine’s Fall 2011 Issue

After my chemotherapy ended, it took me three years to get my life back. I know now that the emotional challenges I experienced are universal. When we increase the number of days cancer survivors live we have an obligation to teach people how they can take actions that promote their well-being. Life coaching teaches people to be proactive about their lives during cancer and as survivors.

Would you or someone you love benefit from a cancer coach? CURE Magazine’s Fall 2011 issue explores the medical and practical aspects of the role of coaching in cancer care. I am honored to be part of the story. 

GAME CHANGERS: Cancer patients and survivors turn to life or wellness coaches for guidance.

BY JENNIFER M. GANGLOFF
CURE Magazine Fall 2011 Issue, PUBLISHED SEPTEMBER 14, 2011

Hildreth Stafford arrived at an unsettling juncture after treatment for breast cancer. She had endured a double mastectomy, radiation, aggressive chemotherapy, a hysterectomy and reconstructive surgery. She lost her hair, her eyebrows and her eyelashes, and her husband and young children were left reeling. When it was over, she felt like a different person. Once a hard-driving TV producer, she became fearful and stuck, unable to move forward.

 “When I finished treatment, I knew my life was going to change dramatically,” recalls Stafford, 47, who received a diagnosis of stage 2 breast cancer in 2009. “I knew what I needed to do, but I just couldn’t do it. I decided I wanted a life coach to help me, and she completely changed my life.” 

Stafford interviewed several coaches by phone, and one of them directed her to Paula Holland De Long, a life coach, author and motivational speaker—and a fellow breast cancer survivor. For Stafford, that was just the connection she needed. After only two coaching sessions with De Long, Stafford felt equipped to act on her plan that alone she didn’t feel brave enough to carry out: In June 2010, she walked away from the successful television production company she co-owned. 

“Once I did it, I never looked back,” Stafford says. “It was so hard to walk away after more than 20 years in television, but Paula gave me the courage, the strength and the guidance to do it.”

A New Kind of Quarterback

Stafford is among a growing number of cancer patients turning to life and wellness coaches for guidance in a variety of areas—nutrition, exercise, work, relationships and stress management, for example. Coaches can help cancer patients across the continuum of care, from receiving a new diagnosis with complicated treatment options to end-of-life decision-making.

….. At Duke Integrative Medicine in Durham, N.C., for example, there’s a team approach to care that includes coaching, if desired. “In our program, a physician may be working with a massage therapist, an acupuncturist, a nutritionist, a stress management therapist and a health coach,” says Linda Smith, PA, director of professional and public programs at Duke Integrative Medicine’s Integrative Health Coach Professional Training program. “Essentially, the entire team works together with the patient to develop a health plan. 

“As a result, the patient walks away with a substantive health plan that addresses every aspect of health and well-being that they can then take into their real-life situations,” she adds.

Read More >>>

Subscribe to CURE Magazine

October 17, 2011 at 6:47 pm 6 comments

Are Roller Coaster Emotions During Cancer Normal?

Finding out I had cancer changed me irrevocably, forcing me into uncharted waters. I remember thinking I was the only one who felt like this, and being so afraid that it would never end. I never imagined that what I was feeling was natural or normal. It felt so abnormal compared to the way I used to be.

Sometimes I compare the cancer experience to going through a hurricane.

You’re living your life in your house, just like always, and then you get the first storm warnings: a hint that something might be wrong. It might be a consistent pain, a lump, or a test result that raises concern. You are concerned, but know the odds are that the storm won’t hit you. In the same way you’d buy extra water and make sure your generator was working, you get it checked out. In the same way you believe that an oncoming hurricane will drift harmlessly out to sea, you hold the belief that cancer will not happen to you.

But the odds defy you. The hurricane hits with all of its fury. You have cancer. Shock and disbelief, so unexpected that it’s impossible to comprehend. Your world has changed and there is nothing you can do. Your priority is getting through it. 

After a hurricane blows through, there’s a whole period of rebuilding and getting used to the changes. When your cancer treatment ends, you don’t just magically go back to normal, either. Often you are physically changed, emotionally drained, and reeling from the chaotic period you’ve just endured. The safety net of routine doctors’ visits and treatments ends, and your world changes again. You may find that the life you left behind is waiting for you, but you want more.

After facing death, your time becomes more precious and valuable. As your world shifts once again, you wonder, “How do I rebuild my life? What can I improve on? Can I recreate the things I loved? Can I love my new life even more than the old one?” As you gain perspective and clarity, you begin to make decisions, take out your toolbox, and begin again.

Whether you’re renovating your house or rebuilding your life, reconstruction can be challenging. Have you ever had a construction project that didn’t have surprises and delays? But time passes, and eventually the noise and dust has settled. It’s like that after cancer treatment, too-there will come a time when you’ll reach a level of acceptance and comfort with who you have become.

Learn  more >>>

The above information is excerpted from my award winning What’s Next For My Life? Companion Journal For Cancer Patients. For more info visit my site

Listen to me talk about managing the roller coaster emotions of cancer.

July 29, 2011 at 7:23 pm 2 comments

When Cancer Treatment Ends “Normal” Isn’t Normal Anymore.

How do you know where to focus your energy when cancer treatment ends?

Listen to me talk about creating a New Normal life when cancer treatment ends here.

During cancer treatment, my holy grail was getting to the end. Multiple surgeries and rounds of chemo later, the magic day finally arrived. Everyone was so thrilled that I was “done” with cancer. My life could go back to “normal”.

Guess what? Doing what my doctors told me and fighting cancer had become my “normal” life.

I was bald, weighed 95 pounds, and had lots of scars. My stamina and memory were shot. I was afraid the cancer had spread or would come back. I was still fatigued from chemo but needed to work. I felt frustrated because I couldn’t do everything I could before.  Confused because things I used to care about didn’t seem so important. Guilty because I wasn’t just grateful to be alive.  And ashamed that unhealthy choices from my old life that made me sick weren’t easy to change.

Go back to what? “Normal” had never seemed so chaotic, scary or uncomfortable.

Believe it or not, many survivors report “My life doesn’t feel the same or fit me anymore” emotions when their treatment ends. It’s a common, normal, natural human response in the emotional stages of cancer.

What happens next? We go forward, because we can’t really go back. We take stock. Many of our old priorities and activities have faded into the background during “Battle Cancer.” Our relationships with ourselves and others have been tested. Time becomes more precious as the adrenaline of battling the disease subsides,. We begin to let go of things that now feel trivial and feel compelled to make the things that matter most to us a priority. We think about the legacy of who we want to be and what we want to leave behind.

Close your eyes and breathe. Imagine your 100th birthday party. All of your family, friends, colleagues and loved ones are gathered to celebrate you and your life. They’re telling stories and speaking of the difference you have made in their lives. Bask in their approval. What do they say?

  • What words did they (or do you) use that make you proud?
  • What parts of your life have been the most joyful?
  • What’s important about the legacy you leave?

These questions hold the clues to the foundation of your New Normal life and let you know what matters most to you. I challenge you to find one way to live your legacy today.

Quote: “It doesn’t go back to the life you had before cancer. There are some things that may never be the same. It is really a new life and you have to accept that. Looking at it as an opportunity to make changes and grow is a good thing, but can be very hard. Emotionally, there can be a grieving process. Again, you have to accept that to really move on from Cancer. You have changed, a part of you may no longer be there, some activities may no longer be available to you. That deserves some grieving. Accept it, work through it, and move on.” – John, age 48, 2-year testicular cancer survivor

This is an excerpt from my What’s Next When Cancer Treatment Ends? LifeBook, coming out August 2011. For more info visit my site.

June 22, 2011 at 5:06 pm 1 comment

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Paula on the cover of Breast Cancer Wellness Magazine August Issue

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