If I Can Do Cancer I Can Do Anything: The Empowering Aspects of Cancer

HeadShotHuh?? Cancer as empowering? This might seem shocking.  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 proud of what I had done. And now, 20 years later, I’m still passionate in my belief that cancer is empowering, even though it may not feel like it.

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.

When asked “What empowered you about your experience?” cancer patients who are ending treatment say things like:


20 years of survivorship have confirmed, for me, that the essence of feeling empowered is being willing to try something when I don’t know how it will turn out. I became an expert at that during treatment, and I’ve cultivated my ability to not be in control, or have all the answers in order to embrace not knowing how it will turn out.

I want you to know that every time you’ve made a choice to do something that scared you, or was uncomfortable, or different than what you were used to, you were courageously stretching yourself as a human being. You were expanding your faith in your own ability to influence events. You brought some of your own brand of empowerment into the chaos of cancer.

You have accomplished something powerful if you are reading these words! You’re alive. Give yourself a round of applause. And remember if you can do cancer you can do anything!


Should it take facing death to gain permission to live?

SoulCollageHeadShotI’ll confess. Even though I speak a lot and love being on stage, the idea of having only 5 minutes and 20 slides to share my story about the personal transformation I experienced in the wake of breast cancer was a little scary. OK a lot scary. It felt risky. Like stretching out of my comfort zone. Like being encouraged to walk my talk. In short, it was just like what I challenge my clients to do. How could I not step up?

I am so glad that I did. It felt wonderful to be on the stage talking how finding life coaching changed my life, and seeing the heads of the audience nodding along.

It was also extremely powerful for me to hear the life-shaping experiences, passions, and unique perspectives of the other speakers (we had 8 total) and to learn how coaching had transformed them. We all got to see a new side of each other, and you could feel the buzz in the room after the performances ended.

If you missed the event you can check out my performance of Should It Take Facing Death to Gain Permission to Live? HERE. And see all of the Ignite speaker videos HERE. Feel free to share them. They’re really interesting.

I also want to thank the ICF South Florida Chapter for co-sponsoring this fast, fun, lively evening. And for recording the videos and sharing them with the world and us speakers. It’s great to be part of this local coaching community.

I’d love to hear your story of personal transformation. Email me at Paula@WhatsNextForMyLife.com.



Do You Hear Me?

Conversations that Mean Something: Deepen Connection and Improve Communication though the Levels of Listening

RedCoatLROver the last few months I’ve spent more time with friends and family than I normally do, and even though a lot of talking has been done, sometimes I’ve ended up feeling disconnected and unimportant, like no one really cares what I have to say. Can you relate? In this day and age of instant communication and accessibility, how could anyone feel unheard or disconnected??

It’s all in the Level of Listening.* Our human brains are hardwired for connection with others. We need to feel understood and valued, that what we do is meaningful, in order to be at our best. Unfortunately, the primary ways we communicate don’t create the feelings we need.

In this 4 minute video I demonstrate the common ways we communicate, and what works best to improve relationships and deepen connections.  Watch it now.

As you saw, Level One Listening is characterized by a back and  forth of each person saying something about themselves, and not acknowledging what the other person says, and often can include a one-upping of what each other says. Information gets exchanged but no one really feels heard.

Level Two Listening is a two way conversation. One person says something and the other person responds directly to what was said, asking questions, wanting to know more details, sharing their opinion or advice. Feelings of connection and being heard are deeper here.

Level Three Listening goes beyond sharing what, how, or when something happened to the other person, and delves into the feelings and significance of the person sharing. The listener is curious, asks questions about how it felt, what was meaningful, and is aware of what the other person is feeling, not just what they are saying. Level 3 requires vulnerability and trust that can feel risky and uncomfortable. Level 3 is also where relationships are deepened, faith is expanded, and what seemed impossible become possible. This is where connection thrives.

If you want to have conversations that build feelings of connection, make people feel good about themselves, and where everyone feels heard, move away from Level 1 and see what happens.  

 If you’d like some help, let’s set a time to talk. 


* From the Co-Active Coaching model

Termite Tenting or Doggy Vacation Extravaganza? It’s all in your point of view.

ExtravaganzaBlogPhotoThe minute suitcases came out of the closet the “Are we going? Do we get to go? I really want to go? Do I get to go?” energy started. Both of our dogs knew something was up.  The twirling whines of “We want to go! Do we get to go? Oh boy we’re going! We’re going! We’re going!” were at a fever pitch by the time everything was loaded and we all got in the car.

They were anticipating a Doggy Vacation Extravaganza. I was filled with stress and anxiety at the thought of spending 3 days in a hotel room with two 70 lb. dogs, and elderly cat, and my husband Chuck while waiting out termite tenting of our house.

One experience; two totally different points of view.

After a short drive we exited our vehicle at the pet friendly La Quinta. Standing proud, tails wagging furiously, the dogs pulled us up the green carpet, squatting to leave their calling card every so often.

Soon the door to our short-term-home-away-from-home opened. The dogs came barreling in. “OMG – KING SIZE BED! VIEW OF THE BBQ GRILL! A PICNIC AREA!!” proclaimed the fever pitch of whines. A neighboring dog came into view, and the whines became excited barking and jumping enthusiasm about meeting a new friend.

As we unpacked the food (dog and human) dog heads swiveled back and forth in unison watching this buffet of favorites being set up just for them. We could feel their telepathic pleas of “Leave the room. We’ll be good. Leave the room. Leave the room now.” They were drooling.

The Doggy Vacation Extravaganza was off to a great start. I, on the other hand, was still stressed about the noise the dogs were making, tired to the bone from the tenting prep, worried about putting the house back together when we got home, and pretty much anything else I could think of.  Sigh.

At this point you might wonder what could possibly be better than staying in for the dinner buffet in our one-room-home-away-from-home?

Going out for dinner! “Oh boy. Oh boy. Oh boy. Leashes are out. We get to go! We get to go! We get to goooooo!!!!” (I could feel a headache starting behind my right eye.)

Soon, on the outdoor patio of a nearby dog friendly restaurant, dog heads were once again perky and alert, eyes roving from us to other diners, to the floor, to the wrens picking up the crumbs. Enjoying the smorgasbord of smells, sounds and sights. Leaning forward every time a fork moved. Catching every single morsel they could beg. Smiling happily when someone paused to pet them. Feeling like Doggy Rock Stars.

It was a fun evening, and I was surprised. It was obvious that other people liked our dogs’ attitude. I was starting to come around to the dogs’ point of view. Why was I so worried? I was only making it painful for myself. Hmmm.

And finally, back to the short-term-home-away-from-home. “Everyone on the bed at the same time!  Endless puppy rubs!  STAYING ON THE BED ALL NIGHT!!! Wishing this would last forever!!!!”

Surprise. Cassie and Reba’s expectations of a Doggy Extravaganza Vacation were reality. In spite of me. I expected to feel stressed out, tired and cranky. So I did. In hindsight not so surprising. LOL.

At the end of the day I was actually rejuvenated, and really grateful for the doggy vacation point of view. It was way more fun and healthy than mine. Next time I’d like to take their point of view from the beginning.

The next time you feel stressed out or overwhelmed, ask yourself “what a dog would think about this?” It can open the door to a whole new world.

Feel like checking out a new point of view? Let’s talk about it.

I Believe I AM Influencing Social Change

PaulaFlowersLRWhen the 2016 Global Coaching Study Executive Summary from the International Coach Federation landed in my inbox I couldn’t wait to see how my experiences and opinions related to the other 15,000+ coaches worldwide who participated in this amazing study.  In the 20 pages I read, there was one thing that stopped me in my tracks.

98% of us coaches worldwide believe that we can influence social change.

I feel hugely validated by this. It’s a powerful thing to come together as a group of industry professionals. It’s quite a different thing to be reminded that our combined hearts are working together for the common good of humanity.
Whether we’re working one on one, or with groups and teams, on life, businesses or community issues, we are helping make the world a better place by teaching people how to honor themselves and each other.
Thanks to my clients, my coach friends, all the other coaches, and the International Coach Federation.
I’m grateful for this reminder to celebrate this amazing life that is coaching.


“I’m trying to start exercising again,” said my new client. “It’s just not working and it’s making me crazy. Can you help?”

“Absolutely,” I replied. “But you have to quit trying. “What do you mean?” She looked confused.

“I’ll explain. But first, tell me if this is the crazy you’re feeling.

HeavyLoadEvery day you tell yourself that you are going to get started, and then you don’t. So you feel guilty and say you’ll do it tomorrow. Tomorrow comes and you don’t do it again, so you tell yourself how awful you are. Then you get depressed, and feel like a total failure, and even worse, it’s all your fault. It feels like a ten ton bag of rooks that you carry around all the time and success just gets further and further away. You feel hopeless and give up, or keep trying and not succeeding. Either way you feel guilty or ashamed. It’s called procrastination paralysis, and it’s why TRYING never really works in the long term.”

“OMG that’s exactly what’s happening,” she exclaimed. “How can I make it stop?”

I smiled, “You  QUIT TRYING by deciding to DO IT or deciding to LET IT GO, even if it is just for now. Tell me why exercising more is important to you.”

“I really feel like I should; I’m getting older and I can feel it. I feel guilty that I’m not.”  I stopped her right there. “Should and guilt are rotten motivators, they are symptoms of procrastination paralysis. I feel your motivation draining as you talk. Let’s reframe. Tell me what you would gain by exercising more.”

“I’d feel better physically and mentally, and build up some strength.” And how would that make you feel? (I could feel her energy lighten). “Great!” Is that worth letting go of TRYING and moving into DOING? “Absolutely.”

Congratulations! You’ve just gone from TRYING to DOING! How’s the bag of rocks now? “Wow, they’re gone. This is amazing.”

My client QUIT TRYING and started DOING when she changed her motivation from “Because I Should” to “Because I’ll Feel Better.” That was her first step. She could also have QUIT TRYING by deciding, “I don’t really want to do this now.” (This is really common when your motivation is based on SHOULD.) Either choice shuts down the bag of rocks feeling of procrastination paralysis that comes from TRYING rather than DOING or LETTING GO. The important thing is that she consciously chooses to focus on motivation that feels good to her.

We all struggle with procrastination paralysis. TRYING is totally un-motivating; it sets the perfect stage for failure and self-criticism; and it can go on for a long, long time if you’re not aware of it.

You know you’re TRYING rather than DOING if it feels like you’re carrying around a bag of rocks, and/or are really down on yourself.

Is it time for you to quit TRYING and start DOING? Call me to talk about your motivation and first steps.

I’m Done with Integrity

I’ve always considered myself to be a person of integrity; someone who keeps her word, honors her commitments, and does the right thing. All good things,Paula_FlaKeys right?

Here’s my secret – my version of integrity has been ruining my life. I’ve been operating on autopilot, never questioning or considering whether all that integrity was actually good for me.

With a little self-exploration, I’ve learned that I do integrity really well with other people, and like crap with myself.  And I have some pretty strange stories running around in my head. Can you relate?

Keeping My Word Should Be a Good Thing, Right? Not Always. 

  • Saying YES because I’m afraid to say NO – NOT GOOD.
  • Hating myself if I have to go back and say NO after I’ve already said YES. WORSE.

My Story: If I say no I am a bad person and if I don’t absolutely honor my YES no matter what I am unworthy.

My Truth:  I have the right to say NO. People say NO to me all the time. Plans and commitments change.  It’s part of life in today’s world. What matters is being realistic, upfront, and honest about what I can and can’t do.  

My Shifts: Practicing saying no, and giving myself a break, just like I would to anyone else.

Can Honoring My Commitments be Wrong? Yes.

  • Honoring my commitments to others at the expense of my own needs – NOT GOOD.
  • Expecting perfection in honoring of my commitments – WORSE.

My Story: I have to take care of other people first, and do it perfectly or I have failed and let everyone down. 

My Truth: If I don’t take care of myself first, and receive as well as give, at some point I won’t be able to take care of anyone. Expecting perfection from myself (or anyone else) totally blocks my ability to receive. It just doesn’t work.

My Shifts:  Giving myself permission to make my own needs a priority. Allowing ‘Doing My Best’ to be my success, whether it works the way I think it should or not.  

Should I Always Do the Right Thing, No Matter What? No.

  • Doing someone else’s version of the right thing instead of mine – NOT GOOD.
  • Doing the “right thing” over and over even when it feels awful or wrong. – WORSE.
  • Not knowing what your own “right things” are – DANGEROUS.

My Story:  If I keep doing what I’ve always done – doing what I think people want – they will like me. Plus, I am never allowed stop or question it even if it feels crappy. 

My Truth: Choosing to do my own right thing is the only way I can truly feel good about myself. It’s not selfish and wrong, it’s healthy boundary setting. Sometimes what I choose will be best for me, sometimes best for others.

My Shifts: I’ve learned to trust my body. It knows what the right thing is before I do, and if my choice doesn’t feel right in my body it’s time to get curious about the story vs. the truth.

Going forward I’m going to be curious around my stories. Give myself compassion instead of demanding perfection. And trust my integrity instead of trying so hard. It feels really good. 

Are you ready to change some stories? Find your own personal right things? Learn to listen to your body? Let’s talk about what feels right to you. Email paula@WhatsNextForMyLife.com. 

Why is Wellness So Hard? Simple Easy Ways to be Happier and Healthier

Why is wellness so hard? We want to be happier and healthier – to be well. Our intentions are good.  “I’m going to lose weight, eat better, reduce stress, work harder, spend more time with loved ones, be a better friend, write a book, and save the world. Starting today.”  A few weeks later the push to change everything NOW can become totally demoralizing, full of self-blame and guilt because of not doing what was intended, or not doing it well enough.

 Wellness is hard because we make it hard. WE THINK TO MUCH.Happy Healthy People Art

We expect wellness to be hard, so we get what we expect.  We’ve been culturally conditioned to believe that it will be, mostly from people who want to make money from our pain.  Then our human brains take over, telling us what we SHOULD do and then blocking us from doing it. We end up trapped in a cycle of good intentions, guilt, and giving up.  It’s no wonder it’s hard to be happier and healthier. If it’s feeling hard to you, it will be easier if you don’t think so much.

Signs of thinking too much?

  • You’re SHOULDING yourself to death. If your motivation is based on SHOULD, ask yourself, “Who says I should do this? What about it matters to me?” If you can’t find a way it matters, consider letting it go.
  • Your inner critic has taken over. “I don’t have the time, money, energy or whatever, and why bother because I’ll fail anyway, people will laugh, etc.” are all voices of your inner critic, who is trying to protect you by keeping you from doing something new, even if it’s good for you. If it’s dramatic an emotional, your critic may be running the show.  Ask yourself, “Is this really true?” If it’s not, what do you gain by believing it?
  • You believe it is selfish and wrong to make your own needs a priority. Would you deny the people you love permission to take care of themselves? You must have both giving and receiving to be well. If you feel depressed, tired and run down all the time, your body is telling you it needs some care.
  • You don’t celebrate your progress. Every single teeny tiny step you take is success because it is progress. I can’t say this enough. Going from 3 to 3.5 is a success. Trying and failing and trying again is a success.  Thinking about changing is a success. Starting and then changing direction is as success. Celebrating each small step will keep you motivated for the long term.

If you SHOULD but you aren’t; you started and then you stopped; you want to but believe you can’t; and you would if you could just find the time, money or energy; it’s time to leave the mind chatter behind.  Make your life happier and healthier by not thinking so much.  I promise it will be so much easier, and a lot more fun.  Need some help? Let’s talk about it. Email me at Paula@WhatsNextForMyLife.com.


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

By Paula Holland De Long ACC, CPCC


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.


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.