As many of you know, last fall and winter were hard for me because several important people in my life either passed away or were managing health issues that forced them to confront their own mortality. The following summer, I had to manage my own health scare with a visit to the ER. Thankfully, doctors were able to figure out that I needed an appendectomy. Fast forward to this winter, I felt a lump in my breast and found out I have breast cancer. Since then, I have been pretty real with myself and others about what that shock and mourning process have been like.
As I’ve opened myself up to sharing my experience, I’m learning a lot about myself and the world. I’m navigating medical appointments, healthcare bureaucracy, health insurance, financial implications, work life, home life, spiritual attitudes, body image, and self-worth in ways I haven’t before … That’s surprising to me because I already have had quite a colorful, adventurous, and unpredictable life. Just when I thought I couldn’t be shocked anymore, the Universe decided it was time to let me know that I had cancer growing inside of me.
Photo from Flickr
Since I’ve shared more of my story, people have reached out and asked me about my situation.
That’s where things have gotten interesting.
Years ago, I was cycling between unemployed and underemployed for almost a year. Grant-funded job, unemployed, part-time job, temp job. I had every job, but one that was full-time with benefits despite my best job search efforts.
During that period, I saw a therapist. When I told her that I had to stop seeing her due to financial constraints, she insisted that I pay her on a sliding scale. I did that for a while. At a certain point, I started to wonder if I could make the sliding scale payment. Then I told her that the sliding scale payment was no longer feasible; therefore, I would stop meeting with her. She replied that I could start having appointments with her without having to pay the copay.
Photo from Flickr
During one of those therapy sessions, I reflected on my financial situation and wondered if I would ever end up doing a fundraiser on GoFundMe like I saw one of my former colleagues doing online. Apparently, that former colleague had hit such hard financial times that she shared her GoFundMe campaign on social media. In her post, she explained how much she had to swallow her pride to do what she needed for her family. I respected that. As I explained her situation to my therapist, I could see her eyes get wide. She looked shocked and appalled. That is when I decided to drop the topic.
I’m no stranger to promoting self-care. On this blog, I’ve discussed how to Start Your Day on a Positive Note, Real Self-Care When Your Life Isn’t Paradise, Dealing with Long-Term Stress, and how to Make Over Your Life … Gradually. These posts address how minor and major actions can have a cumulative effect on how you can survive and thrive through hardship.
Self-care is a process, not a product.
When I haven’t discussed self-care, I’ve told you all to Create More Space for Kindness and Don’t Forget About the World Around You. In those posts, it was about creating more space to care for others and cultivate change in the world.
My past posts haven’t talked explicitly about community care—specifically community care for yourself.
In the Mashable article Self-care isn’t enough. We need community care to thrive., Heather Dockray states, “Unlike self-care, community care does not place the onus of compassion on a single individual … Community care involves more than one person. It can include two, three, or possibly hundreds of people. You can practice community care in your personal offline life or even in digital spaces.”
When I look at my life, I think it aesthetically looks pleasing. I’ve grown a robust network of kind and amazing friends and other loved ones. I have a job I like. My basic needs like food, shelter, and water are fulfilled. That is more than what I’ve had in the past. That is more than what others have. Like the picture of the sunrise and trees below, life has been a blur, but I’ve been doing my best to still appreciate what’s beautiful.
Since I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I’ve had all types of flashbacks of my life, including challenges, accomplishments, goals, milestones, and a wide range of experiences from the beautiful to the ugly. If I was able to tackle all of those things, why should breast cancer be any different?
In conversations with different people, I have received advice to distract myself. I feel ambivalent about that tip.
If you’re a close friend or coworker of mine, you know that I take preventing illness very seriously. In fact, I wear a surgical mask when people are coughing and sneezing around me on public transportation. The photo below is of me proudly wearing a surgical mask on the train two winters ago.
When it comes to surgical masks, winter isn’t the only time I don them. The following picture is of me from two summers ago. I rode the bus from Boston to New Hampshire to help my friend pack supplies for her wedding weekend in Maine. When she picked me up from the bus stop in New Hampshire, she informed me that she was sick; in response, I quickly put on a surgical mask that I had stored in my purse for emergencies like this.
Recently, I learned that I have breast cancer. I started to post photos about my tests and mourning process without explicitly stating my diagnosis on social media. A few friends reached out to me to ask if I was okay. One of them was a friend I had not talked to in years.
“Hi, nice to hear from you, ” I replied to his text. “I was diagnosed with breast cancer.” Then I explained to him where I was in the testing process and where I was in life in general.
At one point in our conversation, he wrote, “I know you’re strong, so I know you’ll put up a fight.”
“If you don’t like what is being said, change the conversation,” stated Don Draper in Mad Men.
Is Don Draper a person I would want to be my mentor in real life? No way. Do I agree with his statement? Absolutely.
From December 31, 2019, to January 1, 2020, I saw lots of social media posts from friends, colleagues, and acquaintances celebrating their life’s journey from the past year or the past decade as they were ringing in the new year.
That’s cool, but I know many of you off of social media. I’m aware of how you have to edit to make your life’s journey sound more palatable for us on your online networks. As someone who does career advising for a living, I tell students and alumni to be mindful of how they present themselves on social media and in public in general. If anything, you’re following my general advice.