Originally published August 8, 2016 by Jenn Cochran, FitnessDesignSolutions.com
It is possible to respond to someone’s difficult news with support rather than fear, regardless of your personal situation. Really it is possible. It requires us to believe in the best of what is possible.
Yet the common response to adversity is not generally uplifting. It is quite the opposite. In May I was diagnosed with a breast tumor, actually a main tumor with two small satellites. Yes there was a solar system forming. Given the biology of the tumor this was fairly insignificant in terms of my prognosis or the approach to treatment, though you are probably already having a fear based reaction and drawing conclusion to advancing stages, not at all the case. This was caught in an early stage and my prognosis is excellent. Ironically I am in phenomenal health other than this little issue of having breast cancer.
I am a doer an activator according to StrengthsFinder. That means I take action and I do what must be done. The moment I got the notice to go for the ultrasound I was there 2 days later and when the radiologist showed me the area of concern I also knew what it was. With my work over the years with cancer survivors and people with a myriad of physical challenges and imaging, I quickly moved into the mode of what do we need to do and how quickly can we do that.
My care team is excellent. Once my imaging had confirmed a biopsy was needed I saw my breast surgeon and from there the reconstruction doctor and my surgical plan was set. On June 30th I had a skin sparing bi-lateral mastectomy with reconstruction. My reconstruction doc estimated a 7 day recovery time until I could be back to work in the Pilates studio and 4 weeks for massage therapy. I was thrilled. Then I had to start communicating my diagnosis and surgery to people.
My family knew what was coming. I kept them in the loop on my tests and results and prepped my mom that I would be going with what she might think was the nuclear option. Truth be told she was not initially on board with my choice. She has come around nicely, thanks to the input from a couple of her friends, breast cancer survivors who wished they had my options when they were diagnosed. In the beginning however, all she heard was “Yes, it is cancer that is why we are scheduling the bi-lateral mastectomy”. This resulted in having to calm some other extended family members who did not get the calm, good prognosis, early stage, totally manageable reality of my situation. I get it, no mom wants to hear her child is facing major surgery. Let me just say if you are faced with this type of news take a beat, let it sink in, and then get the facts straight. It is a lot to digest.
My business is a personal service, I see clients many hours out of every week and my work is physical. I had to tell them. I was going to be out for at least a week and I felt like prepping them for what was coming was the right thing to do. I started telling people that I was in the process of scheduling surgery. Since I did not know how quickly it would get on the calendar I was already telling people prior to having a date so they were prepared if I needed to pivot quickly. After telling the first couple people and spending most of the conversation managing their fear and convincing them my surgeon knew what she was talking about regarding my recovery I needed a new approach. This was going to be exhausting.
In order to disarm the initial fear and worry in people I started saying I was scheduling surgery, I was getting an “upgrade”. People would laugh and start to inquire and I would say it was medically necessary. The distance between upgrade and medically necessary and the need to connect what that actually meant really helped to reduce how much support I had to provide to calm any fears that came up. Aside from that one statement to my mom above, I never used the word cancer to describe my diagnosis. A friend actually said “Did you notice, she never used the C word.” To which I replied it was never used with me. No one ever said you have cancer, therefore I did not say it either.
I have never linked my identity to the parts of my body. The decision to get a bi-lateral mastectomy and reduce my risk for the future was a no brainer. I was shocked by how many women grabbed their chest when learning my news and said “Can’t they save them?” To which I responded “Why?” Seriously why would I choose to keep them when at the age of 43, in quite possibly the best condition of my life I am having this issue?
My life and longevity are worth much more to me. Also the procedures are amazing, when I woke up from surgery the tissue expanders were in place and already had air in them. Intellectually I knew the breast tissue had been removed and with it the tumors, but physically, aside from the discomfort from surgery my skin and everything was intact. It was as though nothing had changed and I get a bit of an upgrade, so bonus there. I have never felt as though I lost anything.
I have worked with a lot of people over the years, cancer patients needing palliative care, cancer survivors needing to regain movement and strength, post-rehab clients needing that last mile of rehab after being cut loose from physical therapy to get back to the activities they do not yet feel comfortable doing. The one thing all these people have in common is this…
If you do not believe your outcomes will be good, excellent even, they won’t be.
A positive outlook is the key to positive outcomes. It is what gets us off the couch and out for a walk, it is what keeps us going on the challenging days. It is critical to good outcomes and fast recoveries.
And it is really hard to hold on to when everyone you share your news with doubts your doctor’s 7 day recovery time frame and thinks you will be sick and unable to do anything for the foreseeable future. It is disheartening to hear people say you should not be working, you need to rest, you won’t recover that quickly…
I am a doer that is true, I also know my body very well. I know when I need to rest and when I need to just sit down, and I know when I am able to work and when I should shift my schedule. I also believe my doctors. Guess what, this is what they do every day. They see all types of bodies and people of varying physical conditions and medical fitness. They know how those people have recovered in the past. They are the experts, not that person you know 20 years older than me and 40 pounds heavier who took 8 weeks to recover from a surgery that was not even close to the one that I had other than having the same name. Or the friend that had a more intense chemotherapy regimen for a longer period of time that took a physical toll. Every body is different, everyone handles these treatments differently and every treatment is tailored to the cell biology and physical wellness of the patient. When my oncologist says “Given your physical condition, I think you will tolerate the first half of treatment well and not really start to feel effects until halfway through.” I believe him. There is NO REASON to fear the worst when you can expect the best and meet what will come when it arrives.
Here is my advice to anyone on the receiving end of someone else’s challenging news. Do NOT
… Disagree with their doctors recovery time frames;
… Tell the person they should stop working or exercising or generally functioning in their life because of this situation;
… Project your own fear of being in the same situation;
… Process the information
… Ask questions if the person is open to discussing it
… Offer positive support or just wish the person well in their journey.
I am all about the content of my diagnosis and the why of my subsequent treatments and I am very open about my journey. I have made the choice to be positive. In the face of peoples pessimism, discomfort with my surgical choices, and strongly held beliefs that I would not have the outcomes stated by my doctors. It is exhausting to reassure people who would be more comfortable if I were more skeptical and scared.
The fact is I am going through this journey. There is no choice for me other than to put one foot in front of the other and what will come will come. I choose to believe that this journey will be easier because I am otherwise fit and healthy. So far so good.
Positive expectations and a can do attitude are the number one success characteristics for my clients. Choose a positive outlook and reflect that outlook to those around you. It makes life better for all of us!