Lisa Richardson, MD, MPH, Director at the CDC commented “This is a great post for people who just found out they have colorectal Cancer. Thanks Stacy.”
Read my guest blog for Colon Cancer Prevention Project on my top 5 survival strategies, not only for colorectal cancer but for any chronic illness.
A Special Needs Caregiver’s Experience
Whoever is teaching the med students to ask this, stop. Just stop. Wait, no. Don’t stop. It’s a great question. Just not one you want to hear 8,000 times when you’ve had no sleep in three weeks.
Our 15 year old intellectually and developmentally disabled son, Emmett, started running a fever on November 29th, 2020, the Sunday after Thanksgiving. We didn’t think it was COVID related since we have been isolating pretty seriously due to his immunocompromised status (as a result of his rare chromosome disorder) and mine as a stage IV colorectal cancer survivor. Emmett is non-verbal, so figuring out what is causing him pain is a process of elimination, similar to a baby, since that is his cognitive and functional level (6 months). He was burning up. We checked him at 102 degrees, but I believe it was higher. His face was all red, his eyes were bloodshot, he was listless, fatigued, and not breathing regularly. We knew he was in severe pain. Emmett is also non-ambulatory. Even though he is incontinent in a diaper, Emmett can bear weight enough for us to wobble him to the bathroom to practice toileting. He didn’t want to bear weight at all. He screamed and cried in pain. He had no appetite. He had diarrhea Sunday through Wednesday of that week and an off and on fever. Around Thursday, he seemed to return to baseline. He had his energy back and his mood improved. But the next day, Friday the 4th, he started declining again. We thought maybe his GI system flipped the other way with constipation after the intense diarrhea, so we tried our usual tricks for that (constipation is an ongoing issue for Emmett because of his low tone and lack of mobility). No luck. The situation was dire, and I was scared. In the 15 years of caring for Emmett and managing his complex special needs, we had never seen anything like this. We headed to the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh emergency room. For us to go to the ER in COVID with mine & Emmett’s health statuses, you know it was bad. That was the last place we wanted to go. But with my history of colorectal cancer, we weren’t taking any chances. I’m going to be honest with you: I thought we were losing him.
Upon initial intake with the triage nurse, it started: “What brings you in today?” So I relayed the above details as she typed away. Then we got into a room. A nurse came over with a computer screen on wheels. Asked us again: “What brings you in today?” I thought to myself, “Ok. Maybe the info didn’t upload yet.” Then we saw a resident. A third inquiry. Then the chief resident. Then the attending. Then a fellow. And someone else in between. All asking the monotonous, “What brings you in today?” It started to feel like we were on a Saturday Night Live skit. My husband, Drew, who is way more patient than me, saw me starting to crack and held me back from saying something regrettable. We were not new to this whole routine because we dealt with it when Emmett was diagnosed with his rare condition 15 years ago. We had to go through this drill with at least 60 different specialists (we stopped counting at 60…) and each of their extended student teams. I said to Drew, “This is where we are 15 years later? No one has learned to talk to each other?” It. Was. Annoying. We were worked up for suspected appendicitis, sent up to the surgery observation floor for a deluxe overnight stay (TIC) with 3 bags of fluids, which did Emmett a world of good, and sent home. I thought we were in the clear. 5 days later he declined again. Low grade fever, crying non stop, obvious pain in abdominal area, a limp, not wanting to bear weight. Being the healthcare ninja I am, I went to “Dr. Google” and found a condition called transient synovitis. So just for kicks, I gave Emmett some ibuprofen to see if it would help, and it did. We are fortunate to be friends with the ER Chief, so I called him, relayed my theory, and he advised us to come back to the ER, to rule out a few possible serious complications. I bargained with him, “I’ll come back on one condition: that you prep your staff with the whole story so I don’t have to repeat it 50 times.” At this point, I’ve had no sleep and a non-stop crying, non-verbal, helpless kid in pain for 3 weeks. So describing me as a bit punchy would be an understatement. And until you’ve given your special needs child an enema on your bathroom floor, you don’t know the true meaning of desperate love.
Back we went to the ER. Back to intake. “What brings you in today?” I glared at Drew who assuaged me; “Be calm.” So now we had a 2-part mini-series that I needed to describe to a whole new rotation. Once we got back to the room, a resident came in and well, you guessed it. I was done. I firmly yet courteously said, “Talk to the charge nurse.” I think I made her cry or something because the next text I got was from my friend, the ER chief, who told me that it was a standard question, and that he had filled in the team. It all went pretty smoothly from there (other than leaving out my medical history as one of the main things that we wanted considered). I even got to kiss and make up with the resident. I explained my side of things as a weary mother, and she attested that she was trained to make her own assessment. Emmett was given a super dose of ibuprofen, his bloodwork was trended (in particular his inflammatory marker which was coming down), worked up with some imaging of his hip, and released.
The whole episode was peculiar, yet diagnostically benign, and we were very fortunate. A follow up with orthopedics showed subluxation in Emmett’s hip consistent with anatomic abnormalities due to his chromosome disorder, but nothing further. You’ll be glad to know that the orthopod didn’t ask us what brought us in today… Probably because we were referred to him by Emmett’s longtime physical medicine doctor. The physiatrist obviously picked up on my exasperated vibe and advised me that he’d bring the orthopod up to speed because as he said, “We make a good team.”
How do we fix this incessant “What brings you in today?” problem while respecting teaching hospital and mid-level practitioner protocols? As patients (and caregivers), we shouldn’t have to go through our whole saga over and over to 10 different people. That’s what notes are for. That’s what EMR’s are for. A continuum of communication goes a long way to preserve the sanity and energy of the toilworn patient.
It’s easy, right?
Fine. It’s a word I’ve come to mostly despise. As in me posting my 30th chemotherapy session on Facebook, and a friend from college commenting, “It will be fine.” I called my best friend sobbing; “Of all of the things that having poison pumped into your veins for the 30th time isn’t, it’s fine.” (By the way, that was 25 chemos ago…)
Or as in a colleague seeing me at the grocery store and asking, “How are you doing?” I replied with my stock response, “I’m hanging in there.” And then she says, “But you had a clear scan, so you’re fine, right?” I couldn’t even deal with that, so I just responded, “I wish it were that easy.”
Or running into a neighbor at breakfast, and her celebrating my recent chemo break, which has been nice. She asked, “So how are you doing?” I said, “I’m using this time to rehabilitate my life from all of the damage from cancer and chemotherapy.” She stared at my blankly, threw her hand at me, laughed, and said, “Well you look great, so I’m sure you’ll be fine.”
I don’t provide these examples to diminish the good intentions of well meaning, caring people. I provide them to illustrate the complexities of cancer and the fear that cancer evokes. To be blunt, people either have you “dying” or “fine.” If people are concerned that you’re dying (a metaphor for existing in a very fragile state) then you get cards, texts, calls gifts, and herculean efforts of support. If you’re “fine” (a metaphor for magically cured), then you’re off their radar – compartmentalized into the “I don’t have to worry about her, so I’m moving on to my next thing – like how to get my kid to soccer practice.”
The good, the bad, and the ugly.
To address the fear part: Cancer IS about the scariest word in the English language. You don’t want it, you don’t want to hear it, and unfortunately a lot of people don’t want to be around it. My heart always goes out to my atheist/agnostic cancer warrior friends who post on social media about their complications, and they get the comment of “Prayers.” Unfortunately, in their world, prayers don’t do much good for them. I’d much rather see a comment of “Meals” or “Laundry” or “Errands,” meaning “I won’t offer you prayers since you don’t acknowledge those, but I WILL offer you meals, laundry, or errands.” It seems like any of those three would go a lot further for those folks. Is it easier to just say “prayers”? And then some folks don’t have to deal with the ugliness of actually being around cancer and witnessing first hand its deleterious effects? Is it plain and simple a cop out? I’ve been blessed and fortunate to have received all of the above, and all have worked wonders for my recovery. I just think that the contribution should suit the one in need. And being a true friend means knowing that person’s belief and value system intimately enough to give them something that would actively promote their healing.
It leads to a larger discussion of dealing with good news vs. bad news. We see on social media that images of puppies, beautiful people, and joy get the most “likes,” while suffering, despair, and despondency get crickets. I’ve seen this first hand on my posts. When things are good, everyone is happy. When things are bad, no one knows what to do and they panic. Panic most always leads to ineffective behavior or even no action whatsoever. When I post bad news, and I get zero response, I feel lonely, unloved, and abandoned. What bridges the gap? Education. I used to get angry and frustrated. Now I use this as an opportunity to educate. Don’t do what’s easy – step up, show up, and do what works.
What you should know…
Let’s go back to cancer. Here are a few basic need-to-knows about cancer: first, it’s NEVER fine. It is insidious, and a cancer diagnosis stays with you for life. Yes, you celebrate milestones of getting past it at its various stages, but the fear of recurrence is always with you; every second of every minute of every day. AND the physical, mental, and emotional effects of pumping actual poison (or radiation or cutting up your organs) into your body to eradicate the cancer NEVER go away. They say 1 year of chemotherapy ages you 10 years. Well, folks, I can personally attest to that factoid.
To review my examples, what should these people have said? About the 30th chemotherapy session: “I know they never get easier. I am thinking of you today.” About the clear scan: “That’s great news! Hope it continues to go well!” About rehabilitating my life: “I can’t even imagine (or if you are a fellow survivor), I understand. Hope every day you feel stronger!”
More people are battling cancer and thankfully more people are surviving cancer than ever before. Cancer totally sucks but coming together to seek a deeper understanding of this disease and how we can best know how to help those in greatest need can surely bring us all “closer to fine.”
The Road Well Traveled
Self-Awareness is an underestimated skill. I know what I’m not, but the journey to figure out what I am has been a rather complex one. As a matter of fact, I’m still not quite sure. But at age 47, I think I’m getting closer.
First, I was a precocious, inquisitive child, who wanted to be the first woman President of the United States. Then I got kind of lost in my 20’s, wanted to host my own talk show, and stayed on track enough to attain two Master’s degrees. Then I discovered I was pretty good at sales. And then I got punched in the face. And then I found out I was pretty good at training. And then I got punched in the face again. And punched yet a third time… And now I’m the star of my own, “where are they now?”
Who is “Stacy”? I love people, I have a few letters after my name, and I can get up after getting knocked down. I don’t think any of this is going to make me rich. I wanted to get rich in my “lost 20’s.” Now I just want to survive, learn how to cook, raise my family, and make a difference.
So what really happened and where am I going with this? In a nutshell, I worked in sales, training, and healthcare. Then my younger son was diagnosed with profound disabilities and special needs to the point that he will never walk or talk and requires total one-on-one care for the rest of his life. Then I was diagnosed with Stage IV colorectal cancer that will entail maintenance treatment for the rest of my life. Then my mom was diagnosed with unexplainable total hearing loss that required a cochlear implant and adaptations to her lifestyle to give her some ability to communicate.
But I Get Up Again!
The end, right? On the contrary, that’s just the beginning! Just to review: gift of gab, lots of smarts, lots of experience, lots of adversity. Do I get bitter and curse out the universe? Do I curl up into the fetal position, grow my hair long, and become a recluse? Well, no. I’m a person who LOVES people – I used to enjoy just talking to them, but now I more enjoy listening to them and helping them. And I’m feisty, which really means that I’m not happy unless I’m pushing the envelope in some fashion. I’m a disruptor. Since the world of cancer and disabilities needs more inclusion and acceptance, I’ve chosen that particular area to focus my still yet undeterred energy.
Introducing https://stacyhurt.net – a way for me to take all of this and help the world, either through advocacy, speaking, or consulting. AND, better yet, a way for my supporters to help the world through showcasing efforts of humanitarianism with the hashtag #DoingAwareness (read more about that here).
A couple of other important things you should know about me are that I’m super positive, super determined, and I love to make people laugh. You’d better believe that those qualities have helped me beat down Stage IV colorectal cancer (when I had tumors in 27 places…), helped me raise Emmett to do more than the doctors ever thought he would, and help my mom not be confined by deafness. Three awful things happened to me without any warning or reason. (Isn’t there some rule of three somewhere?) We’re putting all of that behind us, moving forward, and encouraging others to do the same!
So you see, it’s so much more than a website to me. It’s a lifetime of twists and turns that have defined my mission. Tons of people have stood beside me and cheered for me along my road of fighting cancer. They all said, “you are inspiring more people than you’ll ever know.” This just takes that to a whole new level! So I have YOU to thank for this. YOU are the driving force behind my endeavors! Come celebrate life with me on https://stacyhurt.net, and share it with someone who needs a boost. And THANK YOU for helping me to figure out what I want to be while I’m still growing up!
Accepting Change…It’s Kind of My Mantra
I’ve been out of the actual working world for 2 1/2 years in my bubble of fighting Stage IV colon cancer and raising my special needs/disabled son. Wow-how the communication world has changed! I’ve always been a sort of traditional, slow to change person in the world of technology. As I type this, I’m not afraid to tell you that it is on an almost 7 year old laptop that I’ve brought back from the dead like 3 times, but that I refuse to give up because it’s pink (my formerly favorite color before my new sentimental favorite, blue, for colon cancer awareness). I hang on for dear life with basic Word and Power Point – forget it with Google Docs or Prezi…that’s not happening! Too much going on in my life to learn new technology. So I embrace my “Techno Dinosaur” ways which team nicely with my “Think Extinct” plan and mantra to beat down cancer for good…(see my website; prehistoric times have never been so relevant!)
I spoke at the Early Age Onset – Colorectal Cancer Symposium in New York City last weekend. It was fantastic! I was back in my element – contributing to thought provoking discussions around lowering the screening age and more focused dialogue between provider and patient about diagnosis. Big Stace was BACK! In the groove and using my skills. So that part of it was awesome and comfortable!
What threw me for a loop was that people don’t listen to presentations any more and take notes. Noooooo sir! Those days are long gone! NOW, people are “social media’ing” the whole time – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Live Stream…take your pick. Hashtags, photos, posts, etc. At one point, I texted my husband and he texted back “You’re being rude! Listen to the presentation!” And I texted, “NOBODY is listening to the presentation! They are all on their devices DOING; not listening!”
Let me be clear – this is an observation; not a criticism. It is the “new” participation. It’s almost like you are not engaged if you are not on social media. If you’re not promoting your event via social media, you’re not doing your job, so it’s a key pillar of effective marketing. But after seeing this behavior, it really impacted me as a speaker to change how I present. Since people are multi-media’ing the whole time, they only catch snippets of what you present. So you have to find ONE thing/slide/message, and DRILL IT, because trust me, that is the ONLY thing they are going to remember. Back in the old days, that was pretty much the case because of people’s short attention span or lack of focus. NOW that is compounded one thousand fold by the distraction of technology. And this type of short-sightedness really mirrors now how we get our information in general – by scrolling through snippets on our devices. It has become a give it to me now, snippet world, my friends, so you better make it good!
A Snapshot of Social Media
Above in my title, I promised a little tutorial of sorts on social media from a 46 year old, behind the times mom (who just happens to have cancer and a special needs/disabled child). So I’ll make this short and simple, in snippets so you can scroll through it…(I’m catching on)
- Facebook – for the 25+ crowd; to post pictures and commentary, as much or as little as you want
- Snapchat – for the younger crowd; when a picture can get a point across and then be out of sight and mind
- Instagram – combination of pictures and short verbiage
- Twitter – this seems to be the one that best promotes an event or a cause; it’s instantaneous and grabs people’s attention quickly to involve them in a moment
- Live Stream/Podcast – such a great way to improve accessibility to an event or a topic for those who otherwise couldn’t be a part of it due to limitations or disabilities
I was gathered with 3 of my “inner circle” friends in January and we exchanged New Year’s resolutions. One of mine was to “utilize and disseminate purposeful media.” In other words, no random observations on Facebook. But rather I would use social media to educate, inform, and raise awareness. Let’s be honest – opinions are like a******s; everybody has them, so really, no one cares what you think. But when you give people a reason to get involved with something bigger than themselves to make the world a better place, that is empowering and impactful! You have to be about a cause beyond just yourself. What is your higher purpose? What is your mission? What mark will you leave on this world? Yes, raising good and respectful children is certainly part of it, but it’s the setting the example of your own global responsibility first…and then passing on to them. Let’s make social media positive, proactive, and passionate for yourself and for everyone else around you…teach, not taunt…preach, not point…rally, not rant, and most of all make those snippets special! Now excuse me while I check to see if I am trending…
The following conversation has taken place about me: “Did you hear about Stacy Hurt? You know, the one with the special needs child. She has Stage IV colorectal cancer?” (Weepy, defeated face) “Oh my gosh, that’s awful! When did that happen? She was so athletic and healthy! How is she doing?” (Scrunched up, horrified face). “She’s doing pretty well, I guess.” (Insert uncomfortable, uneasy face). And then the follow up questions: “How does she look? Did she lose her hair? Did she lose a lot of weight?” And then the subsequent comments: “That’s just awful. That’s terrible. That sucks. Poor Stacy.” (Both people walk away).
It’s ok. I know it happens. Before I was the one that people were talking about, I spoke this way about people I knew with cancer. You instantly become the hottest gossip in town; the latest person with cancer. And Stage IV…wow…that’s really hot gossip. “Will she pull through? Can she do it? I don’t know! Stay tuned! To be continued!” It’s not meant in a malicious way. It’s just human nature. Why do Us Magazine and People Magazine sell by the truckloads? Because people are curious about people. Their ups, but let’s face it, especially their downs. Why is that? No one wants to see anyone down. Is it because we’re all down and misery loves company? Or do people want to put their troubles into perspective? “Man, my life sucks, but it could be worse. Look at Stacy.” Or do they just thrive on drama?
My whole cancer battle has been chronicled in social media. I’ve noticed that the posts that get the most hits are the ones with pictures of me going to chemo. Why? Because people just want to see how I look. It’s ok…I get it. It used to bother me, but now I just realize that that’s how it goes with cancer. People are scared of cancer and they compartmentalize in into buckets they understand: How does she feel? How does she look? How is she doing? And then they run from it…far, far away.
DO NOT BE SCARED OF CANCER! Cancer should be scared of us! WE are the ones who will defeat it! WE have the tools, the science, the technology, and the faith! Fear takes over when we feel powerless, and in today’s world, we are far from powerless against cancer! Furthermore, some of us who are warriors (not all of us) want to talk about cancer. We WANT you to go deeper than just the surface stuff, into the real everyday stuff. We want you to ask us how we are REALLY feeling. And through a discussion, we can allay your fears. We’re still the same us! Let’s change that whole dialogue above and have a teaching moment here – and please spread the word! I’m not going to use me, because I have an incredible support system and I am enormously blessed with resources. So I am going to use my fictitious friend, “Sally” here to illustrate.
“Did you hear about Sally? She has Stage (insert) (insert) cancer.” (Strong, angry, ticked off face). “Oh my gosh, that’s awful! (Thinking, processing face) So I assume you know Sally personally or have a way to contact her. What would be the best way I could help her? Does she need a meal? May I visit her? May I send her a card?” (Empowered face). (Both people brainstorm together about what they can do to help Sally). Did you see worry or doubt or dismay in this dialogue? No. Because you are taking control of the situation. (Oh by the way, you can also insert all of the normal, human nature questions here too – you’re allowed to now).
See the difference? People are going to talk about you…that’s a given. And you can talk about my cancer situation all you want, as long as you DO SOMETHING! You do not have license to gossip about Sally, unless you help Sally; then and only then are you are a part of the solution, not the problem. As long as you are talking about something bad, you are giving it space and energy to grow and pervade. But the minute that you turn the tables on it, face it down, and steal its momentum, you are stopping the negativity in its tracks and making it better. And you do that at the very ground level.
Cancer is no different. Everyone talks about, “Why can’t they find a cure for cancer??” That cure begins with YOU! Instead of just talking about a person with cancer, HELP a person with cancer, and immediately you are part of their recovery. Again, everyone walks around saying, “Wow, I hope Sally can beat cancer”, but what did you do for Sally, other than just talk about her? Talking about her isn’t going to do her any good. Reaching out to Sally in some way (if/when she is accepting) will do her a WORLD of good and CRUSH those nasty cancer cells! Reaching out will also break down the fear, on both sides – your fear of cancer, and Sally’s fear that you have abandoned her because she is now battling this awful enemy.
We’ve all heard the saying, “Talk is cheap.” But guess what…so are greeting cards these days! As a matter of fact, if you price out your time checking all of that social media propaganda, it would’ve been cheaper to buy Sally a card, send her a text, or drive through and grab her a Starbucks. (ok, maybe not the Starbucks itself…) Remember, the END of cancer BEGINS with fearlessly taking action against it with someone you care about today.
Before I fell ill, I had a pretty large career. As you may know, I have two Master’s degrees and was fortunate enough to have a great run in pharmaceutical sales before retiring for a few years to set up care, nursing, and therapies for Emmett while seeing Griffin off to Kindergarten. As a pharmaceutical rep, I made a ton of money, had great benefits, won several awards, and proved to the world and myself that I could sell ice to eskimos. Then an amazing job fell into my lap (thanks to my neighbor) to head up Training and Development for a compound pharmacy based in Alabama. I was recommended for the position by a few of my former colleagues who respected me and trusted my decision making abilities. I have to admit, it was quite flattering. So just to review – Money; check! Power; check! Confidence in one’s abilities-check!
I don’t know if any of you are old like me and used to watch VH1’s “Behind the Music.” Every episode was the same. The announcer would chronicle a band’s rise to fame and glory, and ultimately, the band would get into some drug and/or money problems and hit rock bottom. The announcer had the same line every time: “So and so were on top of the world, and then…tragedy struck.” They would cut to a commercial and he would say, “When we return, the road back…” Well, insert here that same “Behind the Music” scenario. “All was going pretty well for Stacy, and then…tragedy struck. When we return, the road back…”
You are all well versed on the tragedy part. For all intents and purposes, let’s assume that I am on the “road back.” I had to give up that fantabulous job at the compound pharmacy for several reasons. One, I had to travel to Alabama once a month, which obviously I can’t do due to risk of infection, fatigue, and my rigorous treatment schedule. Two, it involved a lot of typing which I can’t do because of the permanent chemo-induced neuropathy in my fingers and hands. And three, I just can’t be held accountable for any projects because I don’t know how I’ll be feeling mentally, physically, or emotionally on any given day.
So here I am: smart, witty, and competent with tons of skills, relegated to collecting disability (thank you American taxpayers). Fortunately, my husband has an excellent job, and we’ve saved some money for a rainy day (by the way, it’s pouring) over the years to the point where they won’t shut the lights off in my home if I don’t work. I’m not saying that I am walking around in a fur coat, driving a Ferrari, and eating caviar. There are tons of out of pocket costs both for Emmett and me that insurance doesn’t cover. We just live within our means and try to make ends meet like everyone else. My heart aches for my fellow warriors who are in my same situation but are the breadwinners or single parent/provider of their households. The medical bills from cancer or any chronic disability are staggering.
I have this “need/want” to earn money. I guess it goes back to my blue collar, Polish roots where if you’re not making money, you’re not contributing. You know, like, “what are you bringing to the table?” And I guess money is the commodity on which I’ve always based my self worth. This is pressure I put solely on myself. My wonderful husband doesn’t want me to work. He wants me to get better, be happy, and nurture a loving home for our family. My mom told me that I “need to be more of a mother” which I’m pretty sure doesn’t translate that way, but more to what my husband said above. The problem is that I really don’t cook, I don’t bake, I don’t sew, I don’t iron, I don’t garden…well, you get the picture. My resume for “homemaker” reflects that I am unqualified for the job. I’m a pretty good cleaner/organizer, and that certainly makes up for a lot of other shortcomings.
I believe that life unfolds in phases. Remember, the “money-check, power-check, confidence in one’s abilities-check” part? What more could one ask for in a successful career? I am coming to terms with the fact that that phase of my life has passed. Been there, done that. I am in the “give back, pay it forward” phase of my life. I often say that all of these challenging personal trials happened to me for a reason. They did. For me to show others how to cope with such matters. Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. There is no “pay”- there is passion, purpose, and pride, which in my eyes can certainly qualify as enough “pay” to fill my heart with more meaning and riches than ever imaginable. My “work” is lighting the way for fellow warriors and being a voice for those who won’t or can’t speak for themselves. I am humbly honored to accept this mission. And since all of you are my “boss,” make sure you give me a performance appraisal. I appreciate the feedback and promise to always strive to do better!
When I worked for Merck, their motto was, “Do what you love and the profits will follow.” I remember answering the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” with, “I have no idea; I just know I want to work with people.” I am 46, still growing up, not knowing what I want to do. But I am working with people, whom I love, and every single day I am alive, the profits follow. Thank you for reading this and have a fulfilling day!
Author’s Note: Happy 13th Birthday to my son, Griffin, who is one of the 3 miracles in my life. I love you Griffin, and I am so proud of the man you are growing into with your compassion for the world.
Hi everyone & thanks for reading! As you all probably know by now, I am a “God” person. It’s my belief. I would never want to impose my faith views on anyone else. With that being said, I have a lot of friends who are “non-God” people, and I have the utmost respect for them. Some people send me prayers, some people send me positive energy. Some people send me flowers to convey their thoughts, some people send me food. Hey, I will take it ALL without judgement! You may have heard me say: “I’m like Sandals; I’m all-inclusive!” I mean it. So just to warn you, this is a God post. My higher voice is God. Like my one friend, yours may be Gucci. Yours may be your significant other, or Buddha, or a sunflower. Whatever higher voice speaks to you, listen to it and trust it.
For some reason, my older son Griffin’s room is special. I have made life changing decisions in there and also had some not so good intuitions. It was in Griffin’s room when I was pregnant with Emmett that I said to my mom, “Something is not right with this pregnancy. I feel it.” I had no inkling to sat that except from a higher voice, because I had a better pregnancy with Emmett than with Griffin. You can call it a gut instinct. I call it God. Anyhow, one month after my diagnosis, I was making Griffin’s bed. I started thinking to myself how much I wanted to beat cancer to live to see my boys grow up; to see what each of them would do/be/accomplish in their lives. To see how Emmett would prove the doctors wrong by walking and talking; to witness what medical breakthrough would enrich his existence. I was still actively working full-time as the head of Training and Development of a pharmaceutical company. I just kept asking, “What can I do to beat this? What do I have to do to beat this?” Suddenly, I just plopped down on the edge of his bed, as if someone sat me down and said, “I’ll make you a deal. I’ll get you through this if you devote the rest of your life to helping others with this disease and with whatever life demolishing situation they have to encounter.” Nobody said that out loud, but I said out loud, “It’s a deal.” And then all of these thoughts flashed through my head of always making everyone laugh, of always being the life of the party, of always speaking up, speaking out, and asking the questions that everyone wanted to know the answer to but was afraid to ask. From the time I was 6, I was made for talking. Time to put it to use for the greater good. THIS was why it all happened to me – Emmett, me…it all made sense now. Time for a career change. Bad Stuff + My Big Mouth = LIFE for me and a lot of others! (so far, it’s a plan of purpose and passion, not pay- LOL…)
So you wonder: why did she put it all out there on Facebook? Why does she do all of this speaking? NOW YOU KNOW!!! (See, reading Stacy’s blog DOES have its plusses….you get the inside story!)
Hokey, right? God speaking to me? It gets worse. I love Fleetwood Mac – from the time that my mom bought Rumours when I was 7, that was it. I would play that album and dance around my basement like I was Stevie Nicks. I fell in love with her. Her voice, her style, her lyrics, her attitude. When the song “Gypsy” was released, I would tell my mom how much I adored it, and she’d say, “That’s because you’re a gypsy! Never sitting still! Always looking for your next adventure!” I used to always dress up as a gypsy for Halloween and I got a kick out of fortune telling. Whenever I need to calm my nerves and recenter myself, I play that song. On my first trip to Hillman when I was sitting in Dr. Bahary’s office scared to death (literally), I asked Drew to play Gypsy for me. To this day, every time I get chemo and they start my IV, I play Gypsy. Every scan I have, I play Gypsy. So it’s no surprise that when Fleetwood Mac played in Pittsburgh one month after my diagnosis, after I’d made my “deal”, and they played the song “Gypsy”, I cried. They were tears of a million different emotions. And Griffin was there with Drew and me. God’s voice spoke again to me during that song and said, “Remember our deal. Trust in it. Do it. Trust Me.”
So whatever drives you, whatever motivates you, whatever higher voice speaks to you; listen to it, trust it, do it.
To the gypsy that remains; She faces freedom; With a little fear;
I have no fear; I have only love; And if I was a child; And the child was enough;
Enough for me to love; Enough to love – Gypsy, Fleetwood Mac
For Stacy, it always gets back to love! Take care & stay strong!
Anyone who knows me will say beyond a shadow of a doubt, I am a control freak. When I am working with a contractor on a home project or talking to my sons’ teachers at school, I always caution them; “I am a Type A+++. Total control freak.” At least I admit it… A planner, a list maker, a rule follower, a true Virgo in every sense of the word…whatever you want to call it, I am in control at all times. I give excellent advice, and I expect everyone to follow it to the letter. Anything less is unacceptable. Except for my Penn State college years (which stretched waaay too far into my 20’s & early 30’s before kids) that were spent much of the time in a drunken haze, I’ve been in control. And even then, I CHOSE to be out of control. I controlled my out of controlness…
So you can imagine how I felt when Emmett was diagnosed. My first question was, “What did I do wrong that my child would have to suffer like this?” Was it something I ate? Drank? Was exposed to? The doctors had the same response: It was nothing you did, it just happened. Bad genes. REALLY hard to accept even to this day, 10 years later. I watch pregnant women smoking, drinking, eating junk food but yet having completely healthy kids. I did everything right, took all of my vitamins, exercised, and yet my child was born with a totally debilitating chromosome disorder. I was 35 years old. I didn’t get it at all. Everything I did to control the situation didn’t matter. It is what it is.
A person should only have to go through that type of inexplicable agony once in a lifetime. Well, put your seatbelt on and hang onto your hat… spoiler alert: it happened again. When I woke up from my colonoscopy on September 11th, 2014 and the GI doc said the words that a person NEVER wants to hear: “It is most likely cancer.” Of course this control freak’s response was, “Cancer? You’re telling me I have cancer? How could that be? I do everything right.” I always ate pretty healthy and lived an active lifestyle since I am a lifelong athlete. But my husband and I even cranked if up a notch in the 8 years since Emmett’s diagnosis. Our goal was to be as fit and strong as we could be to raise our 2 boys – namely Emmett, since he needs 24 hour care. Wait for it…the doctors had the same response again: It was nothing you did, it just happened. Bad genes. They even added in a new one for an extra added bonus: Bad luck. Thanks guys. I appreciate it. No risk factors, no family history, signs and symptoms that my PCP thought were IBS or internal hemorrhoids revealed thee worst possible scenario and most unexpected diagnosis: Stage IV colorectal cancer.
Why? Why did all of this occur? ESPECIALLY since I did all of these wonderful things to try and live a good, clean life. I am a person of great faith (a God person), so I did a lot of soul searching. What did I do wrong in my life to deserve all of this? I really always thought of myself as a pretty decent person. I helped old ladies cross the street. I held doors open for people. I (more or less) spoke kindly of everyone and didn’t make fun of anyone, even when other kids kid. People asked me, “Are you mad at God?” I would always say, “No. I am mad at myself for whatever I did wrong.” But what was bothering this control freak was that I couldn’t figure out exactly what it was that I DID wrong – and that is baffling. And what’s worse is that my illness that I apparently had nothing to do with not only affects me, but my parents, my husband, my other son, my friends, my employer, the rest of my family, etc. All of these other people are burdened. THAT’S the real bummer and guilt trip for me; that my illness drags down so many other folks, and that I can’t fully care for my sweet, beautiful angelic son, who needs his mother more than anything.
It’s really a sick, cruel joke. I picture something that looks like Jabba the Hutt in the shape of a big cancer tumor just shaking its belly and laughing at me, like “Ha ha, Stacy. Your life SUCKS. I took it all away from you. Your healthy life. Your healthy child. Everything sucks. Sit around and cry! Fold! Give up!”
But alas, friends – the answer is NO!!! This is when our hero rises like a phoenix! In addition to being a control freak, I am also the most determined person I know. I love a challenge. And I’ll never forget what my 2 time cancer-surviving friend and mentor told me when I was diagnosed, “This is where the stubborn Pollock kicks in!” (she is also 100% Polish and today is her birthday! Cheers!) I will NOT BE DEFEATED!
I have a lot of people now reaching out to me who are battling cancer. I am blessed and lucky to be doing really well (currently no evidence of disease). They all ask me, “What did you do to be winning right now? I want to do what you did. Give me your playbook.” And this is what I tell them, “Control the things that you can control: diet, exercise, stress level, attitude. Beyond that, trust your gut instinct, your doctors, and God (or the universe for my non-God friends).” Swapping control for trust has been my biggest turning point.
Am I still a control freak? Yes. Do I control everything like I once thought? No. Do I still question the whole thing? Yes. But am I ok with answers like, “It just happened?” Weeeelll….yes and no. I’d say I am doing a lot better than I was 10 years ago. The fact is that life in general “just happens.” The good, the bad, and the ugly. But live in the moment when it happens and control HOW YOU REACT TO IT. That’s the difference.
Author’s Note: So many people thought this was about death, that I had to insert “from cancer” so everyone didn’t think I was exiting life. That’s the FARTHEST thing from my mind!
My background is in business, so I keep in touch with my roots these days, mostly through my husband (a Finance guy). He had a Schneider Downs (a local tax auditing firm) newsletter laying around and I read an article entitled above. As I read it, I noticed the parallels between selling a business and beating cancer. I credit the author, Mr. Imran S. Mohiuddin for the inspiration behind this blog post.
From Day 2, (Day 1, I was convinced I was going to die) my whole strategy was to beat cancer. It was in fact an exit strategy. Much like an intent to sell a business and make a profit, I had to develop a plan to get where I needed to be. The “profit” would be coming out the other side better than I was before I fell ill. I budgeted myself 2 years to get to cancer free, and 5 years to kick it completely. So far, my plan and God’s plan (I’m a “God” girl…) match. A friend of mine asked me recently, “What turned the corner for you? What was it that gave you the strength to fight and win?” Good question. I told her it was ultimately my mind and my attitude. Once I convinced myself that I was going live, live well, and not let cancer stand in the way of my LIFE, that was it. I shifted into “exit strategy from cancer” mode, and I never looked back.
I changed my entire diet, sleeping habits, exercise/fitness regimen, stress load, and perspective. In his article, Imran says “Start by Building a Core Team”, and that’s exactly what I did. I have a team of “skilled advisors” who I assembled early in my process. I call them my “inner circle” and they know who they are. I have a lot of “friends” and “family”, but I found out through a counselor that not all “friends” and “family” can handle a serious illness. Some just flake out. I hear from my inner circle during EVERY SINGLE treatment week, and there have been 35 to date. They have BEEN THERE for me, rock solid when I needed them the most. I will treasure these people eternally and their steadfastness and loyalty are what have brought me to where I am today. I have many supporters but my inner circle have the “off social media” version of what’s really going on with me…good and bad.
Furthermore, Imran credits “well-organized files, powerful reporting capabilities, and tight operational controls” for higher valuations. I couldn’t agree more! I am EXTREMELY organized, I am super tough, and I don’t take B.S. from anyone! I think those are cancer warrior layman’s terms for Imran’s advice of getting the most bang for my cancer-kicking buck!
He states “regardless of valuation, the owner must continue to operate and grow the business.” I compare that to never slacking off in my fight and remaining vigilant no matter what. Just when you think it’s safe to go back in the water, sneaky cancer throws you a curve ball. So you always have to stay on top of your game. Can’t let up, even for a second. It requires tremendous discipline.
Finally, Imran discusses marketing. I have taken my fight public in an effort to “attract serious buyers”; cancer warriors who want to follow my plan and set themselves up for the best possible chance at success, or as Imran states “maximum value.” Much like in business, so many factors are out of our control. When fighting cancer, it is imperative to dominate the factors that we CAN control!
Image Credit: Eva Lin Photography
I am humbly honored to be getting more and more questions about exactly what I did to “THINK EXTINCT” and beat down cancer while caring for my 2 boys, one of whom is profoundly disabled. I’ve never been an expert on anything, but I’m starting to feel like (at the very least) a very valuable resource to so many of my friends who are battling. That is very cool. I just want to help.
I also got some positive feedback on the videos. They weren’t “trending” or anything, but they were getting the good word of hope out there, and making some people laugh. So we’ll explore and tweak that concept a little bit more in the future…
I decided that I’d walk through my journey here a little bit at a time; or at least different “days in the life of Stacy,” which are always interesting to say the least. I’m going to break it down in my usual Stacy straight talk way to give you the low down which includes cancer, my disabled son, Emmett, and various other adventures. I know you can hardly contain your excitement.
I went for a Reiki session last Monday. There’s a lot of controversy that surrounds Reiki, since it doesn’t have any hard core, evidence based data to prove its effectiveness. However, it must hold some validity since my integrative oncologist includes it as part of her consultative program. To me, even the most tried and true conventional medicine is only as good as its application and follow through. In other words, back to my “THINK EXTINCT” mantra, if you put your mind behind something and believe in it, it has the best chance of succeeding. It doesn’t conflict with my faith at all. So with that being said, I personally affirm the positive outcomes of Reiki in my world of existence.
My regular Reiki master is my friend, Terri Wahl. You can read more about Reiki on her website but basically it is promotes good energy and restores balance. My first Reiki session was while I was at UPMC-Shadyside recovering from my surgery. A CRNP administered it. The Reiki Master lays their hands on various parts of the client’s fully clothed body. I can actually feel Terri’s hands getting hot and I see her sweat, so I know something is going on. I feel dizzy and lightheaded when I sit up from the table; again signs… And when I leave, I feel really good. Terri is a very grounded, upward thinking individual. We both enjoy an appreciate the natural soothing energy of Sedona, AZ. At this point in my life and my battle, I only surround myself with people who lift me up higher than I am currently. She is one of those people – she makes you feel better about yourself on a variety of levels. She is professional, private, and pleasant. Therefore, she is an integral part of “Team Stacy: Healing Unit.”
Terri is also a spiritual medium. I will expound on that part of the story in my book, but it’s pretty cool.
After you’ve done your research and you have more specific questions, give me a holler.
THINK EXTINCT, my friends.
Since I can’t steal “March Madness,” I thought I’d go with this! Plus, there certainly was a lot of magic, and unlike my whole diagnosis and treatment, this is an experience that I WANT to relive… over and over! So, I excitedly wanted to tell you about my amazing March (and we may just spill into April by a few days…).
First, was the official news that I was NED (no evidence of disease) on March 1st, the first day of Colon Cancer Awareness Month. I’ve received so many signs along my journey, and this was certainly one of them. We met with the same lung surgeon and the radiation oncologist who declared that my radiation treatments last October produced “satisfactory results” (surgeon speak) and now, it was determined I did not require additional radiation at this time. That report, coupled with my first clear scan at the end of January declared me NED. Since Stage IV colon cancer has one of the highest recurrence rates, the doctors don’t talk about “remission” or “cure” for at least 5 years, which means I keep going for chemo every 3 weeks indefinitely. They call it “maintenance chemo” to keep the cancer away (that’s the goal). Maybe it’s a lower dose, but I still feel sick, fatigued, and generally cruddy. And I’m still on my 48 hour poison pump, which is a pain. Many survivors have been NED and then suffer a recurrence somewhere, so I have to stay hypervigilant and on top of this shit. Next scan is at the end of May. Feel free to start the focused prayers/positive vibes now…
March 2nd was my bigger than life (literally) appearance on the Nasdaq screen in Times Square to “Join Genentech in the fight against colon cancer.” Thank God it only rolled occasionally and for one day. No one should be subjected to “Big Stace” quite that big. But what a trip! Every time I watch Shark Tank and see Kevin O’Leary standing in front of that screen at the opening credits, I always shout, “that was me!!” Just getting the word out… in a BIG way!
March 4th was my next great day – National “Dress in Blue” Day for a future free of Colon Cancer. A couple of friends of mine (Lynne Yater and Alissa McLellan) organized a fundraiser for the Colon Cancer Alliance in my honor, which was hosted St. Clair Fitness Center. The girls ran a few pretty intense exercise and body pump classes – all I could do was witness in sheer awe… I took part in the brunch! LOL! I got to tell my story to a gym full of people who appreciate taking charge of one’s health through sweat and hard work! I admire these folks! One highlight was meeting Arthur Moats (Pittsburgh Steeler), who was there to work out. And he listened to my story! What an honor! Now I have heard of Arthur Moats but when I was introduced, I just wasn’t putting it together (FAIL!), so I looked like somewhat of an idiot. Meanwhile, Arthur is one the most sincere, down to earth, gracious individuals that I have ever met. So respectful – so humble. Wow! It was really a pleasure to make his acquaintance. THANK YOU Lynne & Alissa for a GREAT morning filled with positivity and lots of oxygen flowing in that room!
I hopped the T (I know… hard to believe that a big celebrity like me didn’t have a car service… scoff, scoff) downtown the same day to speak at the UPMC Integrative Oncology Breathing Room event at the Fairmont Hotel for my buddy, visionary oncologist, Dr. Lanie Francis. Again, I told my story (backed up by my UPMC Medical Mondays video) to a room full of supportive folks who believe in the power of touch, movement, nutrition, and mindfulness to augment effectiveness and offset side effects of traditional chemotherapy. This is my 2nd year participating in this event that raises money to provide services such as yoga, reiki, massage, and acupuncture to patients who cannot afford them. Until we can get the insurances to wake up and reimburse for these treatments, UPMC continues to rely on outside support and is constructing a Wellness Suite at Hillman Cancer Center to accommodate a space for providers and patients. It is a “labor of love”, and I am proud to be a part of it.
[Breathing Room Images Credit: Kylie Kristine Photo]
Next up – March 16th: partnering with Genentech for a Satellite Media Tour. So what is a Satellite Media Tour, you ask? Good question! My treating oncologist, Dr. Vincent Reyes, and I sat in a studio in downtown Pittsburgh (after a heavy makeup application – for me, not Dr. Reyes) while different radio and television stations called in back to back for us to speak live or taped about the importance of screening for colon cancer. I told my story and Dr. Reyes was the resident expert to speak about incidence and treatment options. It was a loooong day being that “on”, but we had so much fun! Dr. Reyes and I both love the camera, so we took it super seriously, but were just able to be ourselves, which made it super comfortable. We joked that we need a road show, because our relationship really showed through, which was what I wanted; as well as to impress my motto: “if it can happen to me, a total healthy rule follower, then it can happen to anyone! DON’T IGNORE SYMPTOMS!”
Other than that, I wrote an article for Everyday Health, was interviewed for another article in Dr. Oz’s magazine, managed to fit in 2 chemo weeks and celebrated a blessed, happy Easter! (He is Risen! Alleluia!). Well, I am exhausted just writing this, and I’m in a treatment week yet again, so I am heading off to rest. Thank you for reading this and for supporting my mission and passionate purpose. I really mean it when I say, I love you!
I haven’t blogged in a while. Really enjoyed my 2 off weeks. My last 2 off weeks weren’t so swift… had radiation, numerous stressful doctors’ appointments, and grieved some loss. These 2 weeks were wonderful! Felt great, enjoyed some down time, and was mellow. It was very nice and calm, which is good for healing.
But there’s something I have to get off my chest. What is the deal with these parents acting so immature? If I hear one more story about a parent being drunk at a kids’ event/party/sports practice, etc, I am going to lose it. What the hell are you people doing??? And this isn’t “oh, Stacy’s just grouchy because she can’t drink.” No – it’s called “Stacy is a grown up.”
Let me clarify – I’m all about having a few (too many) cocktails. I’m the one who sends people on trips and says, “Drink 10 for Stacy!” The trips where they are NOT with their kids!! Or events where no kids are around. Hey, have a field day!! If you’re not driving, get loaded! Whatever floats your boat! My husband and I host an annual adult neighborhood holiday party. Last year, I was the only sober one in the room, I had a blast seeing how happy all of my tipsy neighbors were!! But I am hearing an increasing trend of parents drinking and getting drunk at kids’ events. WHY??? Cannot you not control yourself? Do you think it’s cool? It’s not cool. As a matter of fact, it’s down right embarrassing to your kids and to yourself.
I view life in phases. I had an EXCELLENT “party” phase! It started at Penn State and stretched into my 20’s. It was a good run. I acted like a fool and made bad choices plenty of times. I was never arrested, and no one got hurt. But folks, IT’S OVER! I am speaking to those of you like me, in your 40’s, who have kids who are watching your every move. It’s time to move on and act responsibly! I’m not saying to not be at the pool and have a beer or 2 with your neighbors while the kids are swimming. A drink to take the edge off is welcomed and appreciated. But to lose all sense of reality because you are drunk in front of your kids is absurd! I’m sorry – tell me again why we have to have a drunk fest at kids’ sports events? It’s not about us – it’s about our kids!!! We are the parents, remember? If you want to get bombed, lock yourself in your basement when the kids go to bed and go to town. But if you are with your kids, be an adult and get a hold of yourself.
One of the worst stories I heard was that a dad was at an Indian Princess event with his daughter. He is a prominent physician. He got so drunk at the overnight camp, that he urinated all over himself and passed out in his urine in the hallway. Yes, I even saw a picture of said event. Are you kidding me? That poor daughter. And the guy is a doctor? I wouldn’t be referring patients to that guy any time soon…
As you know, I try to challenge all of us (including Big Stace here) to push ourselves to be better human beings in general. So, if you are reading this, and you’re like, “uh oh, this is me…”, then it might be time to do a little bit of self-evaluation and take it down a notch, because if I am hearing about this (and I pretty much live in a cave these days…) then it is becoming an issue worth examining. If you are witness to such behavior, please do the right thing for the kids and give your friend a gentle tap on the shoulder, so as to say, “you may want to stop drinking now for the sake of many.” It’s really not about us any more – it’s about being an example to the younger generation that is embodied by integrity and self-respect.
Enjoy a peaceful weekend,
A lot of people have been asking my thoughts on the new World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines linking red and processed meat to an increased risk of cancer, specifically colorectal cancer (by the way, that’s what I have!). If you google this topic, it seems that everyone has their own take. Of course the dairy farmers are all up in arms that it will hurt their business. You have the medical community taking the hard line, then you have the NY Times that’s like, “Eh, what’s a little red meat?! The risk is small.” (by the way, isn’t being at risk like pregnancy? Either you are or you aren’t).
So, my thoughts are these: there are A LOT of things that we all know aren’t good for us; cigarette smoking, overeating, eating too much sugar, drinking excess alcohol, eating a diet high in fat and sodium, not exercising, etc – but yet, for some odd reason, we do them anyhow. I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist to figure out that certain habits and behaviors simply “aren’t good for us.” A diet consisting of too much red meat and processed meat is really no different. Anything that is bad for us to begin with really shouldn’t be done at all. But if you insist on doing it, do it in moderation. I mean, I could sit here and preach to you, but will anyone really listen to me? I personally hate bacon (I’m told I am in the minority). AND I have colorectal cancer. SO, it would stand to reason that I give these things up completely. And YES, that’s what I’ve done. I would say that if you are a person who is “at risk”, either through a history of GI cancer especially in your family and/or GI ailments, you should probably do the same. The rest of you are on your own to make an informed decision.
Today’s takeaway is: don’t you owe it to yourself to give your health the best chance possible to succeed? You have ONE life (here that we know of…) and ONE body – do it some justice. If you are smoking, stop. If you aren’t exercising, start. If you are overeating, stop. Your body and your loved ones will thank you. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by doing these things. And stop making excuses! Get your shit together and DO IT! Focus your mind and abilities towards these goals and START RIGHT NOW! I’m not saying buy a professional juicer or purchase one of those high profile exercise programs. Just do better than you did yesterday in one of these 3 areas. You’ll be very proud of yourself. And I’ll be proud of you too.
Peace in your world tonight,
When I was in college, I was in an abusive relationship (more on that later…). My parents sent me for counseling, which of course I fought, but did for them. After a few useless sessions, I asked the psychologist, “Have you ever been in an abusive relationship?” She said, “No.” Then I asked, “Then what do you know about how I feel if you’ve never gone through it?” She looked at me blankly. I think she was trying to bridge to all of the “research” she’d done, but I walked out. I was 22 years old, and I think she was 40 something. No disrespect to research or anything, but until you’ve gone through something awful, devastating, and truly life changing (like it changes your life… every single day), you really don’t understand how someone feels about a certain situation. And now that I’m the one who is 40 something, I would not fight counseling for anything. If you get the right therapist, it can make a world of difference. I just didn’t have the right one.
Last night, I was speaking with a mom friend whose husband suffered a stroke resulting in a traumatic brain injury about a year ago. Ironically, his event happened the same time as my diagnosis within a few days. As a matter of fact, we both coached our kids’ volleyball teams and were talking about how much we were looking forward to the school year ahead, and how it was going to be filled with promise and opportunity. Both of our lives were shattered – our school year ahead was awful, tragic, and devastating; no promise; no opportunity – a lot of sadness and readjustment to our new lives. Through all I’ve gone through with Emmett and his unmyelinated brain, I could completely relate to all she was talking about. Her husband is non-verbal and he uses assistive technology to communicate – as does Emmett. She relayed to me how cumbersome it is, and how frustrating it can be to figure out wants and needs, among many other things. She was emotional, and I could tell that she doesn’t have a lot of people who have walked in her shoes. I listened intently and offered comfort and ideas where I thought appropriate. But I mostly listened with a sincere heart for all she is going through.
There is a fine line between “empathy” and “grandstanding.” My friend clearly wanted to vent and talk about her experience. It wasn’t my time to talk about my story with Emmett. In other words, when someone is pouring out their heart to you about their challenges, don’t start talking about yourself, even though you’ve been through the same thing. Just nod and listen- if they know your situation, they KNOW all you’ve been through. They don’t want to hear about it NOW. Just shut up and listen with a kind ear! You’ll get your chance at a different time!! When I was telling someone about how awful I felt after my surgery, they were like, “Oh yes, I had surgery, and I had this and that, and this is what I did, blah blah blah” SHUT THE HELL UP!! Can I just tell you how awful I feel? Can you just say, “That totally sucks, and I am so sorry. How can I help you?” Is that so tough? Sheesh!!
I was fortunate enough to have a booth at the UPMC Integrative Oncology Wellness Fair last Thursday. It was the best thing ever! I was “The Patient is IN. Meet Stacy.” My story was displayed for others to read, and then they just wanted to tell their story to someone who could empathize – someone who walks in their shoes – someone who “gets it.” If they talked, I listened. If they asked a question, I answered the best and most honestly I could. If they wanted a positive smile and word, I gave it to them. But I mostly listened.
As a take off of a quote from my mother-in-law, “Use your ears a little more, and your mouth a little less.” Yes, I can talk with the best of them… but I like listening 10 times more (little known fact…). So, today, mostly listen.
Peace in your world today,