Reflections on Re-Fresh: Reconnecting With Myself
A few months ago, Living Beyond Breast Cancer’s manager of community engagement, Lynn Folkman Auspitz, attended Re-Fresh Experience for Cancer Advocates, a 5-day program created by the nonprofit organization A Fresh Chapter. The program brought about 15 cancer advocates to the San Francisco area and provided them with the space and training to address cancer’s emotional toll and reconnect to what inspired them to join the advocacy movement in the first place. Below, Lynn, who has also experienced breast cancer herself, writes about the positive experience she had at the retreat and lists the three lessons that have stuck with her the most in the months since she attended.
In my position at LBBC, a large part of my focus is caring for others. Sometimes, while I am busy doing that, I forget to care for myself. We all know intellectually that we should take care of ourselves. However, our fast-paced lives, personal responsibilities and desire to serve others can quite often lead to burnout. You wake up one day and can no longer hide the truth from yourself: You are more depleted than you thought. I was not sure what to expect at Re-Fresh but after talking to Terri Wingham, CEO of A Fresh Chapter, I immediately knew I must rearrange my life and be part of this inaugural program.
One of my responsibilities at LBBC is to serve as a facilitator at volunteer trainings. I am always fascinated to watch the group energy unfold. I like to witness the magic that happens when you bring individuals together and see the group take on a life-force energy of its own. You bring together strangers and after their brief but intense and intimate time together, they leave with the knowledge that their hearts have been touched and their lives will be forever altered by those they met. I am no stranger to immersing myself in these dynamics, but it had been quite some time since I had been an active participant in such a group. Normally I am the organizer, the observer, the one making sure that everyone is well cared for and has what they need to ensure a successful and joyful experience. My responsibility at the retreat was not to facilitate, but rather to be fully present and in the moment, to look within, learn, connect and to be part of the magic of the group energy.
What fascinates me as equally as the transformative energy and deep connections groups of volunteers make with each other, is what transpires after you return back to your day-to-day life. When you can take a step back from your life, you are not immersed in your daily routine and obligations. Mine include feeding the cats, doing the laundry or caring for my dad in hospice. What happens when you return to your day-to-day routines and life responsibilities? I was curious: Which lessons would stick and change the way I live my life?
Here are the top three lessons from Re-Fresh that stuck with me. I hope they will help you as well:
Lesson 1: Highs and Lows – Joy and Sorrow
One of the learnings ingrained within my soul that I believe will forever change the way that I look at my life is "If I stuff my sadness, I also stuff my joy." I have to experience my full range of emotions in order to be present. I have a tendency to stuff my sorrow. I want the pain to go away quickly, I desire to cut it short, to not fully experience it and move on. Intellectually, I know better from the difficult times in my life. If I allow my emotions to flow, my sadness will move through me in its own way and it will end, at least for that period of time. In practice, this can be challenging. It goes against our human nature and we want to protect ourselves. However, having a deep awareness that if I stuff my sadness, I also stuff my joy has changed the way I live. Why in the world would I want to stuff my joy? I say bring on the full range of emotions as I desire to have my time here in life be richer and more satisfying.
I recently put this into practice at a volunteer training. Two members of the group passed away from metastatic breast cancer and it was the first time since then the rest of the group had the opportunity to be together in person. I wanted to hold the space for them to fully experience their sadness. The tears flowed, but so did joyful memories and laughter. We talked of how precious it was to have called them our friends and how much they enriched our lives. That leads me to lesson 2.
Lesson 2: Tribe and Acceptance
I feel like “tribe” is becoming a popular word lately. But that does not diminish the importance of your tribe, your people, the ones you can call on who fully accept you and support you with no judgement and really get you. They make you laugh, they hold space for you to cry and they give you a hug when needed. They are the ones you can count on no matter what, no matter how much time has passed. They are forever “your people.” But how do they become your people? That leads us to lesson 3.
Lesson 3: Vulnerability
Sometimes we get so caught up in the masks that we wear. My masks include being a dutiful daughter, a loving wife, a devoted employee. What lives underneath all of the roles that we play? What are my fears, what are my hopes, what are my greatest dreams? I learned at a young age that it is better to hide and be safe rather than reveal what is underneath my façade. Patterns and habits are with me wherever I may go. I may have been in a beautiful, peaceful setting, but I still carried my fearful self with me. I found out that when I do this, I am cheating myself and making myself small. When I share my true self, my relationships with the people in my tribe, and my life become richer with experiences and I am more authentic to who I really am deep inside.
Has participating in Re-Fresh helped me with my level of burnout as far as being a cancer advocate? Absolutely! I have more tools in my toolbox and they are at the ready for me to use as needed. My work at LBBC includes sadness, for instance, when I mourn volunteers who I consider friends who pass away of metastatic breast cancer. I also know in my heart that I have experienced great joy for having had the opportunity to know them. I remind myself, “If I stuff my sadness, I also stuff my joy, and who wants that kind of life? Not me!”
This season can be filled with both sadness and joy for many. I say express and experience both of them fully. Cry over those that you loved who may no longer be with you and fully embrace the joy that you experienced with them. Spend time with your tribe and if it feels right to you, be vulnerable.
Thank you to all my friends at Re-Fresh for allowing me to discover and live these most important lessons.