The Whole You: Lessons Learned After Moving from Nurse to Patient
As a healthy, happy, vegan-eating, marathon-running, 39-year-old young mother with absolutely no family history of breast cancer, being diagnosed with the disease in 2010 literally shattered my world. As a health care professional, I very quickly moved from the side of the hospital bed into the hospital bed. This transition from nurse to patient taught me profound life lessons.
Lesson #1: Honor the feelings and let them out.
Prior to my experience with breast cancer, I was a grin-and-bear it kind of girl who was reluctant to share any feeling other than joy. However, once ‘Roid Rage (the intense feelings of anger brought on by pre-chemotherapy steroids) and Chemo-Sobby (tears at the drop of a hat brought on by the chemotherapy flowing through my veins), and the Freight Train of Fatigue (courtesy of the rads of radiation beamed into my body) entered my life, I had no choice but to let all of my feelings out. I was too exhausted to muster the energy to make them look “pretty.” And you know what? Expressing feelings, all feelings, happens to feel good. Really good. Though I no longer have ‘Roid Rage, Chemo-Sobby or the Freight Train of Fatigue (thank goodness!), I continue to openly express my feelings. And it still feels good! No, actually, it feels great!
Lesson #2: Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
As John Donne so memorably wrote, “No (wo)man is an island, entire of itself; every (wo)man is a piece of the continent.” It took a cancer diagnosis for me to really get the meaning of this. Prior to breast cancer, I was a do it yourself-er. “No, no…I’ve got this” was my mantra. The longer the To-Do list, the happier I was. Well, well, well, cancer had different plans for me. I was as sick as a person could get. Literally. Each and every treatment (surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and Tamoxifen) flattened me. Many days, the only thing on my To-Do list was making it to the bathroom. Being rocked to my core by treatment left me with no other option than to accept the help of family and friends. And guess what? It turns out that accepting the help of others is amazing. I now know that seeking support is both the loving and strong thing to do. It is dignified. And fueling. Support comes in a myriad of wonderfully helpful ways, from the girlfriend who comes over to share a cup of tea or drop off a meal to breast cancer support groups to events such as the LBBC Wellness Weekend. I know – without a doubt! – that by not only allowing, but welcoming support during treatment and recovery is a way to honor yourself and to honor those around you.
Lesson #3: Replace Should-ing with Joy.
I used to be a big “should-er.” I was always saying to myself, “I should go to this. I should do that.” True, there are certain things in the world that are not options, e.g., death, taxes, eating, and breathing (in the reverse order, of course!). Aside from these things, however, “should-ing” does not make for a happy life. I now make decisions based on whether or not it will make my heart sing and bring me joy. Did you know that we are biologically designed to be joyful? It’s true! So, I have altogether removed the word “should” from my vocabulary and when I am presented with choices, I ask myself, “Will this (person, place or thing) bring me joy?” I can’t begin to tell you what a profound difference this has made in my life!
While I will never – ever – say that breast cancer is a gift, I am incredibly grateful for these life lessons – these Silver Linings – that came from my diagnosis, treatment and recovery. It is now up to me to carry these life lessons into my life after cancer….joyfully.
Hollye Jacobs, RN, MS, MSW, is a speaker, nurse, social worker, child development specialist and the best-selling author The Silver Lining, A Supportive and Insightful Guide to Breast Cancer. She was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 39. Ms. Jacobs launched her award-winning blog, The Silver Pen, soon after her diagnosis, becoming an experienced, trusted friend all women need, holding their hand and providing support and guidance from the time of a diagnosis through treatment, recovery and survivorship.