3 Main Reasons Why You May Be Afraid to Ask for Help, and What You Can Do About It

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Most people have a really hard time asking for help. I was one of these people. It was far more natural to be in a position to helping others, than to ask for help myself. I was a lifelong chronic caregiver. This all changed after a breast cancer diagnosis when I was 33 years old, and struggled to balance surgery, treatment and healing while mothering a small child and staying afloat financially.

The first reason it’s so hard to ask for help is that we have deep seated SHAME around the idea of needing help. Being vulnerable and needy is generally looked down upon, while independence, strength, stamina and stoicism have been more highly valued in our society. The message is overt in how we reward leadership, ingenuity, courage, competition and stamina in sports, education and industry. When in a time of crisis or need, we are afraid of what this says about us as members of society, that we are somehow flawed if we appear fragile or vulnerable.

Author and Social Work researcher, Dr. Brené Brown, in her work on Shame Resilience Theory wrote, “Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging. Women often experience shame when they are entangled in a web of layered, conflicting and competing social-community expectations. Shame creates feelings of fear, blame and disconnect.”

The reality is that most of us will at one time or another be faced with some kind of trial, a period of darkness where the body or the mind will fail us. Accidents happen. Illness happens. We have family members and friends who may experience their own hardships, and require us to step up as caregivers. You might have a child who gets sick or is born with special needs. You might find yourself caring for an aging parent who becomes ill. Even in the well adjusted adult, unmanaged stress can lead to anxiety and depression. Turn on the news or the weather channel and you realize there are endless ways for us to unexpectedly find ourselves in a time of crisis.

Another reason people don’t want to reach out for help is that there is a fear of rejection, or concern that they will be a burden on others. Inside the mind is that alarming question, “What if they say no?” Before even asking for help, the brain throws up screeching brakes, offering up a convincing story about what will happen if we do ask for help. The ancient fight-or-flight limbic system of the brain has us hard wired for a negativity bias. We survived and evolved through generations by storing negative events and experiences. Psychologist Dr. Rick Hanson writes, “To keep our ancestors alive, Mother Nature evolved a brain that routinely tricked them into making three mistakes: overestimating threats, underestimating opportunities, and underestimating resources (for dealing with threats and fulfilling opportunities). This is a great way to pass on gene copies, but a lousy way to promote quality of life.”

The thing is, just because we think it, doesn’t make it TRUE! We cannot assume to know the response we will illicit by asking for help. There is an art and a science to making a request, but in starts from within us, being willing to ask for help, getting clear on what we need and resourcefully building out circles of support.

Finding yourself in an unexpected spiritual, physical, emotional or financial crisis is shocking and identity altering. It may be hard to even accept that help is needed. If like me, you were accustomed to being an energetic doer and go-getter, if you were always the supportive one and the caregiver, it takes a moment to adjust and be honest with yourself about where you are at this particular moment. Being in a place of need is a scary reckoning with the things that feel out of control in your life.

Self-acceptance, being with the fact that you are in some strange new, vulnerable territory is step one. Coming to terms with how you view the idea of receiving help, and finding new perspectives to what it means to be supported is vital to making that leap. Knowing what you need in terms of support, what kinds of qualities to look for and the specific supportive roles that will help you at this time in your life is the next important step.

If you have made it this far and would like my top tips on how to build out circles of support, please email me here.

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Hidden Gifts

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I’ll never forget the day someone told me that, “there will be a gift for you in all of this.” At the time, I was sutured and sore, and facing down a grueling 5 months of chemotherapy. I was simultaneously confounded and confused by that statement. But in the end she was right. There was a tremendous gift in being broken apart, in having my life dismantled by a breast cancer diagnosis in my mid-thirties.

I learned so much about myself in that difficult year, and the healing years that followed. In retrospect, I had been coasting along in quiet discontent in many places of my life. From the safe sidelines of a reliable but unfulfilling job; to the unconscious energy suck of a few unhealthy and less than nurturing relationships; to the old, old story I had harbored about my innate value -that feeling of sacrifice and exhaustion as a status symbol.

ALL of that had fallen apart as my world became so small and every drop of energy and focus had to go into my treatment plan and being a mommy to our little Julian, who was only 4 at the time. I remember feeling quite outside of myself, as if the pain of the experience had forced my spirit to the outer reaches of my energy field. After growing exhausted by the usual “Get into Action” default response to stress, I became a quiet observer to this experience. I had to surrender to what was happening, that the sense of control I had always harbored was really an illusion. As terrifying as that was, to feel a loss of control, there was also this deep peace that came with surrendering, like slipping under warm bath water and letting it contain me. I came to understand that saying, “Let Go and Let God.”

At first, upon diagnosis, God and I were not on speaking terms. But to be fair, our relationship had really been on and off again in the years leading up to this. At first I was enraged with God, the Universe, Spirit… and then I was sorry. I saw how I had been unconscious and ungrateful in many places in my life. I looked at my little boy, and worried about the future. I felt this deep prayer from every cell of my body, asking that I be allowed to live, to see my son grow up. It was a drum beat inside of me that grew louder and louder, and built up to a primal cry that screamed: MY WORK HERE IS NOT YET DONE!

When every little task is hard, exhausting and painful, the pace of living is so slow that you are compelled to notice and appreciate the tiny things in life, like the changing shades of green in the spring, how bark feels on your skin, fleeting kindnesses between strangers, the scratchy scruff of a father’s kiss, the glimmer of someones eye as they watch a toddler blow bubbles… I found myself recording every single detail like a starving person, filing it all away. Even the ordinary annoyances were somehow precious, like the misty rain that blows sideways into your face, traffic lights that paused too long, and corny radio DJ’s. How fascinating this human experience is! Had I been asleep, just numbed out and entitled to this front row seat for so long?

Where I couldn’t do for myself, I humbly and painfully had to ask for help. This was another hard “gift” to swallow. From wiping my own bottom to emptying surgical drains and changing bandages, to accepting financial assistance to pay the bills, I had to overcome my pride and shame, and so much harsh self-judgment around needing help. The blessing of being loved and supported, of feeling held by my family, friends and community was overwhelming. I knew for sure now that I had never been doing it on my own, as much as I valued being a strong, independent woman. In so many ways, my life was intersected with other people, and I experienced this fresh new look on receiving help. There was a gift for giver as well as me, the recipient. Love flowed both ways as I opened to the willingness to receive.

I learned the gift of saying No, or Maybe. Not now. I can’t commit. I was not wrong or bad for saying No. Instead of feeling stress and obligation, I began a campaign of saying Yes to myself, and my healing. I didn’t know how I would be feeling next Saturday, or on the third Tuesday of the month, so I never said Yes. It was a freeing revelation to be living in the moment, tuning into what was present and needed right then. Saying Yes to everything was so entangled in that old Good Girl story, having to people please and tend to other people’s feelings and happiness. What I did choose was fully my choice, made consciously in the moment. That is freedom.

In this cancer experience, I had to unpack the shadow side to all the newagy spiritualism and holistic health that I had been seeped in while living in Woodstock, NY. I had believed for so long that if I thought the right thoughts, said the right affirmations, ate the right food, did the right exercises, had the right spiritual practices, that I would be impervious to bad things happening to me. All that control and drive for perfectionism had created a stressful discord in me. What I know now is that I have this BRCA 1 genetic mutation, and there is this dance between genetic code and the relationship we have with ourselves and our environment. (The field of Epigenetics, how certain genes are expressed, or turned off and on is fascinating and worth looking into.)

Another incredible gift for me was finding my writing again. I started this blog, Melissa’s Healing Hope as a way to keep my family and friends in the loop while maintaining some distance and privacy as I healed. It turned out to be a lifeline to the outside world and a way to fully process what was happening to me. I have continued to write ever since, taking writing classes and I’m putting together a book!

The biggest blessing in all of this was falling deep in love with the art of life coaching and beginning my own business. Melissa Eppard Coaching, is now in it’s 4 year!  My driving force and mission is to help ignite the spark of purposeful living and creative fire in everyone I meet. I want to inspire a proactive investment in every client’s fulfillment, purpose, passion and peace, so that this inner evolution does not have to be born out of some personal tragedy or trauma, but something they choose and create consciously. This work is like holding up a beacon of hope when the waters are choppy and storm clouds gather. If I can turn that light on and help someone shine a little brighter, then we illuminate the world around us. I found that thing I was made for. What a gift!

 

I found the hidden key to post-menopausal weight loss!

I once canceled an appointment with the oncologist because I felt like I was too fat.

Here’s what happened… The Dr. had been telling me for the last two visits that it was in my best interest to eat a sugar free, mostly fruit and vegetable diet -either that, or take the drug Tamoxifen. The later didn’t make sense as an option because when presented with the pamphlet, it said it was only effective for woman who had hormone+ cancers, AND that there was an increased risk of uterine cancer for those who took the drug! I also read something about needing to wear gloves when you wipe, and to make sure your children don’t come in contact with your urine by accident. huh? no thanks. The choice to focus on diet made sense to me.

But to be challenged to lose weight by the oncologist after surgical menopause, became a preposterous chore! My metabolism had flat-lined, and I had this new level of midsection muffin top! It didn’t seem to matter how much I worked out, or if I counted calories. I wasn’t seeing lasting change. Instead of facing the doctor with my failure (yeah right, lose 15 lbs in the wake of the Christmas season!) I bailed on the appointment.

Now, I love bodies of all shapes and sizes, but I personally felt weighted down.  I was always tired, chasing cups of coffee as the day wore on. Not only was my energy schlumpy, but my mind was foggy too. I was missing the edge and drive that a younger estrogen intact version of me use to feel.

But I have made a tremendous breakthrough!!! I just lost 10 lbs in one week without starving myself, buying into some big PLAN with products, OR exercising like a MANIAC!

In the past, I’ve tried all sorts of cleanses and ways of eating, from vegetarianism, to veganism, raw, gluten free and paleo, but what is rocking my world right now is my discovery of a KETOGENIC way of eating, or Keto diet. It really isn’t a diet per se. I would think about it as a life altering perspective shift in how you view food. It is a lifestyle change.

In the first 7 days of eating this way, I have lost 10 lbs, including 2″ off my waistline, and 3″ off of my hips. I have increased energy, stamina and focus. All prior gastrointestinal troubles I’ve had, are gone. No more bloating or gassiness. The best part of all is that I don’t feel plagued with intense cravings for sugar or carbohydrates. I don’t feel starved, hungry, deprived or limited in my food choices, and still I can’t – help – loosing -weight!

I have found a ton of Keto recipes, articles and blogs, and have learned ways to modify this diet for vegetarians. The biggest thing is that there is a complete elimination of sugar, processed foods and nearly all carbohydrates. Carbs convert to sugar, and if your body is running on glucose and fructose, you don’t burn the fat stores in your body. By starving your body of sugar and carbs, you turn into a fat burning MACHINE!

Ketosis is maintained by following a basic guideline of eating:

75% healthy fats, oils and non-starchy vegetables

20% protein

5% carbohydrates in the form of berries, and only a few other foods in small amounts.

This way of eating flies in the face of the SAD (Standard American Diet) we grew up eating. We have been force fed a food pyramid  that dictates that we eat lots of whole grains and carbohydrates, and pursue all things low-fat. Add to this, the travesty of processed food, which has tons of sugar, corn syrup, saturated fats, additives, preservatives and dyes.

I encourage everyone who has an inkling of interest in learning how to eat a healthier Ketogenic diet to watch a documentary that is out on Netflix right now called, The Magic Pill. It follows different people with a range of illnesses as they switch from a SAD diet to a Keto diet. Watch and see what happens! There are profound opportunities for healing and a better life waiting for people who are struggling with diabetes, high blood pressure, autism, neurological problems, gastrointestinal problems, autoimmune disorders, cancer, depression and poor self esteem.

I am so excited by this shift that I want to tell everyone I know. This way of eating is helping so many people, and might be just the shift you have been waiting for!

If you would like to learn about an opportunity to be a part of a group to share information and support, to fully step into a ketogenic, fat burning, energy filled life… if you want that group accountability and encouragement to lean on, send me an email today! I will share what I know, we will learn from each other, and from people who have been rocking this way of eating with great success for long periods of time.

 

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*MELISSA EPPARD is a certified Life Coach and Holistic Cancer Coach. When her son was only 3 she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of hereditary breast cancer. Now she coaches people through difficult transitions, teaches stress management techniques, and helps people live their best lives at any age or stage. She helps ignite the spark of purposeful living and creative fire in everyone she meets, and lives by the belief that what you nurture will grow! www.MelissaEppardCoaching.com

*Please note that I am not a dietitian, nutritionist or medical doctor, and am not giving health advice or nutritional plans. I seek to share information and inspiration based on my own experiences, and encourage everyone to do their own research. If you have a serious medical condition and take medication, you should continue to consult with your medical providers. 

 

You Get What You Deserve: How my old couch taught me a lesson in self worth

When you sit on an uncomfortable couch long enough, you might not notice at first. Over time your backache starts to signal that something is wrong. This happened to me, and I didn’t put it together that it was due to our old couch until one day, sitting upon a friend’s new sofa, it dawned on me that it was time to let this saggy old piece of furniture go. My friend’s couch showed me that THIS is what relaxation at the end of a long day should feel like!

I brought it up to my husband, but he resisted the idea of a new couch. It was impractical. There were many other things that took precedent as far as our family spending went. “We don’t need a new couch. It isn’t that bad,” he argued. This awareness was growing in me, and the once sagging cushions now felt like nothing more than a tablecloth on top of some milk crates. Like The Princess and the Pea, I swear I could feel every piece of the wood frame poking up at me in the most hostile and unwelcoming way. It a statement of protest, I refused to sit on the couch, but would stretch out on my yoga mat instead.

Enough was enough! After a week of yogi protest… (Click here to read more)

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Rewrite Your Story

Storytelling has been one of the most powerful tools on my healing path. From the dark depths of shock to the dangerous ledge of the unknown, words planted an anchor to hang onto. Syntax sutured up the ragged edges of emotional and physical wounds.

I can commit words to tell a story and rely on them to be unchanged, even as the body gives way to it’s mysterious betrayals. Relationships can change, schedules can shift, but I can always count on my stories to be there at any hour of the night. Stories are time capsules for when memory fails me. They are like vaccines, little vials of a painful experience turned innocuous. I can take them in like supplements and fortify my system against the potential onslaught of what may come. I am made stronger because I have ingested my story, fully processed it and integrated it into who I am today.

Where a sense of control in life is sometimes slippery, you have agency over your story. You can rewrite and revise at any time. The voice you speak in, the perspective from which you tell your story reveals many new dimensions. As a kid I loved those choose your own adventure books, with their magical permutations leading you to new outcomes. How can you look at your own story so the outcome unfolds in some new way, drawing that line to where you have arrived now?

Tomorrow evening I will share a story at a local art opening. Handwriting On the Wall, at the Art Society of Kingston, will present art and spoken word that address the experiences people have had with cancer.

The story I have chosen is one of my favorites, because it is about a real life event where I was getting my footing as a new cancer survivor, still physically healing and rebuilding my life post treatment. In a very unexpected way, as I let myself be swept up in imagination and play, I received a gift of healing from the ocean.

I’d love to share it with you here, in case you live too far away or are unable to make this event…

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The Magic Mermaids and a Gift from the Ocean

As we drove over cesspools of polluted swamp land, I was conscious to mouth breathe so I wouldn’t have to smell the sludgy Hackensack River. The seat belt dug into my portacath as the Jersey Turnpike took us closer to the shore and I silently prayed the industrial excrement wasn’t traveling all the way to the ocean.

I was heading to the Jersey shore with my 5 best friends in celebration as another one of the pack crested her 40th birthday. It was the first time I had been away from my husband and young son, and this trip marked a whole year of intense healing, a year since my breasts had been chiseled away, and 6 months since chemo had ended.

With the perfect forecast for endless sunny skies, vacation was off to a promising start. We decided on Asbury Park, and the small concrete cube of ‘Madame Marie’s Temple of Knowledge’ was the sentry point. We soon met up with Christie’s mom, her sister Suzanne and her two kids, and her brother Mike. We planted umbrellas and staked our small beach empire, before heading for that first dip in the water.

Sometimes the ocean has a foreboding feeling, the jellyfish just one wave crash away, the shells all angular and cutting the bottom of your feet. On this particular day, there was no imaginary shark frenzy just below the lip of light blue that gave way to the secret deep. The surf was just the right amount of surprise and surrender, playful without being a bully. I eased my way past the breakers, testing my upper body strength. In this salty buoyancy I found that I could still swim pretty well in spite of the lifting and rearranging of my pectoral muscles the previous summer. As I floated on my back, I imagined my breast implants as little life preservers carrying me over the waves.

Back on my towel, and not long after the salt began to crystalize on my skin, Christie’s niece Anabelle, a cheerful and confident girl, asked if I would go back to the water with her. She had that inexhaustible energy of a 6 year old and her enthusiasm for the ocean was contagious. The waves had begun to pick up as the tide shifted inward and the greedy oceanfront landholders were sent scattering further back, pushing us like a heard of seals closer together.  We had to run as fast as we could to get from the umbrella shadows to the water, lest we be scorched by the fire walk across the sand.  Anabelle squealed as she grabbed my hand to brace against the whitewater assault.

“Let’s pretend we’re mermaids!” she managed before diving under the next wave. “We’re mermaid sisters. My name is Coral. What’s your mermaid name?”

The image of a precious little sphere clamped safely in an oyster shell came to me. “I’m Pearl,” I quickly replied.

“We have special powers too. I can control the waves and call the other mermaids to us. What can you do?”

I paused for a moment and decided, “I have the ability to fight off sharks… and I can clean the pollution from the ocean.”

“I’m the big sister and you’re my little sister,” Coral declared. “I’ll say when to dive and when to jump.”

We frolicked mermaid style, our tail fins propelling us under or over each oncoming wave. At some point Coral told me that our parents had died and we enacted the scene where we desperately called for them. I ignored the stares of our fellow swimmers nearby as we lamented over the bloody upper half of our mother as it came washing towards us. I had to swim out and defend the honor of our parents, by killing the sharks who had murdered them.

In all our exuberance for the ocean, in our plight for mermaid survival and celebration of our special powers, I truly forgot myself and WAS a mermaid for that time. The most miraculous thing happened next. I could see a little hill of a wave forming, and judged that it would perfectly hit its peak by the time it reached my position. Instead of jumping over or diving under, I decided to do as mermaids will and flip backwards in the direction of the rolling wave. There was no time to overthink it, and in that instant my arms went pin wheeling backwards as I flipped my body over. The wave wrenched my arms back and if not for the water in my ears, there would have been an audible tear as the scar tissue in my armpits shredded away.

The shock of it made me grab my chest and for a whole 10 seconds I froze wondering if I had just completely ruined my breast surgery, undoing a yearlong saga of difficult healing. Then I had to fight through another wave, and I noticed that the pain was quickly dissipating. Was it just the cold water, was I in shock? I began testing range of motion and to my amazement I found I could reach my arms all the way up and around, my chest opening to the sun in the deepest stretch I had felt since the double mastectomy.

What a gift the ocean had given me that day. I had let myself be carried away in this fantasy of freedom and strength, pure feminine power in the midst of the sea. I wish I could have peered into Madame Marie’s crystal ball a year ago, when I felt crushed by the pain of that surgery and could only see the oncoming wave of chemotherapy before me. I would have seen myself a year later, playing freely, still a strong swimmer in the ocean. I was healed by those waters and the magical mermaid sisterhood of New Jersey.

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Melissa Eppard lives with her family in the beautiful Hudson Valley, NY area. After overcoming breast cancer in her mid-30’s, she knows that nothing is guaranteed in life.  As a certified personal Life Coach she has made it her mission to ignite the spark of purposeful living and creative fire in everyone she meets.  What you nurture will grow! Learn more and follow her other blog at http://www.MelissaEppardCoaching.com

 

 

 

Give your Fear a Job

star-3291355_1280WHAT IF runs you wild. Heart races. Stomach clenches. Palms sweat, teeth grind. The worst case scenario chases circles in your mind. It takes you out of now and into a place later on today, or tomorrow, or next week. But what if… just for right now, you planted your feet squarely on the ground, and breathed all your energy back into this singular moment? Really take it all into your belly. There… just for a second, did you feel it?

And even as you read this next paragraph, you find this pause slipping away. We have this biological imperative to hold up our current situation, and look at it through the lens of our past. By knowing the poisons and pains, all the possible hurts, we can learn to survive and evolve.

But still, STILL, there are things beyond our control you say. What if? What IF!

When flight, fight and freeze has hijacked your health and comfort, it overrides your sense of choice and agency in life. Protection becomes imprisonment. It wears down your very sense of purpose and place.

There are many paths forward. For deep trauma, trained support is imperative. But for the everyday wear-you-down anxiety and stress, one very practical tool is to give your fear a JOB.

Assign it to making sure your taxes get filed on time. Put it to work finally getting that thing checked out. Make a Dr. appointment. Maybe the job is to clean up how you’re feeling, or what you’re taking responsibility for. The job could be to sit and write and clear. You can say, “just for today fear, I want you to be on the lookout for any person or activity that sucks my energy dry.”

Notice. Fear is SO good at being on alert.

Anxiety, fear, dread, worry, -all our many nuanced ways at describing that paralyzing ache. What job can you give your fear today? How can you work with it so it moves you forward?

 

If you found this helpful and would like another tool to help manage stress and anxiety, click here. Visit me at MelissaEppardCoaching.com to learn more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Long Goodbye

I’m grieving for my mother in law, Linda, who only yesterday turned 64 years old. She is slipping further down the long dark well of early onset Alzheimer’s. Today I found myself trying to express to her, in the simplest of ways, that bad things happen to good people. Even as her brain function is diminishing, I see her grasping, as we all do, to understand WHY. She can’t always remember the right words, but what she was trying to ask the chaplain who visited her today is, “What did I do to deserve this? WHY am I being punished? How could God allow this to happen? Was I a bad person in my past life? Why is this happening?”

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To even write about her feels like a betrayal. To mourn for her or memorialize her while she still lives and breathes, is all wrong. At the same time, the articulate and thoughtful woman I came to call Mom, and have grown to love over the last 18 years, is gone. In her place is this anxious, paranoid and sometimes angry woman. How much longer will she even know who I am?

I shower her. I comb her hair. I help her get dressed. Even if my words overwhelm and confuse her, I know she can feel my love when I rub lotion into her hands. We are looking towards outside help, for nursing home placement, a way to keep her safe. She thinks she has done something wrong, that she is bad and we are punishing her by putting her away somewhere. There is no fixing this situation, no way to know how long we will go on with this long goodbye.

It hurts to be here and it hurts to leave. I feebly pat myself on the back for what small offering of a shower or a meal I can provide. I push paper. I make phone calls. I keep busy.

Difficult times come. Sometimes hardships roll in like waves, seemingly one thing upon the next. Sometimes it’s hard to find which way is up, to find the space for little gasps of breath so we can brace for the next wave.

Try as we might to draw meaningful connections, sometimes the reason never comes. We tell ourselves a story, but the moral is insufficient. The protagonist is lost somewhere between the lines, the pages tear stained and the words blurred.

10 Things I Wish Someone Told Me -Tips to Help When You Suspect Breast Cancer

In hindsight, these are the things I wish I knew before being diagnosed with breast cancer. From getting that suspicious lump checked out to healing from surgery, here are some important tips and considerations for the newly diagnosed.

1. Don’t wait to get it checked out! Set your mind at ease and nip it in the bud as soon as you can. Truly things can only get worse the longer you wait. I tried to convince myself it was a swollen lymph node and treat it with homeopathic remedies for 3 months. Nope.

2. A breast biopsy hurts, be prepared. Do it, but be prepared.

3. Insist that you don’t want to hear the results of your biopsy over the phone. I got the call, at work, 45 minutes from my family. That was awful.

4. Get your support system in place. For lots of people, asking for help is the hardest thing to do. If ever in your life your survival depended on others, now is it. When possible, be discerning about who makes up your support system. Some people are great for helping with chores around the house, while others you want with you at the doctor appointment. Sometimes you may need a positive upbeat figure that can distract you, and other times you may want a quiet, calm and steady person who won’t bombard you with questions. Figure out what you want and need and ask for it.

5. Don’t ASSUME the lab is going to send your scans to the hospital or doctor like you ordered. Call and check and double check. Get the UPS or Fed-Ex routing number if you can.

6. Be SUPER organized. If you can’t do it, find someone who will. I really liked using the, “My Hope & Focus Cancer Organizer” by Puja Thompson. Keep all your contacts, pathology reports, bills and questions in one binder and bring that with you to your appointments. It makes a huge difference in helping you feel informed and empowered in a rocky sea of confusing terminology and decision making.

7. Don’t settle. If you don’t like the way a doctor or a medical practice makes you feel, or if you feel your concerns are not being addressed with enough clarity or compassion, if something gets your hackles up and you just don’t feel safe, move on. Get a second opinion. Assemble the health care team that you can rely on and feel good about. Just don’t take too long doing so.

8. Create time and space to heal in peace. You are going to feel like being a patient is a fuIl time job for a while. If you are undergoing surgery or chemotherapy, you are going to need time to recoup. This is a good time to call upon your inner circle of supportive friends and family, and be really clear about what you need and how they can help.

9. If you are undergoing surgery, get the clearest post-op, discharge instructions you can prior to the date of the operation. I wish my surgeon or the nurses at the hospital had told me that I would have to stay on antibiotics for the entire time that I had drains. For some reason the pharmacist filled my antibiotic prescription with refills and only sent us home with a 6 day supply, I ended up with a fever, an infection in my right breast, and later needed to drain fluid from my swollen right side.

10. Be a good patient and really adhere to your discharge instructions. Don’t miss taking an antibiotic. Don’t lift or use a limb if you have been ordered not to. As difficult as this time may seem, it will soon quickly pass, but right now you need to follow doctor’s orders and just heal.

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close up of “Inheritance” by Melissa Eppard  -Encaustic Paint

 

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I readied myself for battle when the the hair stared to come out like gangbusters! You’ll know when it’s time to break out the clippers.

 

 

 

Finding the Path Through the Pain: a Roadmap to Rebuilding Your Life After Cancer

PathAfter treatment ends, and the “Survivor Confetti” is swept away, there are unique challenges for the younger cancer survivor. While much of the focus is on the newly diagnosed, and the actual fight to overcome cancer, little is discussed about this latter part of the healing journey.

As a 3 year survivor, I know firsthand what it takes to forge through this rocky terrain. After being diagnosed with an aggressive form of hereditary breast cancer at the age of 36, I felt my life unravel. A dark curtain fell and I could see nothing beyond the imminent surgery and treatment. While wrestling with the bare bones of survival, there was no space for my plans and dreams. I was coming apart, piece by piece, shedding layers of my life, until I was unrecognizable to myself.

After treatment ended, I could grow new hair and heal surgical wounds, but no one could tell me how to recover my life. Biologically speaking, I was living, but I felt like a shell of a person. The old life no longer fit. I was in this strange post-treatment terrain, where I could barely speak the language and didn’t have a map.

As a Life Coach, I have honed survival skills that have aided in processing and healing my body, heart and soul. It’s my mission to share what I have learned with as many people as I can. I want to help others draw their unique map through the pain and uncertainty of facing cancer mid-life.

Cancer doesn’t discriminate. It can strike a person at any age, but for the purposes of this article, I am speaking to people between the ages of 25-50, give or take a few years. In this stage of life, our healthy peers are building their careers and families; they are taking vacations, buying homes, planning and saving for the future. A cancer diagnosis completely blindsides you during what should be a productive period of life. These are some of the challenges that we face:

You’ve “Graduated” Out of Treatment:  It took Herculean strength to slog through all the treatments and doctor appointments. You were so focused on the finish line, that you hadn’t really considered what’s next. Without the structure and focus of a treatment plan, and the weekly or biweekly appointments, it’s like being set adrift on a raft with no oars.

The Pain No One Sees: Your hair starts to grow in. Your immune system rebuilds to the point where you can safely come out in public. You might look like a completely healthy person on the outside, but on the inside you are still struggling with the after effects of cancer treatment. People stop asking you how you’re doing and what you need. Instead, people tell you how great you look and how brave and strong you are. Inside you may struggle with a combination of crippling chemo brain, exhaustion and lack of stamina, neuropathy, pain at the site of surgery or radiation, infertility, menopause symptoms including hot flashes, night sweats, low to no sex drive, and fuzzy thinking. You might feel disfigured, and struggle with sadness, anger, fear, anxiety and depression.

The Ticking Clock: After treatment ends, you are living in this paradox of urgency. You want to make up for lost time, but have also learned the value of slowing down. You want to catch up with your healthy peers, to recover the lost income, to attend all the social and family events that you had to sit out on. You want to get on with living your life! It’s like an inner voice is shouting, “Go, Go, Go!” but you’re still trying to pull your feet up out of sticky tar. On a good day you might feel a new energetic spring in your step, only to find the next day that you’ve overdone it and need an extra day to recover.

The Looming Cloud of Recurrence: After a cancer diagnosis, a headache or a toothache or a backache can evoke waves of panic and send you scurrying to research what those symptoms mean. If we hope for the best, but prepare for the worst, we might be able to tell ourselves we’ve shored up our defenses, that we will be ready if and when “the other shoe drops”. What ends up happening is that we are living in a heightened state of stress, an ongoing fight, flight or freeze mode. The resulting stress hormones, tension and sleep loss make things worse.

Survivor Guilt: You can’t help notice cancer everywhere after you’ve had a diagnosis. You will likely have friends and family who will face their own cancer battles. Not everyone will see the same treatment finish line. It hurts to see and hear about the people we care about, or even complete strangers, getting diagnosed or worse, losing their battle with cancer. If you’ve hooked into a survivor support system, you might experience the loss of a person who battled alongside you. This loss is triggering and you might find yourself wondering, “Why me?” The inner dialogue might go like this: “How come I’m still here but she is not? What makes me so special? I had better do something significant with my life now. How will I face her family? That could have been me.”

So how do you find your path through the pain and uncertainty, and rebuild a fulfilling and sustainable life after cancer? Some key aspects to include in your Cancer Recovery Roadmap are mindfully tending to your emotions, engaging your future vision, and making specific, attainable goals.

Through my personal experience as a survivor and my professional training as a coach, I have developed a toolkit of techniques to guide fellow survivors in the creation of their unique recovery map. As a coach I hold a sacred and confidential space for processing the pain and the personal impact of this experience. I listen deeply and ask powerful questions. I teach tools to help manage the fear and uncertainty, and deepen your feelings of resiliency and strength. I hold open a bold and brave vision for your future self, and support you as you step into this new phase of your life.

If you would like some support right now, email me at Melissa@MelissaEppardCoaching.com and I will send you 5 Ways to Manage Survivor Stress.

How to Emotionally Prepare for Surgery

I have kept this blog going, almost 3 years after chemo treatments ended, for a reason. Processing and healing takes time. There is also the sad realization that many more people after me would face their own cancer diagnosis. Perhaps reading my story will help people not feel so isolated and alone. Maybe it will help the newly diagnosed integrate what is happening, to find encouragement and see that there is a trajectory of healing. We all have our own unique situation and healing path, but we share in the many feelings a cancer diagnosis brings… the fear, anger, sadness, the struggle to sort out logistics, developing a care team, communicating with family and friends. We all look for glimmers of hope. We stoke a fighting spirit, that well of inner resilience and reach for wholeness.

In these few years since my own cancer scare, too many friends have been diagnosed. I have had to say goodbye to some, too early, too soon. Some brave warriors I have seen go through surgery and treatment, and joyfully watched their hair grow back in, for the wheels of life to continue turning.

Recently a friend asked me, “How do you prepare emotionally for surgery?”.

This is a great question. There is so much you can do. Most importantly, finding the people, practices, activities and rituals that speak to you, that give you grounding and meaning is the place to start. Here are some things that helped me prepare.

  1. Take photos. You could schedule a photo shoot or have someone close to you take a few pictures. My before pictures were just for me, a way to remember what my breasts looked like before the double mastectomy. There is so much feeling in my face and eyes.
  2. Write and write and write and write. Obviously for me, this was a huge tool of processing what was happening to me. Try writing a love letter to your afflicted body part. Try writing a letter from the perspective of your body part. I wrote a dialogue one time where I was having a conversation with my breasts. It was intense, but opened up a well of feeling that needed to come up to the surface. Then there is this blog. Writing my blog served two purposes initially. It was a lifeline to my family and friends, so they could stay informed about what was happening with me, and afforded me a privacy buffer. It also served as a pressure release valve and way of helping my mind assimilate what was happening. I wouldn’t just write a blog post and be done. I would write it and read it over and over a dozen times. Each time I read it, a layer of stress and pain would discharge, would soften and release, little by little.
  3. Let it OUT! Break sticks, throw rocks into a stream or river, scream into a pillow, cry until you are red and snotty. My default mode is to get busy, to get into problem solving mode. This is helpful to a degree, but is also a very clever way to avoid dealing with your feelings. Make time for these feelings to come up, knowing you won’t get lost in the void. I once described to a friend my fear of falling down the rabbit hole of emotion, that I would never be able to get back out. I promise you will not get lost. You will find yourself. As an added bonus, after a good cry, there is the temporary endorphin rush, a calm euphoria that will settle around you.
  4. Have a small party, ceremony or ritual. The night before my first surgery, I gathered with a few of my closest girlfriends for a “Farewell to Nursies” party. (My little boy had affectionately named my breasts, “Nursies” when he was a baby.) We shared a potluck, and everyone wrote their good thoughts, prayers and wishes for me on beautiful little squares of colored paper. I brought them with me to the hospital and had them to read again later while healing from surgery and going through chemo. My girlfriends made a gorgeous healing totem for me, by attaching beautiful stones, crystals and trinkets onto an embroidered belt. I hung this in my bedroom so I could see it while resting and healing after the surgery. My favorite part was when my girlfriends surrounded me, put their hands on me, gently rubbed my head and arms, held my hands. They prayed around me quietly, infusing all their love and good intentions for a successful surgery and held a vision of my ultimate healing.
  5. Simplify your life. Be kind to yourself and take time. You know that saying, “One step forward, two steps back”? If you rush the healing process, you are only going to make things harder. If you have ever prepared for childbirth, think about the way that you insulated your life, slowed down and made time for a “babymoon” period. Your healing is going to be like this. It is nice to have a vague idea that in 2 weeks or 6 weeks or 3 months, you’ll be back to doing x, y, and z. But stay present to now. Now is not the time to be leaning forward, putting unrealistic expectations on yourself. You will not be the same, but there will be a new normal, and that will change as time goes on. Start now to make way for this quieter time, allow yourself to rest and prepare for your best possible healing.

 

The things that brought me healing and comfort did so, because they spoke to who I am. Do what is right for you. I would love to hear in the comments section how you helped prepare yourself emotionally for surgery. We are here to support each other in our healing and growth, and your feedback might be exactly what someone else needs on their road to healing.

I wish you inner peace, and to be surrounded by calm and circles of support.

I’m here holding a vision for your highest healing. ❤

 

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Melissa Eppard lives in the beautiful Hudson Valley, NY area with her young son and husband. She came through a hereditary breast cancer scare in her mid 30’s. After feeling the gap in support for the younger cancer survivor, she has dedicated her practice to helping other younger survivors find the path through the pain, and rebuild their lives in those first few years after a diagnosis.  www.MelissaEppardCoaching.com

If you would like some support right now, email  Melissa@MelissaEppardCoaching.com for 5 Tips to Manage Survivor Stress.