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.

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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.

 

Do Not Squander Your Gifts

When I imagine the voice of God, I think of the smell of mildewed bibles and lemon wood polish. I see the blue and green itchy plaid jumper, interwoven with threads of yellow, my pale scabby knees jutting out over the edge of the pew. I remember the white leather bound missal with gold embossed letters, showing pictures of Moses on the mount, face skyward, clouds parting with heavenly light. This is how I imagined the voice of God would come. It would be a thunder crack that splits the sky and shakes the ground. It would bring all of creation to its knees.

I am 40 and tired, with a daily lower backache and new creases between my eyebrows. I notice the mirror needs cleaning as I swoop in to pick up stray crayons and legos. Dust particles dance on a single beam of light. I push the vacuum back and forth over my son’s carpet, and this voice comes to me. It always enters through the back of my skull, like a swiftly moving weather system, a barometric pressure drop, that pushes through words that are not mine.

This time the voice says, “Do not squander your Gifts.”

It does not have a sound, like my husband calling out, “Have you seen my phone? Can you call it for me? I think the battery is dead… oh shoot! No wait, there it is.”

No, it doesn’t boom and crack, and stop space and time. It doesn’t bring me to my knees. It doesn’t come in pictures, like those fully formed paintings, waiting to be made, that sear into my brain before sleep.  It doesn’t come from my gut either, that inner voice that nudges me to turn left to find that open parking space. It isn’t a guiding beacon that tells me to slow down because there might be a police car positioned right up there, a half mile on the left.

The voice comes fully formed. It does not trickle in word by word. It is not hinged on my understanding, like a translation. It is a knowing, a message. If you were to crack my skull open like a fortune cookie, there it would be in red letters, in CAPS.

I forget about my backache and the busywork. They are just backdrop now as I let the message seep in, and hold it up against the storyline of my life.

I first notice the obvious irony, —the timing of this message, with the Christmas holiday looming and the emphasis on physical gifts. But I know it’s not about that. I then think about my real TRUE gifts which are these:

I have time. I have my health after overcoming breast cancer 3 years ago. I have my family, my friends. I have the gift of my voice, my words, my writing. I have the gift of my work —my purpose and passion to help other people. There is a deeply embedded fingerprint on my heart. It is empathetic care, a love for life on this planet that sears my heart with pain and longing and makes my eyes sting with tears. This gift is to see and love and feel.

If I were to never write another word, to never speak to you again, please remember this:

DO NOT SQUANDER YOUR GIFTS.

 

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Giving Thanks in Times of War

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There has been a growing unrest between the daily headlines. I can read it in the new creases of my brow. Lines have been drawn and the artillery of offensive acts and politifacts carefully stacked. I am armed to the teeth and ready to  face the enemy.

That is where my story ends. Really I am too passive for battle. Thanksgiving Day looms and I already feel too full of it. I imagine hiding behind mounds of carved turkey and a bottomless glass of wine.

So many hurtful things have been said, and the resolution still remains. I conjure up foggy pageant images of Pilgrims and Indians breaking cornbread, sitting around an obscenely overflowing cornucopia. Meanwhile the gesture was wrapped in Friendship Blankets, murderous diseases hiding there.

My Gratitude, oh Gratefulness! Are you there?! I don’t want to wear you like some gaudy holiday sweater. I want the real thing, the healing embrace, your kindness and a softening heart. See me in the warm candelabra light of our shared feast.

I am not your sworn enemy. I am human. We are family.

What will it take to smooth out all your hurts, and mine? We can not take back and unravel all the stories told between us. I’m weary and calloused and seeking shelter from the hostility of the world. This world that gets smaller and smaller, as friends and family are picked off one by one, cozying up to our polarized Truths and the divisive voices that back us into corners, stoking anger, prickling with righteousness.

I want warm buttery rolls and soft trailing laughter. I want extra whipped cream on my pie and your acceptance of how tenuous and fleeting our time is together. Our holidays whipping past, our aging bodies giving way to the turning of the earth.

Please pass the gravy. I am not your sworn enemy.

 

 

Coping with Loss after Cancer

There is a raw wordless ache in my core. When I start to approach it, it builds into a fire that agitates my whole system and threatens to engulf the whole of me. It’s in my pulse and my blood. My scalp prickles and my hair hurts. I itch all over. My hands are restless, so I scrub dishes and fold laundry and pull weeds. I’m afraid that if I get too close to it, all my positive efforts at healing and rebuilding… my health, my career, all my gratitude, that it will careen off into a blurry void of hopelessness and crash into a gully of despair.

Three people in my circle have had their lives taken by cancer this year. Their names are Champagne Joy, Milyn Kukon and just this past weekend, Cat Barney. Cat and I were newly acquainted, and I wish I had more time to know her. Our sons go to school together, and this similarity in age, the idea of leaving behind a husband and son, it gathers the storm clouds and terrifies me.

I want to put a name on it, to analytically dissect it. That is safer than feeling the tsunami of emotion. I am left with this question:  How can I experience loss without retraumatization?

I have heard the saying that, “Anger is Sad’s bodyguard,” but I wonder if Sad is somehow allowing the walls to still stand. Anger threatens to obliterate me. Anger seeks to undo my remasking as a “Person Among the Living” after the absurdity that is cancer. Who am I angry with? Is it God? Is it Mankind’s destruction of the environment? Why would my genetic code go haywire like this?

I don’t know what to do with these feelings, so I write. I lean into my community again, like I did when I was weak and bald and sutured. What comes to me now is the image of being carried by a sea of people who love and support me.

After Harvey and Irma, and our mass retraumatization of watching these devastating images, I remember that most of us intimately know loss and pain and the vulnerability of being alive. I see these images and all I want to do is get on a bus and head to the most ravished place I can find and try to pick up the pieces.

As I wrote Cat’s name the sun broke through. I want to tell myself a story that she and Milyn and Champagne are everywhere now, all around us, invisible in the air, and we can breathe them in. Is raw vulnerability the gift they left? This reminder of impermanence? It makes me double down on my mission. Busy is my default coping mode.

Refocusing on the other, finding my community again, I’m leaning in.

What You Nurture Will Grow

There were 7 of us gathered around the table, silently letting our bodies and minds arrive into the quiet anticipation of our time together. Our small monthly gathering of the Younger Women’s Support Group for cancer survivors under the age of 55 was about to begin. On the table between us sat a basket of unimposing flower bulbs, some rocks, glass beads and small vases.

A few days before, I met with the social worker who facilitates this group with me, and the idea formulated that we would lead the group in an exercise of focused intention. We were to focus on what we would like to nurture and grow, really feeling into what that need was in our lives. We used the bulbs as a structure to represent this idea, belief or habit that we were going to foster and grow by adding water and tending to.

The clear vase with white stones and blue glass looked beautiful when I brought it home. I was feeling inspired and hopeful as I added water and carefully brought it to the windowsill next to my crystals, potted plants and singing bowl. It was all set perfectly. Now I just have to wait for this bulb to grow, I thought. This didn’t turn out to be very easy.

Among us in the group, our intentions were as varied and personal as our inner lives. For me, I recognized a need for better self care and permission to rest. I find this feeling lives deep in my belly, in the core of knowing who I am. In the dark cob-webbed cellar of my being, there is an old rooted belief that my value as a person is tied up in how hard I work. Logically, I know this to be untrue, but coming from a long line of type-A workaholics, this belief can feel like an insurmountable hill when I’m in full tilt productivity mode. There is my heart work, my newly burgeoning coaching business, a few other side projects and jobs, my family, home, garden, friends and a myriad of other responsibilities. I like being busy and usually thrive on the rich diversity of my day-to-day. Until… I bottom out.

I know I have hit a wall when the deadened neuropathy in my fingers and toes comes back and it feels like I’m walking around with clothes pins on my extremities. It shows up in the dull ache of my low back, the ligament laxity that comes with full blown adrenal stress. It feels like the knotty kink in my neck. It’s really apparent when even after a cup of my strongest morning brew, I still want to face plant into the pillows. Instead of napping, I’m looking for what’s next. What else can I cram into my already busy day before my son gets off of the bus at 3 PM, before dinner, before bedtime, before, before, before… and then I’m dragging myself off to bed. Hmm, I’m wondering if some of this sounds familiar to anyone else reading this.

So it’s really no wonder that my bulbs refused to grow. At first, the water was evaporating too quickly. The heat from the bay windows sucked up so much water the first week, that I found myself adding more water every day. There was a tiny bit of root growth, that quickly shriveled up after a day or two of neglect.

I decided to add more water, hoping that my recent oversight would protect the bulbs from drying out. This only resulted in some mold growth. What else was I doing wrong here? Why was this taking so long?

I sat back and thought about what else I could do. As a gardener, I thought about the conditions that exist for bulbs when planted in soil.  There is darkness, this required period of rest, before the plant has energy to send its first light green shoots up through the dirt. I reflected on how I was not living up to my end of the bargain. Despite my intentions, I was not resting. I moved the bulbs out of the sunny window. I changed the water entirely.

Conditions must be right for growth to occur. For both the bulbs and for my intentions for better self care and more rest, there were some requirements. These 5 R’s can be applied to any difficult situation or hang up you experience in life.

  1. Reality: I must be willing to take a hard look at what is really going on here.
  2. Responsibility: After making an observation, what am I taking responsibility for? Where can I realistically effect change? Am I over-watering the bulbs and overdoing it energetically? Am I over-scheduling myself?
  3. Responsiveness: It is time for damage control. What can I do to mitigate the lack of growth for my bulbs and in the realm of my own intentions? It is not enough to observe and be stuck in lamenting over what has not grown. I can choose to be responsive and make changes.
  4. Respect: After getting clear on my intentions, it is not enough to make a statement, have an intention setting ritual and just walk away. I must remain vigilant, mindful of what I am setting in motion.
  5. Resilience: I must hook into the part of me that knows how to stay the course and go the distance. Even if I stumble, make mistakes or feel like a flat out failure sometimes, I can learn from my mistakes and keep on trying.

I really didn’t expect all these life lessons could come from some tiny little gladiolus bulbs. I’m reminded that there are lessons all around me if I pay attention. By observing what my body and bulbs are needing, by practicing moderation and most of all, by BEING PATIENT WITH MYSELF, then yes it is true… what you nurture will grow!

 

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Melissa Eppard lives in the beautiful Hudson Valley, NY area with her young son and talented musician husband. She loves gardening, hiking, poetry, art, music and spending time with her family.  As a Life Coach she knows that life is more than a sum of our losses and seeks to ignite the spark of purposeful living and creative fire in everyone she meets.  www.MelissaEppardCoaching.com

 

 

 

 

A Whole Year of Turning 40: Not Just Another Party

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This is a big one, but I’m not one of those women lamenting the aging process. After kicking breast cancer to the curb 3 years ago, after the steady climb back into my strength and vitality, gaining another year is an achievement. Sorry, not-sorry… it’s an outright blessing and a gift! But please don’t jump to buying me a present for my 40th birthday in November. Don’t look for a save-the-date in the mail.

Here is why: I have a special invitation to all of my friends and family. I am inviting you to celebrate with me All Year Long!

One of the gifts in being where I am in life is that I know what I like and I know what I need. I know how to ask for and pursue what I want. While I like to attend other people’s parties, I don’t enjoy the thought of planning one for myself, or hosting one, or having a surprise party thrust upon me. Hear me out before you close this and call me a party pooper!

I always feel overwhelmed at my own parties. There is too much noise, too many competing conversations, and I can’t give individualized attention to discuss anything of depth over the French onion dip. There may be quantity in who shows up, but it’s usually not the space for quality time.

There is all this pressure in the planning and preparing too. First, culling the invite list to meet my budget, booking a venue, planning entertainment and food, hunting down RSVP’s, you know…really working it! Then, suddenly it’s party day, and 4-5 hours later it’s over and done. I’m left stripping tables with half a buzz and tossing half eaten pieces of cake. Instead, I want my “cake” and my “birthday buzz” all year long!

Here’s the other thing. I don’t want you to celebrate me. I want to celebrate US in this world together. I want to honor our paths, lament our struggles and heartaches; I want to dance over our achievements, discoveries, and joys! I want to do something that is so uniquely US. It may be spontaneous or it may elegantly planned, but either way it will be personal and it will be QUALITY time. Perhaps there will be greasy food involved, or hysterical laughing, or getting lost in the woods. We might dare each other, go outside our comfort zones a bit. We might just stroll that old familiar neighborhood and talk quietly. We might sit in silence and watch the world go by together. If geography prevails, we will curl up with our phones and share our hearts. There will probably be a lot of laughing and maybe some crying too.

This would be the greatest gift for me in this year of turning 40. I want this celebration to be lasting, and I want to share time with the people I love and care about in a meaningful way. Here is how I see this playing out in real life. My job in to show up, to be (reasonably) available, and commit to showing up. Your job? Seek me out. Offer up your plan, your date, your reservation, your hike in the woods, your dance in the rain, your best lasagna, your cup of tea. Small groups are ok too.

This is not about what you will do for me, or buy for me. I really don’t want presents, just presence. Real life, real time presence. In thinking about the many people who have touched my life in a meaningful way, even a year might not be enough time, but we can try!

This Life Worth Saving

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My baby is about to turn 7. This time of year sparks a charge for me, because as I hold him and look into those gigantic brown eyes, I remember how terrified I was three years ago at this time.

As much as I wanted to crumble and hide from the world, I found myself planning Julian’s 4th birthday. We were keeping it small and low key because I didn’t have the bandwidth to plan a big party and was not feeling very festive. Just a few grandparents, some paper plates, a small cake. Nothing fancy. One week following this birthday, I was scheduled to undergo a double mastectomy. Then as soon as I could be up and walking I had fertility preserving IVF treatments to begin. As soon as those precious eggs were harvested, I would move on to begin 5 months of chemotherapy. I had my marching orders. I numbly moved forward one inch at a time, so afraid, and so blind to any possibilities that might exist in the future. I dared not dream or hope for too much.

Nothing was guaranteed to me then, and I still think that had it not been for Julian and my husband Joey, I might not have found the inner strength to go through with any of it. For a moment I imagine not having had these three years and I remember that every minute of this has been a gift. I look into Julian’s handsome face, those baby dimples still tucked away at the corners of his smile, that broad forehead and eyebrows like his dad’s, his mouth and chin just like mine, and I’m near losing it -in the middle of a Sponge Bob episode.

I swallow back my tears because emotions are confusing for Julian to grasp. He studies my face when I wince from a backache and asks me if I’m sick. If I languish in bed too long he will ask if I am dying. Still. While autism has impaired his ability to read emotions, it has also given him an iron trap memory, and a keen intuitive sense. I reassure him as much as I can, but I can’t undo that hellish year.

I think of how hard or perhaps impossible it would have been –to have arrived in this same place without adequate health insurance. I lost my employer based coverage just 2 months before that breast cancer diagnosis, and if there was any good fortune, it was to have been diagnosed during the Obama era and the age of the Affordable Care Act (AKA Obamacare). As I write this, secret plans are being hatched behind closed Senate doors. I wonder what kind of protections will be afforded to people like me –people with hereditary or congenital conditions, as well as people with chronic conditions that require lifelong support.

I didn’t have to fight for every single immune boosting shot that enabled my chemotherapy to continue. I didn’t have to beg for anti-nausea medication. I didn’t have to squabble with the insurance company to cover my anesthesia during any one of those 4 surgeries.

I want to hope that we can reach across our differences and create a cohesive safety net for the most vulnerable among us. It is truly heart breaking to hear about real human suffering, and consider the cold calloused manor that health care is viewed when looking through a political and financial lens. We are treading in dangerous territory when we cut the heart feelings from this conversation, when we look at human life solely through the filter of a budget and start to assess which lives are worth saving.

I’d like to invite any Congressman or Senator who has voted (or will vote in the future) to do away with the ACA in favor of the American Health Care Act to come to my home. Come meet my little boy. Tell me that my life wasn’t worth saving. Tell me that I will still receive adequate follow up care and that I will still be able to afford treatment if cancer ever returns.

 

Here are just some of the impacts that the American Health Care Act will have: (the following synopsis quoted from https://www.thebalance.com/how-could-trump-change-health-care-in-america-4111422)

States will be allowed to waive several rules of the Affordable Care Act.

  1. First, the rule that insurance firms must charge the same price to every person of the same age, regardless of health. That rule protected people with pre-existing conditions. The ACA made insurance companies charge the same rate for those with pre-existing conditions as they did for healthy people. In states that waive the rule, chronic disease sufferers would pay much higher rates.
  2. States could also waive the requirement that companies offer 10 essential health benefits. Each state would define its own list of essential benefits. Once an illness is removed from the list, insurance companies can reinstate annual and lifetime limits.
  3. 22 million Americans will lose their healthcare over the next decade.

 

Melissa Eppard lives in the beautiful Hudson Valley, NY area with her young son and talented musician husband. She loves gardening, hiking, poetry, art, music and spending time with her family.  As a Life Coach she knows that life is more than a sum of our losses and seeks to ignite the spark of purposeful living and creative fire in everyone she meets.  www.MelissaEppardCoaching.com

All the Right Reasons

I poured my guts out a few months ago about an experience of applying for a full time job, the first real full time 9-5, salaried with benefits kind of job since being turned inside out by breast cancer and all that came with it. Recently the Young Survival Coalition shared my story as a guest blogger, and they asked if I wanted to revise the content at all. I didn’t because what followed in the few weeks after I shared my heartache at not getting that job deserved its very own story.

I hate that cliché of “Everything happens for a reason.” You just can’t live by that creed when you have been diagnosed with cancer because what follows is some horrible head game of trying to understand what you did to deserve this. “Shit happens,” or “Bad things happen to good people,” seemed more apropos at the time.

My current motto is a line I heard from Abraham, (the channeled information shared by Esther Hicks) that goes, “You can never do the right thing for the wrong reasons. It is not possible.” Let’s break that down a bit. What I thought was the “right thing” was getting that job. My reasons had to do with job security and financial stability. That and thinking that to be effective I needed to align myself with a larger organization and mission.

So I felt this deep sting of rejection, the embarrassment of flubbing through a crappy second interview. Then in the week that followed, something shifted for me. You can’t fake this kind of learning by throwing on a pair of rose colored glasses. You have to dig around in the murkiness of your hurt and pain for a bit before something new emerges. What surfaced was a realization that my reasons for wanting this job were all wrong.

You are likely thinking that job security, benefits and financial stability are important. They do have importance, but in retrospect, I see these as largely one dimensional, serving to enhance the financial view of my life. Acting from this place of fear, I was unknowingly trying to override the alignment with my life purpose, the growth of my unique gifts and the contributions I seek to share while I have breath to breathe. I was afraid to trust and I was temporarily blinded by fear, so much so that I lost faith in my natural resourcefulness and the bounty that already exists in my life.

I would have had to give up too many important elements in my life to have taken on this full time job. Even early in the application process, I tried to squelch that tiny screaming voice in the back of my mind. I knew getting that job would mean a big departure from my availability and focus as a life coach. I remembered that promise I made to myself when I finished my training with CTI, knowing full well how important and vital this work is in the world, that even if cancer were to resurface, that I want to be doing this work until the day I die.

There are also the handful of other meaningful side jobs that help keep me afloat, those too I would have had to let go of. These clients are people whose work I deeply respect and who rely on me. In service to my personal mission, I only take on freelance work that serves two purposes, 1.) Jobs that offer me new learning and skills; and 2.) Jobs that offer healing, inspiration and enlightenment to this planet.

There were personal reasons that dawned on me too, realizing that I wouldn’t be there to get my son off the bus, and I’d only get to see him for those 2 tired and cranky hours right before bed. He is only 6, and I know I won’t be able to get these precious early years back. Besides, after school child care is not very easy to find when you have a son with special needs. I wouldn’t be available to help my mother in law who is sadly advancing in early onset Alzheimer’s. Come to think of it, between their doctor appointments and mine, there probably aren’t enough sick days and vacation days afforded by an employer, even a generous one.

When you are facing a difficult decision, seeking to make a change in your life, ask yourself which values you are honoring and which will you be squashing in the pursuit of this new dream. I hold a high value on freedom and flexibility, both afforded to me as a self-employed person. I value family and motherhood. I value independence and self-reliance. I value the fact that I can carve out an hour or two to write when the muse strikes me.

Here is something else so surprising and fantastic that emerged from this momentary fall on my face…

After I gave myself a few days to really feel all the icky sticky feelings that came up with not getting this job, I turned things around in a big way by using the very skills and tools that I offer to my coaching clients. We’re talking serious gratitude practices, and cleaning up my limiting beliefs and the emotional shockwaves that I was feeling by using EFT Tapping (Emotional Freedom Technique). This allowed me to open up some breathing room in my nervous system, and I could start to feel my creative resourcefulness returning.

The most amazing thing happened next. Without having to do any outward push, seeds that I had planted months before suddenly bloomed in my life. Clients were coming out of the woodwork. More freelance work started flowing my way, all amazing projects and people that I’m delighted to work with. One client offered me a generous raise out of the blue! This beautiful new blueprint is emerging. I’m coming to see that by doing the right thing for the RIGHT reasons, by staying true to my dreams and my life purpose, by living and acting in alignment with all of my values, the financial stability can be a natural side effect. I’m excited to see where this new learning takes me!

If you ever want to explore how coaching can make a difference in your life, send me a message and I’d be happy to join you in self-discovery.  We are made for so much more that we often believe or allow!

MelissaEppardCoaching.com

 

Gratitude Mandala

Trying and Crying, an Igloo made of Tears: Employment after Cancer

I pounded my fists into the snow, packing down the bucket, an obsessive attempt at completing the igloo Julian had started. Being only 6, he gave up about two bricks into the process before returning to his sled.

Sliding the icy cylinder into place, soaking in the silence of winter, I let the first fiery tears eek out the corners of my eyes. Then, I couldn’t hold back, I found myself suddenly full on sobbing into the snow remembering what a stupid ass I had made of myself in that job interview. The sting of embarrassment was so deep that I silently prayed they would forget all about it and just do me the favor of never calling me back.

It was my first real interview for a full time job since the breast cancer diagnosis in 2014. As fate would have it, I had a stomach bug just 2 days before the interview, so when I arrived, there were tinges of fuzziness that certainly didn’t allow me to put my best self forward. The interviewees sat around me in a semi-circle reading from a list of questions, and all I could hear were pens scratching paper, my consciousness lifting about 3 feet above my head, right there in the corner, trying to find a way out. A hot flash came on, I wanted to tear at my clothing, crack the door, open a window. Does this flush look like embarrassment? Someone asked another question and that name I was searching for evaded me, the chemo brain had just punched that piece of memory out of reach.

Was all of this, even the opportunity, just a sympathetic gesture for the cancer survivor? Am I still viable as a contributing member of society? My heart and hands yearn to be busy, to contribute, to share my passion and my ideas. I tried to tell myself that it wasn’t all that bad, but really truly that wasn’t my best self in the room that day.

Is it not enough that I sloughed through 5 months of treatment, that my breasts and ovaries were cut away from me, that there will be no more babies? I told my husband that I am tired of fighting, this fighting for my life and fighting for survival. He said then just stop fighting and start loving, start allowing. There is so much at stake though, so much risk. When we are talking about the nuts and bolts of survival, like the big small stuff of paying bills on time, keeping the vehicles in operating condition, making sure we have health insurance, that our kid is happy and well, it mounts to a pile of responsibility. That is on the table right now, not to even get into the looking over my shoulder at the ever uncertain future.

I remember the saying, “All is well, all is well, all manner of things shall be well,” and I’m really not so sure. I don’t see a lot of OK-ness reflected in the 24 hour news cycle, nothing seems OK at home or abroad. I look for it online on my social media feed but it’s too unsettling there. Where does this elusive feeling of OKness reside and how can I cloak myself in it?

Here is the best that I can muster, sitting here in the sun, the clickety clack of my fingers on the keys. I will not go hungry tonight. My adorable son will come home from school and snuggle up to me and touch my face. My husband will come home from work tired and hungry and we will enjoy each other’s company. This time was not guaranteed to me when that cancer diagnosis came to topple me down. My rock solid sister-girlfriends are a phone call away. Spring is coming soon. All is well, all is well, all manner of things…

Thinking of that interview, I choose to free myself from the shame of my stumble and fall. I had the strength and courage just to even put myself out there and try. Nothing is owed to me, not even my survival.

Underneath this melting snow, there is life, an endless cycle of renewal. It is easy to forget what is possible when all you see is dirty snow and mashed up yellow grass and mud, how from dirty, mucky places such beautiful, enriching and vibrant things grow.

All is well, all is well, all manner of things shall be well.

 

igloo