Tag Archives: life purpose and cancer

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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Why I fell in love with Life Coaching

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I was introduced to Life Coaching while working at the Omega Institute back in 2006. Here I was immersed in a great community, doing work that served a higher purpose. I was lost, disconnected from the core essence of myself, mired in endless details, feeling overly responsible for everything and everyone, and frankly burnt out. I was offered a chance to work with Win, a Co-Active Life Coach who was brought in to support the staff on campus.

My first assignment was to say “No” at least 5 times between that session and the next the following week. It was so eye-opening to learn how hard this was for me. I had given myself absolutely no space to play, and express my creativity, and it was all due to my terrible boundaries and prioritizing everyone and everything before me first.

Win was a gentle and supportive man, who surprisingly was a former Marine. This military edge didn’t really make itself known, except now that I know coaching a little more, I would say this attributed to his ability to bottom line, or cut the chase and point out that thing that I was avoiding saying or doing. He had an open curiosity that made me feel safe and helped deepen the coaching. He was also an excellent model of championing, showing me all my strengths and capability in spite of feeling overwhelmed and exhausted.

Eight years later, in spring of 2014, I began my CTI Life Coach training. I was wrapping up a 6 year job working as an office manager at a wellness center in Woodstock. That job had put me in touch with service on a deeper level, and I saw the suffering and the need for transformation that is possible with coaching.  Even though I didn’t call it coaching, I was often having “coachy” conversations with clients as they left the Chiropractor’s exam room. Deep emotions would surface, and the front desk where I sat was a gateway to the rest of the “real world” that lay waiting. When the doctor I worked for announced he was retiring, I realized that I wanted to have my name on the placard. I wanted to be my own boss. For years I had been searching for that thing known as “a calling”. Having experienced the transformative power of coaching for myself personally, and realizing the space I had held for those 6 years at the wellness center, I knew it was time to OWN IT. I dedicated myself to the path of coaching and signed up for all 5 core courses at once.

The first course really pushed me beyond my comfort zone, but I fell in love with the group and knew I had found home. Then, in the most shocking way, the universe answered my proclamation with a breast cancer diagnosis just 3 weeks after I began. I had to stop everything and endure a very painful double mastectomy and 5 months of chemotherapy. I was terrified and couldn’t see any kind of life beyond surgery and treatment. My entire identity was stripped and turned inside out.

I would return to the fold in May of 2015, just 4 months after treatment ended. In spite of having the rug ripped out from under me, the minute I sat back in that circle, and reconnected to this life altering work, I knew this was my path. My heart had grown with resilience and pumped up fresh wisdom from a well of compassion previously unknown to me.  I found a direct line to the eternal part of myself that had pounded the drum to deliver me there. By the end of the second course I had rededicated myself to the vision of Co-Active Coaching.

CTI, or The Coaches Training Institute, has been called “The Harvard of Coaching”. What I love so much about the Co-Active model is that the relationship between coach and client is like a dance that is designed to hold the vision of the client’s best possible self at the pinnacle, and continually gives all the power back to the client in service of forwarding and deepening the coaching. The underlying belief is that each person, no matter where they are in life, is Creative, Resourceful and Whole. Each of us has all the answers and wisdom inside of us, and a good coach will ask the right questions to help bring that insight to the surface. Co-Active coaching helps you focus on goals and outcomes that speak to your core values, bringing greater balance and fulfillment to your life and will create accountability to bring you into alignment with the best version of yourself.

I’m so excited to share the evocative and transformative growth that Co-Active coaching inspires. If you are interested in learning more or would like to sign up for a FREE sample session, email me at: MelissaEppardCoaching@gmail.com, or use the book now button the home page of my site: Melissashealinghope.com

Who do you need to be to stop quietly dreaming about the life you desire, and begin actively living it?