Tag Archives: Work after cancer

After Effects: The Scars People Don’t See

It was 2005 and I was in a cab in New York with Caroline Myss. I had met her in the lobby of her hotel and I was escorting her to the conference hall at the Sheraton in Times Square. After reading a few of her books, I was filled with excited anticipation, sharing this private time with her before she began her keynote. I remember this taxi ride, but can’t for the life of me remember what she told me. It was something important, words that I held dear and shared with friends at pivotal moments in their lives. Poof. It’s gone.

Earlier today I sat trying to recall the name of another author and teacher I love, someone who inspires a deep connection and stewardship with the earth, but the harder I searched, the bigger and blacker the hole in my memory became, until my brows furrowed into a knot and I knew I had to just let it go for the moment.

This happens to me all the time, and I have learned to jokingly play it off. I chalk it up to my “swiss cheese memory” or residual chemo brain. Although I finished 5 months of treatment back in January of 2015, I still struggle with recall. Three and a half years later, I’m still not ready to accept these permanent changes to the way I think, that whole chunks of my life’s experiences are wholly inaccessible to me now. It’s like a beloved photo album was punted it into the air and many of those key moments and conversations scattered, leaving sticky yellow rectangles and partially filled pages.

I lean on my husband and my close friends, lapping up their version of our shared memories, listening and watching carefully with this vague knowing of how the story ends up. I nod like I’ve seen the episode on Netflix. I know this one.

It brings up some bitterness and shame and mourning for my lost wit and edge. I so prized my ability to conjure up detail and random fact. It’s not all gone, but just that the wires get crossed, and the recall takes longer. I’m sure some of this happens naturally as one gets older, but this is different, a sharper left turn than the rounded bend of middle age. I mourn the loss of who I use to be, and who I could have become, some unknown potential if my memory were fully intact.

It’s not just access to older data, but newer input as well. To skillfully cover my back, I’m a fastidious note taker and list maker. Making a mark seems to ingrain new information in a visual way, so I can store it and access it. I make up for it in other ways too, ever privately tallying my usefulness, like my eerie wifeskill of locating a lost wallet and keys. I have a mental map of my home and keen intuition to guide me.

It occurred to me today that there was a trade off for my memories. Healing cancer taught me presence. It taught me to be in THIS moment. This type of beingness and presence takes place right here and now, not in yesterday or tomorrow or next week or month. Never before had I this much awareness and value in mindful presence, beyond a neat and tidy new-agey concept that I occasionally made time for between 7:15 and 7:20am on a meditation cushion with a perfectly straight back.

THIS presence I have come to know is entirely something else. It is a folding in on myself, sinking deeper into the couch cushions, swallowing my entirety and exhaling a timeless, borderless belonging with all things. What a paradox of wanting to know, needing to know, and tricking yourself to believe that you KNOW how anything will turn out, only to truly have certainty over what is here right now, and right now, and right now…

Also, I have learned (and try to remember) not to over commit, not to over-do it. Whereas I use to feel obliged to say “yes” to everything, I simply can’t. I learned that it is not only healthy, but good to say “no” or “maybe” to invitations and requests. Being present and mindful considers the conditions of what is here now, not two weeks or one month from now.

Though stronger and feeling better than I have since before cancer, my body is less forgiving now. I know when I have overdone it because the sting and numbness of neuropathy will flare up in my fingers and toes. I had hoped this lingering effect would have gone away, but it seems this is part of my life now. I have adapted to it, and use it as a measurement of how much rest and recovery is needed.

I forget where I heard this, but connect to the idea that “everyone’s got something!” I get curious and filled with empathy when I consider all that might be going on for someone sitting at the traffic light next to me, or passing by in the grocery store. It’s easy to see someone’s struggle when they cover their baldness with a headscarf, or walk with a limp, or use a wheelchair or cane. There might be emotional and psychological wounds hidden beneath the surface. It’s easy to ignore or overlook the scars that no one sees. Wounds might disfigure and distort, but with time, support and reflection, they also have the potential to transform us in profound ways.

“Just let go. Let go of how you thought your life should be, and embrace the life that is trying to work its way into your consciousness.” 
― Caroline Myss


art by Zapista 


*MELISSA EPPARD is a certified Life 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, 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


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.