By Stacey Carroll
In my mental dictionary, strength had to do with will power and physical ability, and I believed I was strong according to my definition. I’ve been in the US Army for 20 years, served as a Commander twice, had been to Iraq and seen the brutality of war, kick-boxed in competitions, and worked as an ICU nurse.
Diagnosed with breast cancer during my tour in Iraq, I received my care at Dana-Farber/New Hampshire Oncology-Hematology. I never envisioned the type of strength I would need. My definition had to be altered.
If you are facing cancer, here are my suggestions for re-learning what strength means.
- Seek help. It is not always easy for a “strong” person to seek help. You don’t have to lie on the couch and pour your heart out, but if that works for you, go for it! Support groups, online communities, social networking, or one-to-one conversations can connect you with others in your shoes, who can offer support and guidance. Friends and family want to help, but they may not know what you need. Don’t be afraid to put your requests out there for them to choose from. They’ll appreciate being able to do something for you.
- Journaling. It sounds touchy-feely, and I’m far from that, but writing down how I felt allowed me to go back and see how far I had come. On days when it feels like it can’t get worse, it is helpful to know that my situation WAS worse and IS getting better. It was empowering to see in my own terms that I was getting stronger.
- Get out. Easier said than done on some days. I put orange plastic Adirondack chairs in front of my house. I would take my coffee out and sit. On those days when I couldn’t walk down the street, I would sit and just breathe. The old wives tale of “get dressed, you’ll feel better” applies – even if it means you get dressed just to sit outside.
- Say yes. Life is too short to say no. When friends ask you to go out for coffee, say yes. When a neighbor wants to bake you lasagna, say yes. When you’re offered a trip for the weekend, say yes. You’ll embody the love and support friends offer, and it builds your strength.
- Look for a silver lining. My friend Bess could always find the silver lining in anything, and I tried to follow her example. Chemo was miserable, but it allowed me to finish my degree. I lost my beautiful two feet of hair, but it is growing back curly now. I’ve gained 15 pounds, but I get to buy new jeans. Finding the silver lining changes the way you see everything, and changes the way others see you.