Cancer Patient Redefines Strength

By Stacey Carroll

Watch Stacey Carroll describe how she got her strength back.

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.

Stacey Carroll

  • 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.

5 responses to “Cancer Patient Redefines Strength

  1. Couldn’t have said it better. Just had my last round of chemo two weeks ago. You are an inspiration. Thanks for your duty to our country. (I’m an Air Force wife and grew up in the army)

  2. Stacey,

    your recommendations are right on target. Having been through the ordeal of radiation and chemotherapy myself, it is so important to let people help even if you are a very independent person. The can’t take the physical pain away but they can make life so much easier for you and your family while feeling like they are helping you through the process. So glad to know that you are on the road to recovery-stay focused on the future and being healthy.

  3. My sister was recently diagnosed with cancer at 50. You hit it on target. I live away and want to do what I can for her. You are inspiring and I hope this can help her in some way. Thankyou

  4. Your tips are right on target! I journaled during chemo and it helped me get it out of my head and onto paper! :). I also had a friend who sent me one small gift each week during chemo (a small pink teddy bear, pink fluffy pen, bath soap – small tokens) which made me smile and enjoy the sometimes painful walk to the mailbox.

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