Last week I received a most unexpected phone call from a friend who was desperately trying to support a loved one struggling with cancer. As a transitional life coach and cancer survivor, she looked to me for a way to somehow make things okay.
Isn’t it curious that our first instinct as women is to try and fix the problem – the female stress response, “tend-and-befriend?” I wonder if that response is fueled by a genuine caring or the discomfort we feel with suffering. I suppose the motivation depends upon the person. Honestly for me it was a little of both.
I reflected back on my own journey with thyroid cancer and recalled many of the things that helped me feel normal in the midst of this dis-ease. I started to make my list…laughter…uplifting books…sleep… encouraging friends…refusing to use the words “my cancer”…setting limits with “well-meaning” visitors while recovering…trusting what I needed would be there when I needed it…
This discomfort part of me knew the list was very specific to my needs. The caring coach side of me immediately saw a pattern as I shared a bit of M-Y-S-E-L-F!
In my coaching practice I work with clients each day who find themselves at the effect of their lives but, instead, want to enjoy life. In essence they want to stop surviving and start thriving! The individual stories that bring them to me vary greatly but the road to healing takes a similar turn. They must shift their thinking in a way that allows them to put their needs first without guilt!
For many of us putting ourselves first is a sign of selfishness. As a coach I encourage my clients to reexamine that assumption. After all what is the first thing they tell you on an airplane? In the event that the oxygen mask drops put your mask on first before helping anyone else. Really, how can you help others if you are deprived of the the very oxygen you need to breathe? And why is this deprivation limited to oxygen?
To help others better understand what I mean by shifting their thinking, I coined the acronym M-Y-S-E-L-F and aptly assigned meaning to each letter:
- M: me
- Y: yes
- S: strategy and synergy
- E: energy
- L: leisure and laughter
- F: fearlessness
With my tend-and-befriend response in check and my coaching hat in place, I was ready to help my friend find her own way to be supportive. This is how she chose to apply the M-Y-S-E-L-F strategy with her loved one.
M-Y-S-E-L-F…the 6 Letters of Support for a Loved One with Cancer
Make the journey through cancer all about ME.
It doesn’t matter if anyone else agrees with your decisions, how you choose treatment or what boundaries you decide to set. It is all about you! This is your time to put yourself first. After all, your life depends upon it. Continue to be the caretake – this time put the focus on you.
Say YES when it feels right.
Choose people, places and things that fill you. Don’t be afraid to tell someone “no” if you don’t want visitors.
Have a STRATEGY that creates SYNERGY for you.
Remember you are the general contractor of your body. Health care professionals are the craft people. Make sure the treatments align and support your desired outcome.
Follow the positive ENERGY trail.
It is exponentially more healing to be around positive, anabolic people. Consider meditations that help you visualize healing energy. (Dr. Bernie Siegel ‘s Getting Ready: Preparing for Surgery, Chemotherapy and Other Treatments is a great resource.) If it doesn’t feel good to you in your gut, it probably isn’t for you. Learn to trust your intuition.
Take time to LAUGH and relish your LEISURE time.
Never underestimate the power of laughter. If you have ever seen the movie Patch Adams with Robin Williams you know that even traditional medicine cannot dispute, “laughter is the best medicine.” Rest is particularly important when going through cancer treatment. Your body needs time to recharge and recycle.
Embrace an attitude of FEARLESSNESS.
Fear is such a negative emotion that is can actually feed cancer. If you are able, look at the gifts cancer has brought you – permission to focus on you, time to slow down…clarity about what is important to you –whatever small thing that is better for you now than it was before cancer, hold on to that knowing. Trust that everything you need will come to you when you need it.
As we hung up my friend thanked me for helping her find words of wisdom. As I plugged my cellphone in to charge I felt an incredible sense of peace, inspired by the power of coaching and remembering the sense of clarity and purpose cancer has given me in my life – to empower others to stop surviving and start thriving no matter what life brings.