Not What I Expected

Four years ago, I was considering retiring from school nursing and looking at my options. I wanted to work part-time and do something different. After Googling jobs for nurses, number ten on one list was Life Coach. I’d considered going into that area years before but the timing didn’t feel right. I had fifteen years of experience as a mental health nurse, so while Coaching would be different, it would still use some of my long-developed skills.

I took the Wisdom of the Whole (formerly Linda Bark Coaching Academy) course that following year in 2015, worked through the sixty supervision hours and passed the certification exam by April of 2016. I even completed an extra course that focused on Coaching People Affected by Cancer.

What I thought was going to happen, was that I would eventually develop a part-time role as a Coach in the oncology practice where I’d received treatment for triple-negative breast cancer. I’d served on the committee to develop the Waverly Survivors’ Community and hoped to contribute in a more direct way.

On November 7th of this year, I saw a previous entry in my journal that was written Nov. 7, 2016. I was giving my first Nurse Coach presentation to Waverly Survivors’ Community on using Positive Self-Talk when encountering medical procedures. I spent a lot of time developing my content, preparing a resource list, and working with the staff to coordinate our session. I made a comment in my journal that I was trusting God with my plans for retirement, with my desire to work part-time as a Coach with that oncology practice.

That night, three women came to our session. We were a very informal, conversational group. I presented some of my information, but what the women were more interested in was sharing their stories. They were so ready to connect with others going through breast cancer treatment. At the end of the hour, I posed the same question that I would with a coaching client, “So what is your takeaway from our session?”

They were quiet for a while, then one woman said, “You’ve been a survivor for 16 years.”

It wasn’t the information that I presented, it was me being an example that you could live for many years beyond treatment.

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Family picture May ’01 three mths after I finished treatment. Left to Right, younger son, Ross, husband, David, and older son, Brooks

Ultimately, I didn’t develop a role for myself in that practice. Instead, I was hired for a part-time research nurse position through UNC Outpatient Psychiatry that used skills from working in mental health, school nursing, and clinical trials research.

Now I realize that instead of working in person with cancer survivors, I’ve been using my own cancer experience and coaching skills in my writing. What I didn’t foresee, is that my energy for supporting survivors will be used with my own family. After fourteen years of having an empty nest, both my sons living in other states, now they’ve returned to our area.

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Family picture Oct. 2017–Daughter-in-Law, Emily pregnant with our grandson

And the biggest surprise, is that I’m taking care of my precious 6-month-old grandson two days a week. If I were coaching people going through the intensity of cancer treatment and learning to put their lives together afterwards, I don’t think I’d have the emotional reserves to give my best to my grandson. Now, instead of driving to that oncology practice I’m driving the ten miles to their home to take care of him. It’s a gift I didn’t foresee.

My heart wants to keep reaching out to fellow cancer survivors, to encourage them so they can say, “You’ve been a Survivor . . .” now for 18 years. I’ll keep pursuing Reflective Questions that help my readers, and me, to get at what’s inside waiting to be expressed.

And in the meantime, I’ll love each moment watching my grandson develop, grateful that I have this unexpected blessing.

 

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Loving my little North Carolina Tar Heel

How About You?

What plans have you made that didn’t work out in the way you’d hoped?

How did things unfold for you?   In what ways were you surprised?  Were there unexpected blessings?

 

 

 

 

 

Share Your Cancer Story

“Come on in and join the party!” my friend Mary, the birthday ‘girl’ and host, welcomed me. She was in the midst of checking the beverage coolers, taking care of her guests.

It was Saturday night and I was ready for a break from my growing lists of tasks: next steps in publishing my memoir, household chores crying out from neglect, charts to review for my part-time research nurse job. Going to my friend’s party was a welcomed relief.

Once I had my plate of food and was looking for a place to sit, Mary said, “Connie, I want you to meet someone who just finished our Expressive Writing Group.”

Mary had developed that group for the Waverly Survivor Clinic. We first met while participating on the planning committee to establish supports for our survivors’ community. I’d received chemo for breast cancer in their treatment area.

“This is Kay. She just completed the program,” Mary told me, then turned toward Kay. “Connie was in my first group two years ago.”

We sat across from each other on the couch. She was younger than me, mid-forties, and was stylishly dressed and wore a fedora atop her curly, dark hair. I’ve always liked fedoras, and admired women with the confidence to wear them, especially since I’ve never been a hat person. She asked me about my experience with the group, but then she was interested in my cancer story.

“It’s been eighteen years, now,” I told her. “I was shocked when they told me I had breast cancer, since I don’t have a family history of the disease.”

She’d heard the same statistic as me, that 70% of those diagnosed do not have a family history. I told her mine was discovered on a routine mammogram, the word routine always giving me pause since that day when I ran out for that mammogram during my lunch break.

“Yeah, mine was triple-negative and I wanted Dr. Graham to do everything possible to get rid of the cancer,” I told her. “I was forty-five and my sons were in 9thand 10thgrade. As a mother, after my first concern of, “Am I going to live?” my next priority was being there for my boys.”

She told me hers was triple-negative, too, and that she’d finished treatment just a little over a year ago. I knew that her memories and her fears were fresh.

She asked me about my course of treatment. We’d had a similar path but the steps were in a different order.

“Those appointments get easier over time,” I told her, remembering how anxious I was post-treatment, out from under the frequent visits and protective watch of my oncologist.

“It’s so good to talk to you, to hear that you’re an eighteen-year survivor,” she said.

Her comment reminded me of an experience at my surgeon’s office the week I found out I had breast cancer. Sitting and waiting for my appointment for him to explain the pathology report and answer my panicky questions, I overheard a woman talking about her breast cancer to the receptionist.

“I can’t believe it’s been eight years,” the receptionist said to the woman. “You really look good.”

She’s lived for eight years, I marveled. While I was a nurse, I’d never worked in oncology and never read about breast cancer. My recent experience of losing a high school classmate from that disease was my point of reference. Overhearing that conversation settled me down, and often played in my head over the months of treatment.

Now, Kay was telling me the same thing—that my story of being an eighteen-year survivor had given her hope. It reminded me that I needed to be available to share my story, when the other person was wanting to hear it. I remembered times when I didn’t want to talk about cancer, I wanted to forget about it—at least for a while. As a survivor, I needed to let the other person lead with what they wanted at that moment.

We finished our dinner and Mary led us out to the garage where The String Beings band was playing. Guests sat in lawn chairs listening to the relaxing Saturday night music, talking with the band members between songs. I spotted Dr. Graham, the first time I’d seen him outside the office, looking all ‘regular’ in a casual shirt, pants, and athletic shoes, without that long white lab coat.

Kay and I found seats near the band and continued our conversation. She showed me some of her family pictures, and pointed out her pre-chemo, straight hair. Her Mama Pride radiated when she shared the picture of her son. What a beautiful family that had been there for her during her treatment.

We talked and talked until the band played their last song.

Leaving Mary’s party, I felt full and happy. I’d encouraged a fellow survivor and in the process, made a new friend. I’d been reminded how important it is to share our cancer story, that though I want to move on and leave that behind me, there are people in my path who need Hope.

How About You?

What is your story that could provide someone with hope?

How does it impact them when you share your story? How does it impact you?

(Sorry, Friends. My photos are not loading today–after many tries! So frustrating. Will try to post them in the future)