This year I am enduring a long course of chemotherapy for breast cancer, with two more phases of treatment to go. I do this in the company of over 250,000 women in the US alone. Enduring implies undergoing a hardship, without giving in.
Throughout this, I have persevered. Perseverance is about persisting in spite of counter influences, discouragement or opposition. I’ve had the vision, strength, hope, and commitment to actively participate in my own treatment and recovery, and to continue showing up for family, friends, work and community. I’ve made adaptations and adjustments in order to do that.
Maybe some of this ability to persevere comes from within. Much of it comes from the good fortune and great love that surround and protect me. A major part of the good fortune is that the cancer is in a pretty early stage, and is a well known and readily treatable form of the disease. Not everyone is so fortunate.
Holding hope and a positive vision
From the start, shocked and scared as I was, I was also sure that I’d ultimately be fine.This hopeful vision for the future helped me take, and keep taking, steps to ensure that my certainty would be realized. It kept me going on even the roughest days, and I have had some of those. There are probably more ahead, something I know need to be prepared for. Knowing there is much wonder, beauty, joy, fun, love and creativity now and in the future helps me face any struggles that await.
Persevering through a challenge like this is a DIT (Do it Together) project, as Jeffrey Davis, leader of our Quest2017 group says. I want to give a shout out to the people who have lent me the strength, love, patience and joy that have helped so much. You all know who you are. You have made all the difference.
Making needed adaptations
There was a lot of adapting to do, in my diet, sleep patterns, activity level and my weekly schedule. Some of the changes that allowed me to persevere in staying engaged in all of live included:
- Accepting help. This is a big shift for me, one who sees herself as a help-giver. I decided that offers of help are expressions of love and caring, and accepting those offers is accepting that human connection. Plus, I just plain need some extra help these days!
- Making choices – this, not that. My own wish was to keep doing what I love to do both personally and professionally. My doctors have encouraged this, sharing their observations that those who stay as engaged and active as possible fare better during treatment and afterwards. Staying engaged in these things has been possible but has required making choices, saying yes to this, and no to that. I’ve been cutting back on some work activities and reducing my hours. I have kept exercising but let go of expectations of having my pre-treatment speed and stamina. I am staying touch with family and friends, but let everyone know about my current limits in terms of time and energy. While activism can take more stamina than I have, I participate when and where I can.
- Processing what is happening. It’s a big deal to have a serious illness. There are practical implications for your time, your relationships, your finances and your overall health. Then there are the emotional implications – your sense of who you are, the way physical struggle has a biochemical impact that affects mood and thoughts, the realistic and unrealistic fears that come up. I am dealing with this through a number of means. Art journaling, writing, talking with others, seeing a therapist all of which help me stay aware of and make sense of my full range of emotional responses.
Persevering isn’t about persisting despite all
Persisting sometimes means changing course, switching strategies or setting new goals. My initial fitness goal was to maintain my existing strength and endurance. That turned out to be unrealistic. No matter what your fitness level is at the start of treatment, chemo inevitably takes a toll, as I quickly learned. Instead of pushing myself to accomplish the impossible, or giving in to frustration and anger, I learned to see each ride as a victory. No matter how short or slow, no matter how many times I had to stop to regain my breath and allow my heart rate to recover, I had done it.
What I’ve learned about the importance of a hopeful vision, maintaining connections, making needed adaptations and recognizing when not to persist applies to persevering applies to navigating many types of changes, personal, societal, and political. What have you learned about perseverance through a difficult life situation that you continue to use when faced with a new challenge?
Resources To Help You Persevere
I’ve found each of these to be a great help. Let me know if you have other useful resources, and what you think of these.
Karin Marcus: Birding Through Cancer, A Seasons of Change Journey. This inspirational memoir takes you on one woman’s journey of weathering a frightening diagnosis by immersing herself in nature. She shares the Seasons of Change model as a guide for navigating change and describes how she drew important lessons from nature as she underwent treatment.
Cheryl Richards: The Art of Extreme Self-Care. Twelve strategies for transforming your life through extreme self-care. It’s written for a general audience.
Gerald M. LeMole, MD, Pallav K. Mehta, MD, & Dwight L. McKee, MD: After Cancer Care. A self-care guide to getting and staying well after cancer. It supports perseverance by providing guidance in what survivors can do in terms of nutrition, exercise and stress reduction strategies that support well-being and reduce risk of recurrence.
Mirah Curzer: How to Stay Outraged Without Losing Your Mind. Self-care lessons for the resistance. Part of perseverance in difficult times is remembering self-care.
Britt Bravo: How to Work With Fear In These Times. Britt’s ideas support perseverance by countering the effects that fear can have on our health and well-being. Britt, writer, editor, teacher and mentor, is the founder of Big Vision Consulting. She includes a list of relevant posts (including the one I shared here).
Sarah Trimmer: Start and End Happy. Sarah supports our ability to persevere with a technique she developed to strengthen happiness and mental strength,.
Kelly Indra Inselman: Free Yourself From Agitation is a meditation to promote calm, healing, rest and better sleep. Created for cancer survivors and useful for others experiencing anxiety or agitation. She vlogs weekly, with meditations to calm and reduce stress.
Krista Tippett and John Lewis: Love in Action: John Lewis talks about his experiences in Selma on Bloody Sunday, and how they might inform us today.