Leaning Into Gratitude To Cope With A Loved One’s Cancer

Russ Terry

Russ Terry

The C word.  Cancer.  No one wants to hear it, especially from an immediate family member.  A few weeks ago, my Mom phoned with startling news:  her annual mammogram had turned up something “highly suspicious for malignancy.” I was stunned, shaken, sad, upset, scared.  You name it and I felt it – such a range of emotions.  I’m not going to lie or sugar coat it.  It’s been a rough few weeks.

On the positive side, however, there’s so much I have been grateful for in this situation.  Oh, let me count the ways:

1.       I’m grateful that she’s gotten her mammogram every year for 30 years and does a self-exam on the first of every month.  (Great advice for all women!)  Even if it did turn out to be cancer, I was optimistic that it was caught early and hopeful that this time next year we could not only go on the vacation to Italy that we’ve been planning, but could use the occasion to celebrate life, health, how much we love each other, and our Italian heritage, of which we’re very proud!

2.       I’m grateful for an incredibly wise and supportive group of colleagues.  Right before this all happened, I came to know not one or two but THREE people who would prove immensely helpful.  Two are breast cancer survivors and one is an expert on grief.  It’s like God planted them in my life to make sure I was OK.  Wow.

3.       My friends have been excellent.  I’m so grateful for their support, prayers, positive thinking and encouragement.  Thinking about them makes me smile.  So many have passed on good wishes to me, which I have forwarded to my Mom.  She is grateful, too, which makes me even happier to have all of them – and her – in my life.

4.       I’m so glad I have a job that’s flexible and enabled me to be by her side for her pre-lumpectomy consultation with her surgeon.  I’m grateful for the doctor and his calmness, and that my Mom, my sister and my Mom’s significant other could all be there with her.  We even went out to eat afterward, which we otherwise would never have done on a random Wednesday in early August.  It was lovely!

5.       Finally, I’m grateful that we got some very good news within the last few days.  Although Mom does have breast cancer, it has not spread. The surgeon said that he’ll likely be able to get everything out when he does the lumpectomy (on September 11th, please keep us in your prayers), and that she won’t need chemotherapy.  Phew!  What a relief.

When I shared the good news with people who are grappling with more difficult cancer experiences, I felt so guilty.  But they were incredibly happy for me.  I’m grateful
for their generous spirits.

You may get good news.  You may not.  Either way, you can always find something to be grateful for, even in tough situations — and now I know ESPECIALLY in tough situations.

Interesting postscript: I sent this to my Mom for her review before submitting it.  I wanted to make sure she was OK with it.  Here’s what she said: “Even if the diagnosis had been the type that needed chemo and radiation I would still be positive because more and more people are surviving cancer.” So inspiring, right??

For information on Russ, visit his website www.russterrylifecoach.com.

Russ Terry and Grief Coach, Jill Smolowe, are co-hosting an in-person workshop, “The Grief-Gratitude Connection,” to be held in New York City on September 15.  For more info and to purchase tickets, visit: http://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-grief-gratitude-connection-strategies-for-easing-the-stress-of-caregiving-and-the-pain-of-loss-tickets-9972777847

Understanding the Distinction between Belonging & Fitting In

Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.
-Brene Brown

I’ve been a bit obsessed with Brene Brown lately. If you don’t know her work, you’re missing out. She has a Ph.D. in Social Work and has been studying shame and vulnerability since 2001. Her “claim to fame” came in 2007 when she did a TEDx talk titled, The Power of Vulnerability, which has been viewed by over 11.4 million people worldwide. Recently, Brene appeared on Oprah’s Lifeclass and Super Soul Sunday. In addition, she’s a NY Times best-selling author and has written 3 books. I just finished reading one of her books, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are.

One of the major themes in Brene’s work revolves around the difference between “Belonging” versus “Fitting In”. Often mistaken as synonyms, these two terms have very different meanings, as well as very different impacts on your life. Let me explain.

In the preface section of her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene provides two lists of attributes (or patterns) shared by the thousands of people she collected stories from as part of her research. The first list, she labeled “Do”, and it characterized people who enjoyed a strong sense of love, community and connection. These people were able to embrace their imperfections and vulnerabilities and share them with others. Their shared attributes included worthiness, faith, hope, authenticity, love, belonging, joy, gratitude and creativity. Good stuff, right? When I think of the “Do” category, I envision people who are loving and accepting of themselves and others, grateful for what they have, plugged into their purpose and not afraid to make mistakes.

The second list, she labeled “Don’t”, and it characterized people who denied their imperfections and vulnerabilities and tried to hide them from others for fear of judgment and rejection. Their shared attributes included perfection, exhaustion, self-sufficiency, being cool, fitting in, judgment and scarcity. When I think of the “Don’t” category, I envision people who put up airs to seek approval and acceptance, operate with a lack mentality and judge both themselves and others.

Brene then goes on to define each one of these terms and describes how fitting in gets in the way of belonging:

“Fitting in” is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be to be accepted.

“Belonging”, on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are. It requires us to be who we are. Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it. Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.

Translation: In order for us to truly feel like we belong in this world, we need to love and accept ourselves. Human beings are hard wired for connection. There’s no escaping the fact that it’s in our emotional connections and our relationships that we find belonging, purpose and happiness. But there’s also no escaping the fact that our ability to make those connections is severely hindered if we can’t connect with ourselves, first and foremost.

I spent so many years seeking my “belonging” by trying to “fit in”. I tried to be cool, fiercely independent, and impervious to others opinions and judgments. I failed miserably. And for all of my attempts to “fit in”, I only created more separation and judgment in my life. (If you want to hear a little more about my story, click here.) .

The path to shifting your mindset from one of “fitting in” to one of “belonging” isn’t an easy one, especially if you’ve been conditioned to seek external approval and acceptance by others. With that said, I think it starts with being mindful of your behavior and ensuring your actions are coming from a place of authenticity and self-respect. Ask yourself what the motivations are behind your actions and if they’re aligned with who you really are. Lastly, you need to identify and open up to those trusted individuals you can share your whole self with, imperfections and all. The fact of the matter is, it’s only when we present our true selves to the world that we tap into real “belonging” and the worthiness, creativity and love that accompany it.

Can you identify ways in which you’ve been trying to “fit in” versus “belong” in any area of your life? Have you successfully shifted your life from trying to be perfect and self-sufficient to accepting and sharing your imperfections and vulnerabilities? Have any advice to share with other readers? Join in on the conversation by adding your comments below.




Joel Readence

Joel Readence

 Joel Readence (www.joelreadence.com) is a Personal Development Coach working with gay men, and others, in areas such as life purpose, relationships, career fulfillment, spirituality & personal identity. He partners with his clients to overcome fear of success, failure & judgment by others by helping then reach their full, self-expressed potential.

Follow Joel on Facebook (Joel Readence Coaching) and Twitter (@joelreadence