Finding My Way

by Pat Grosser on August 10, 2010

© Robert Pagano

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Melodie’s note: As a cancer survivor and Life After Cancer Coach, Pat Grosser knows how difficult it can be to shake off the inertia that is common after cancer. Her passion is to help survivors shift from feeling stuck to living life to the fullest based on what matters the most to them. As I’ve gotten to know Pat, my respect for her professional expertise and personal depth continues to grow. To find out more about what Pat has to offer, including practical suggestions in her upcoming booklet, “Tips to Help You Get Unstuck after Cancer,” go to seasidecoaching.com.

Who knew that after cancer treatments were finished it would be so hard to…well, to do anything. After completing a six-month course of high-dose chemotherapy followed by a stem cell transplant for stage 4 mantle cell lymphoma, I thought, “Now will be the getting-back-to-living part.” So as I started a two-year maintenance program of Rituxan, a monoclonal antibody, I expected to take it easy for a few months and then proceed to normal living. That wasn’t even close to what actually happened.

The day I came home from my 21-day hospital stay following the transplant, I started to get a more realistic perspective. As I sat on the couch in my living room, I could not cross my legs without using my hands to lift one leg over the other. It was clear that it would not be a speedy recovery.

I had plenty of time to think as I spent day after day on the couch. I came to the realization that I did not want life to return to the busy, stressful pace of pre-cancer days. Instead, I wanted to live in a more balanced way — physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I wanted to spend time with people who are important to me, especially my daughter, Becca, and three precious grandchildren. I wanted to return to the career I had such passion for—life coaching. And I wanted to focus on health and wellness of mind and body and to walk closely with the God who brought me through a trial I could not have imagined.

I also realized that I had a long, long way to go. I was reminded of a vacation Becca, my grandchildren and I took to Delaware where we stayed in a lovely blue beach cottage. Every morning we would pack up breakfast and lug it along with toys, blankets and towels to the water’s edge. There we saw a great number of horseshoe crabs mysteriously on their backs unable to do more than wave their legs in the air. Becca and I would grab sturdy sticks and, with the Grans cheering us on, we would flip right-side-up one crab after another and watch them scurry into the life-saving sea. Then we would enjoy our breakfast feeling quite satisfied with our early morning rescue.

That’s how I felt after my cancer ordeal—like those sorry, helpless, upside-down crustaceans. How could I get right-side-up to get on with my life when I couldn’t even open a bottle of water or walk up a few stairs? It would take more than a stick to flip me back on course. Instinctively I knew it had to come from inside of me and, with God’s help, I would do whatever it took to get strong and healthy.

My oncologist gave me an invaluable piece of advice: while it was all right to push myself a little bit, it would be counter-productive to overdo. With that in mind, and early spring beckoning, I ventured out for my first walk. I walked the short distance from the car to the beach, the length of one cottage, and back again. I felt very tired but triumphant! Then after a day or two, I did it again but walked the length of two cottages, then three, and more. By summer’s end, I was walking three miles a day! That was my approach to many things: climbing stairs, wiping kitchen counters or organizing a drawer. I made slow, steady increases. 

I learned many lessons on my slow path to recovery, such as:

  • Make surviving cancer your personal “turning point” toward a more fulfilling, healthy and meaningful life. Look in the mirror, smile at the person you see, and say out loud, “I survived cancer—I can do just about anything!” Then take small steps toward the life you envision.
  • When people ask how they can help, tell them. They probably mean it and would be delighted to think they made a difference. Keep a list of things you would like help with so you will have a ready answer when asked.
  • Connect with people who energize you and have a positive attitude about life. You will be pleasantly surprised how contagious it can be.
  • Seek what makes you laugh and spend time with other confirmed laugh-aholics. Laughter makes you healthy, attractive, young and fun!
  • If you feel lonely, try doing some things at your local cancer center. They often offer a variety of free groups, classes and activities. It also feels welcoming and safe as most everyone there has some connection to cancer.
  • Clear your life of those things you are tolerating that drain you. Identify behaviors, habits, obstacles and situations that you are putting up with, then start to eliminate them. As your list decreases, your energy and optimism will grow by leaps and bounds.
  • Choose to think positively about what is ahead for you. Crisis and change (cancer) can spell OPPORTUNITY. Just because you didn’t choose this particular path doesn’t mean that it won’t be an exciting time of personal strength, growth and joy.
  • Forgive those who have harmed you. Remember, forgiving is not the same as excusing and it does not mean that the person you forgive must be in your life. For your sake, stop being angry or resentful toward anyone. The burden of un-forgiveness is a heavy one.
  • Take good care of yourself. Make a point of doing things you enjoy and are healthy, fun, special and/or make you feel pampered.
  • Nourish your soul. Have hope for your future, love for others and yourself, and seek a meaningful spiritual life. Make every effort to live intentionally according to your beliefs and values.

As I look back on my cancer journey, I feel so grateful for my life today and the people who have made such a difference. I can hardly believe that I am doing those things that seemed so impossible two and a half years ago. I am living a much more balanced and satisfying life, I spend time with people I love, I have resumed my coaching practice, I am healthier, and my relationship with my God continues to be my greatest blessing. Finally, I am delighted to report that I resemble those horseshoe crabs less and less every day.

 © 2010 Pat Grosser

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