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Ten Years After | “Letting Go”

There’s nothing like cancer to bring the elements of life into clear focus. Priorities become very clear, and extraneous thoughts and actions are as easy to toss away as a seashell into the water.

In my own life, throwing things away did not come easily. I had no trouble getting rid of things I no longer needed, and felt comfortable donating clothes I knew I wasn’t ever going to wear, but personal relationships, especially those that were very demanding and draining, were hard for me to jettison.

Even during my treatment, I found myself trying my best to accommodate those who were freaked out by my diagnosis; people who wanted me to be there the way I’d always been; people who wanted to believe as if the cancer was no big deal.

To my way of thinking, rather than make a comment, or a stand, it was easier to just agree and accept these people as they were. Rather than cut them off, my goal was simply to avoid interactions, hunker down, and focus my energy on staying focused and getting well.

The approach worked, as far as it went, but didn’t really address a core life issue most people at one point or another have to face: when it comes to certain relationships, when is it okay to let go?

It wasn’t until I talked to so many experts on the front lines of treatment while writing Beauty Pearls for Chemo Girls that I came to realize that one of the best health decisions we can make for ourselves is to keep our emotional kitchen as clean and healthy as the one in our homes.

Stress is a known contributor to so much ill health, and the stress that comes from difficult relationships can be deadly. It doesn’t matter who the person is or how much feeling is shared between you. If the energy is negative, demanding, draining, confusing – if the cost to your sense of well-being and happiness far exceeds the benefits, it’s time to turn away.

It’s not only the smart thing to do – it’s the right thing to do.

Just as the airline attendant will tell passengers in an emergency to place an oxygen mask over their own face before attempting to help anyone else, one of the lessons cancer teaches is that we all must first be able to breathe before we can provide the wind to lift others.

During treatment, and for the rest of your life, use the journey of cancer to better assess who among your circle is really in your corner. Keep those people close. Cherish them.

And if it so happens that moving through cancer exposes you to truths about people, relationships or situations you find are more trouble than they’re worth, like the seashell, cast them away. Even if it’s only just a metaphorical shift in your own awareness of them, by taking away their power to drain you, you save those resources to enhance your own health and sense of personal harmony.

If something is out of tune in your world, cancer is the perfect excuse to either excise the note, or refine it. The choice – and the responsibility to ease your own path – is entirely yours.

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