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What is Cancer-xiety?

Have you ever heard the phrase scanxiety? Cancer patients know too well how the period of time leading up to scans, up until results are received, can cause anxiety.

According to the Mayo Clinic, “Anxiety disorder due to a medical condition includes symptoms of intense anxiety or panic that are directly caused by a physical health problem.” This means that the worry and fear of cancer patients is a real thing!

Some of the symptoms of anxiety can include:

  • Feeling nervous, restless or tense
  • Having an increased heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Feeling weak or tired
  • Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) problems
  • Having difficulty controlling worry
  • Having the urge to avoid things that trigger anxiety

I believe that Cancer-xiety is a concern or worry with daily and significant events related specifically to a cancer diagnosis. 

Some of these triggers of cancer-xiety might be:

  • Bloodwork, or tests, such as an MRI. These can make you anxious, before, during and after. This may be due to not only the anticipation of results, but also being uncomfortable during the test itself and knowing that if something shows up in the results it can lead to more tests.
  • Change in oncologists. Cancer patients rely on their oncologists to help them make decisions that can impact their mortality, and that relationship is important.
  • Oncology appointments can bring test results, and perhaps, a change in treatment. Any results, or change in medications, or the frequency of check ups, reinforces the fact that much is out of control for the cancer patient.
  • Medications all come with side effects and can cause some of the same symptoms as anxiety, such as fatigue and sleep disturbance, which leads to a physical and emotional toll on the patient.
  • Cancer-versaries, or the big dates, such as your diagnosis date or a surgery date can bring difficult emotions back to the surface.

Why do I think this is so significant for cancer patients?

Cancer patients have a heightened awareness that you can easily be that 1 in 8 (or whatever statistic associated with developing a particular cancer). Truth bomb…some of us were diagnosed without any symptoms. We KNOW that you can be going through life feeling fine and then be thrust into appointments and treatments, and forced to face your mortality.

It is a heightened awareness of the unknown AND knowing some things are beyond our control.  We know what those treatments feel like, so while the cancer-xiety may seem like out-of-proportion emotions, it’s based on real trauma. That trauma sometimes makes the little voice inside your head tell you that every ache is the cancer coming back, and THAT is cancer-xiety. 

I’ve developed strategies to help me persevere through the trigger events and give an over view of these strategies in my YouTube video: Persevering Through Cancer-xiety and I invite you to check it out to learn more.

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Dear Loved One – A Kaleidoscope Letter

Have you ever wanted to read a cancer patient’s mind?

I have found a community of cancer patients on social media who are loving and supportive of each other. They are sometimes funny, or sassy, and always honest. They are a kaleidoscope of people, all different and beautiful.  This letter is made up of many pieces, or many people’s experiences, because I asked the cancer community what they want their loved ones to know, but may not voice out loud.

Dear friends and family,

Maybe you have known me all my life, or maybe we are newly acquainted. Maybe we live together, or maybe we spend our days together at work. I have something to tell you, well, a lot of things to tell you. So, settle in with a notepad and pen, you’re going to need it. 

I have cancer. Maybe this is a shock to you, but I have been silently going through some testing, and now that I have a diagnosis, I need you to know. 

I need you to know that I understand you care about me, and you don’t know what to say or do. Ask me, and I’ll tell you what would help me, because I may remember this moment and it can change our relationship. Some of you will become super supportive, and I may not hold back with you. You’ll get the cancer card, AND the whole deck!    

This letter is for all others, with love and respect, for insight. 

I need you to know that I’m scared, and hearing stories about other people you know, with the same cancer, or about how I’m young and treatments have improved, is not helpful. 

There may not be a logical reason for my cancer, and asking the cause can assign blame. I didn’t eat the wrong thing, drink too much, stress too much, this is not my fault.

As I go through more testing, telling me to be positive doesn’t make the anxiety, or scanxiety, better. This is hard, and I’m going to have some ups and downs.

I may have surgery to remove cancer, but there is so much more ahead that neither of us can anticipate. After surgery, my cancer is gone for now, and it could still come back. I may be unwell but I can still make my own decisions…don’t feel you need to make them for me. Please don’t tell me to fight, of course I want to live, but I’m not a cancer victim fighting a battle. Words are powerful and I’m just getting through each day the best I can. 

Treatment is long, and hard. Try not to look at me with pity. I’m still a normal human and have normal feelings. My body feels like it weighs 5,000 pounds after a round of chemo and that’s why I’m in bed for days. I literally can’t get out of bed. Please don’t be afraid to tell me about your everyday life. I NEED to hear what is happening with those I love, and want to think about the everyday problems for a while. Yes, hearing about your child’s tantrums or your husband snoring is welcome relief from cancer!

I find out that the long term side effects of treatment are ongoing , some of them forever. Life does not always return to normal for cancer patients after treatment. It can be a life sentence and there may be a time when I don’t feel like I fit into my old life anymore, like I will never be the person I was before my diagnosis. At the same time, I can feel like the same me, but forever changed. You know, We really are all new people — all human cells turn over through the course of a 7-10 year period. With chemo, I killed off more cells faster, so I’m really a whole new me! Reborn with a complete absence of peace of mind and a new and extremely dark sense of humor amongst other things. 

Losing my hair during treatment, I get it, but when it grows back lush, and gets taken away again because I’m taking meds to stay alive, that makes me sad. Don’t try to convince me it looks fine. I see it. These same meds, they can cause pain. It’s the kind of pain you feel in your bones, which then makes you wonder if the cancer is back. The cancer has changed me physically, and I may not be able to do the things I used to be able to do. I hate that you can see how exhausted I am, even when I try to hide it.

My dear friends and family, please listen, no matter what, celebrate, when I’m doing well, and comfort me when I’m not. Just continue to support me beyond active treatment. There may be times when I may hold some stuff back, because it’s less awkward, or so that your memories of me are not the chronic pain. Or maybe I’m going through more testing again, and I don’t want you to worry, but you can always ask questions…I’m open to that.

Cancer may have shaped me, but it will not define me.

To the ones at the center of my heart, my children, I don’t think it’s fair for you to have to live in a world without your mother. I can’t guarantee I can look down on you and protect you, but if I can, I absolutely will. 

Thank you, friends and family, for looking through the glass of the kaleidoscope and watching over us, where there is light and dark and pieces that don’t fit together, until you make another turn.

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Stress Management in Six Steps

Have you had an increase in stress recently? Are you ready to make changes to improve your stress?

Our bodies help us manage acute stress by increasing our heart rate and breathing, as we prepare to battle. This is helpful in an emergency, but many people are living in a chronic state of stress, affecting our mind, body and behavior. Symptoms of chronic stress can include; headaches, muscle tension or pain, fatigue, sleep problems, irritability, overeating or undereating, and social withdrawal. Left untreated, these effects can lead to many health problems, including; heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes. 

There ARE small steps you can take to help manage the chronic stress!

Tip 1: Do a brain dump, or write in a journal

What do I mean by a brain dump? 

Simply, it is dumping your thoughts from your brain to declutter and organize your thoughts. I suggest you do this by using a paper and pen to write down all your thoughts. Anything goes, from your to-do list to your feelings. It doesn’t have to be neat, or make any sense, and you can make a list, or get creative. The purpose is to just get the information out of your head, which can lead to less stress and more productivity.  

If brain dumping doesn’t appeal to you, perhaps journaling will. If you already journal, great! I hope you take some time today to write down your thoughts. If you are new to journaling, however, I have found that beginning with even just one line each day is helpful.

Tip 2: Quality Sleep

Like you probably have heard, getting enough quality sleep is important. But do you know the WHY and the HOW to get quality sleep?

The Why: Not only can good sleep help with stress, but it can also aid in maintaining a healthy weight. Plus, so much more!

The How: Physical activity during the day and creating a bedtime routine are two things you can do to set yourself up for a quality night’s sleep. 

Tip 3: Nutrition

I bring nutrition into stress management because what you put into your body impacts your mood, brain function, and your overall health. In my on-going education I have learned about the benefits of fiber, including reducing the risk of many diseases. And you guessed it, fiber is found in plant foods! Along with the fiber in plant foods, you are also getting vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

Consider meal planning for the week and incorporating mostly plant based foods for quality nutrition to fuel your mind and body.

Tip 4: Movement

Do you have a fitness routine? If you do, great! If you don’t, it’s not too late to get started, and it doesn’t have to be complicated. Do note, however, if exercise is new to you, or if you have a health condition, you may want to consult your doctor before incorporating a new activity. There are long term benefits to our physical well-being from exercise, but the immediate benefits include stress management.

If you are feeling stress throughout your day, taking a ten minute break for some movement can help bring your stress level down. If you can’t get outside for a walk. Try indoor walking! Simply walk in the space you have. Another idea is to put on some music and move, in whatever way feels good to you. However you choose to bring movement into your day, know that you are doing your mind and body good!

Tip 5: Meditation

First let me explain what meditation is and is not. Meditation is really the narrowing of thoughts to regulate the body’s internal dysregulation. It is internal attention to your breathing, movement or thoughts to bring you calm. Meditation is not necessarily associated with a specific religion or philosophy. 

The intended purpose of meditation is to bring you from active thinking to calm, and it can take practice to quiet a busy mind! Different types of meditation can include; guided meditation, movement and mindfulness. 

My favorite way to meditate is to find a YouTube video of rain sounds, which happens to be calming for me, and then I focus on breathing and clearing my mind. 

Again, meditation is a practice, so if you are new to it, be patient with yourself. Over time, it can benefit you by helping to manage stress.

Tip 6: Breathing Techniques

Breathing is something we do naturally, but when we are stressed we tend to take quick, shallow breaths. However, when we focus on our breath and breathe slowly and deeply, it can have a calming effect on our nervous system. The best thing about breathing techniques is they can be done anytime and anywhere!

A favorite breathing technique of mine is called The 4-7-8, or Relaxing Breath, by Dr. Andrew Weil. Another option is to simply place your hands on your belly and focus on the rise and fall as you inhale and exhale deeply. 

Breathing techniques are useful tools that you will always have with you!

These 6 stress management tips are about building small, actionable steps, one at a time. Decluttering your mind, quality sleep and nutrition, movement, meditation and breathing techniques CAN help reduce stress. At my YouTube Channel, Inspired Vitality, I created a video that goes a little deeper into these six stress management tips, and I do offer a one time, customized virtual stress management session. I invite you to reach out to me at hhckatherine@gmail.com to learn more and schedule a conversation.

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Finding Hope

What is hope, and how do you find hope when you are struggling? I was asked recently if I had a video on my YouTube channel about hope, and that question sent me into a thoughtful process of discovering and defining what hope is, and how do we find it in times of need. I asked my friends on Twitter what hope meant to them, and I dedicate this blog to those who shared their thoughts and hearts. Reading your responses and spending time in reflection has brought me to this, so thank you.  

Maybe you are struggling with cancer, the pandemic, or both. Or, maybe, something else. By reading this, I want you to be inspired to find your hope.

For many, hope can be found in the everyday-ness, like a beautiful view, or watching your children grow. But, it can also be marked by milestones, like major life events. In a broader sense, hope can be in the belief that people are working hard to make your life better, perhaps with research or treatments. It is optimism for the future, or looking forward to something in the future, but it’s found in the present moment. 

When I was going through chemo, I had hope for healthier days. In the moments of struggle, I thought about my children, the doctors and nurses that cared for me, and the friends and family who supported me, and I used them as a guide to hope for healthier days. The intangible hope in the future, lies within tangible things, people, or events of the present. 

Hope is the decision to take external factors, and make them personal – turning them into something that helps you continue forward. It is that little voice inside you, guiding you. That voice, or that message, LEADS YOU TO THE HOPE. The message might be:

  • You’re doing a good job.
  • You make a difference.
  • You have people working to help you.
  • You have people that love you.

Accessing that hope is key, and to do that you need to be a grateful, present observer in the now. I believe this is a skill that lies within each of us, a skill that needs to be practiced. By practicing gratitude of even the simplest of things, you will tune into the internal voice that brings you hope. So, when you are struggling, pause, and be grateful for something…anything. Maybe it’s a beautiful sunrise, a great cup of coffee, or maybe it’s a loved one. That gratitude will turn up the volume of your inner voice and reveal your hope. 

I know this is especially hard when you are facing your mortality, so here’s another example. Say you are going through chemo, pausing and feeling gratitude that the nurse is kind, or that there are even chemotherapy drug options for you, will turn up the volume on your internal voice telling you that you are receiving help, leading you to the hope of healthier days. 

If you are struggling with finding hope amidst a difficult time, I invite you to email me at hhckatherine@gmail.com to schedule a conversation with me to learn how I can help you find your hope.

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Not Your Typical Breast Cancer Awareness

How do you feel when you see pink during the month of October? Does it inspire you in some way, or does it make you cringe? Referred to as Pinktober in the cancer community, October can mean many things to those who have had breast cancer, or are going through treatment, as well as those living with metastatic breast cancer. For some people it is empowering to join walks to raise money, and that may provide a sense of community. For people at different stages of treatment, the constant reminders of their struggles can present emotional trauma. Additionally, Pink is not representative of all breast cancer patients, because men do get breast cancer too.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month began in 1985 with the goal to educate women about breast cancer and early detection tests so that they could take charge of their breast health. The month has also become dedicated to raising funds for breast cancer research and other related causes. In reality, however, it means different things to different people, and I want to share with you various perspectives of this well known awareness month.

Pink Promotions, while not as prominent this year during the pandemic, typically have nothing to do with raising money to find a cure, which is really what is needed. For example, pink beer at bars and restaurants, or various pink products at stores, with funding not actually going to breast cancer organizations. During October some awareness campaigns use sexualization’s or humor, with slogans such as, “save the tata’s,”  “save second base,” or “Feel For Lumps. Save Your Bump.” There is nothing sexy or funny about breast cancer. It is killing people. The promotions and humor can do more harm than good for the cancer community. It can also be frustrating to people diagnosed with other cancers to have so much awareness around breast cancer, while other forms of cancer are not acknowledged. Every person with this disease will have a different opinion on this matter, and their own opinion may even change throughout their treatment, or if the disease should progress.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Except for skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in the United States. Each year in the United States, about 250,000 cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in women and about 2,300 in men. About 42,000 women and 510 men in the U.S. die each year from breast cancer. Black women have a higher rate of death from breast cancer than White women.

I’ve shared with you some thoughts from other patients that I picked up on social media, so now I’ll tell you where I stand. The first October after my active treatment it was hard. It was really hard to see all the pink. I felt like I saw pink at every turn, and at that point all I wanted to do was be normal. After 6 months of treatment, I wanted to immerse myself in everyday life, not the heaviness of cancer. Yet, I couldn’t escape all the messages around me and it made my emotional recovery harder. Now, I see the value in the efforts to raise money for support of those going through treatment and for finding a cure. However, as I’ve said, the campaigns tend to be misguided in how they present themselves.

My goal is to share education in an honest, straightforward manner, not just about breast cancer, but all cancers, because all cancers matter. I want YOU to feel supported.

Admittedly, many of my social media posts and YouTube videos, especially this month, are about breast cancer. This is because it is what I know best of all cancers, and it does not mean that any other cancer is less important. What this means is that when I do put out information about other cancers, it will take more research for me because I’m not living that experience. I invite you to reach out to me and share your story if you are living with cancer, so I may learn. You can email me at hhckatherine@gmail.com.  

At the beginning of this blog I asked if Pinktober inspires you in some way or makes you cringe. My answer is both. Some of the messaging and the pinkwashing done by unrelated companies makes me cringe and is not representative of all breast cancer patients. At the same time, I’m inspired to bring back what this month was created for, and that is education, so that people can take charge of their breast health.

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Cancer Label Connotations – Insights From the Cancer Community

What do you think about warrior vs survivor vs thriver? This is the question I presented on social media to the cancer community, and the response was massive and diverse. These three little words are commonly used by cancer patients themselves, as well as others, to describe a cancer patient and can invoke a wide range of emotions.

Let’s start with the word warrior. As I write this there is a news story on the TV talking about a child fighting cancer, and what a warrior they have been through their cancer journey. The language used would make some cringe, while others embrace it. Some cancer patients are against using battle words, but for some, it makes them feel powerful. Despite that difference, over and over again cancer patients said they do not like it when someone passes and it is said that they “lost their battle” with cancer. This phrase implies that the patient didn’t try hard enough or they were a failure. Please, if you have a loved one who passes from cancer, there is no need to embellish the fact that they died. It’s okay to say they passed from cancer.

The word survivor appears positive and is probably the most commonly used descriptor of someone who is not in active treatment, but for those that know better, it’s not that simple. First, there are some cancers that have such a high recurrence rate that the patient is never considered in remission by many in the medical field. Instead, the term No Evidence of Disease (NED) has been adopted to say that the patient does not currently show signs of having cancer. Then there are those who are living with metastatic cancer, or cancer that has spread. These people may never actually survive cancer, and therefore may not feel like survivor is accurate for them.

Thriver is not as commonly used to describe cancer patients and I found many do not relate to it. For some it is because they are either currently undergoing treatment, or because the ongoing effects of their cancer are limiting their ability to thrive. Suggesting a cancer patient should thrive may be thought of as exhausting, or unachievable.

Just as we go from calling newborns babies, then kids, then teens, the labels cancer patients may use in reference may change depending upon their mood, situation, or where they are at in the process. The emotions that a patient goes through is a roller coaster, with many twists and turns in addition to the hills and valleys. I encourage friends and family to be understanding of that, and if you can, ride the roller coaster with us. Listen, pick up on what terms we use, and go with that when you offer your support. The words we use indicate our current mindset. No matter what you call us, we do know you care, and that’s what matters most. Ultimately, many in the cancer community would prefer we do away with these media terms and simply call it like it is. This might mean saying someone has had cancer, is a cancer patient, or is living with cancer.

You may be wondering how I feel about these terms, since I asked the question. I have often said, “Cancer does not define me, but I have allowed it to shape me.” Admittedly, when I was going through cancer treatment I was inspired by the tune, “Fight Song.” Now, I don’t relate to the battle words, and warrior in particular. This is because, frankly, I don’t think of myself as special. I happened to have been diagnosed with cancer, and I got through it the best I could. (See the roller coaster here.) I do use the word survivor, in context, as a short cut. For example, when talking with someone who doesn’t know I’ve had cancer, saying I’m a cancer survivor takes less time than saying that I had cancer and I’m still on medications, but I’m currently considered no evidence of disease. Thriver, I feel is a positive term, which I do like and not only for those affected by cancer. It doesn’t mean I don’t struggle with on-going side effects, or have concerns about recurrence. Rather, for me, thriver means that I am doing my best to live well. I’m thriving within the scope of my current situation. Or, perhaps, I should change that to striver. Each day I strive to fuel myself with nourishing food, I strive for fulfilling relationships, I strive for work/rest balance, and I strive for quality sleep and regular exercise.

Ultimately, all those who contributed want their caregivers and loved ones to relate to them as who they are, independent of cancer. They just want to be themselves. The BEST thing that came out of this social media conversation, for me, was that while some had very strong opinions, everyone was respectful of each other. It was a thread with different people, from various countries, with the commonality of cancer. While it is a club that nobody wants to be a part of, what I found by simply asking a question, was a caring community.

Whether you are a cancer patient or a caregiver, there is much to learn from each other, and even with cancer, you can have fun while doing so. Thanks, Cancer! is a podcast of two friends sharing stories and ideas about cancer. Their episode from May 19, 2018, Cancer Semantics: What Do We Call Ourselves, offers more thoughts on this topic.

I want to thank everyone in the Twitter cancer community who shared themselves, thoughts and hearts with me. There are too many to list, and I may not have responded to every comment, but I promise you I read them all and my heart is filled with your support.

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The Four Stepping Stones to Manage Uncertainty

According to Merriam-Webster, Uncertainty is defined as: doubt, dubiety, skepticism, suspicion, mistrust, or lack of sureness about someone or something. Uncertainty may range from a falling short of certainty to an almost complete lack of conviction or knowledge especially about an outcome or result. While you may be sick of hearing this word, it truly defines 2020. If you are a planner by nature, not being able to plan, or a constantly changing schedule can wreck havoc on your nervous system. You may be feeling a lack of control, disheartened or uncomfortable, which can lead to stress or lack of motivation.

Do you live by your calendar?

Even those of us who are ultra planners can adjust to uncertainty in the short term, but living within it for months, with no end in sight, can break the planners spirit. While you may not be able to change your circumstances, you can learn to manage how the uncertainty impacts you.

Step 1: Acknowledge, accept and trust

Uncertainty about the future and constant change is stressful and sometimes just saying that out loud is helpful. I don’t like unknowns, I admit it. I don’t think well on my feet, so when I don’t know details of an event, for example, the unknowns can stress me out. I also find I’m more productive throughout the day with a schedule, and last minute changes can throw me off. I have found it helpful to acknowledge my emotions, and avoid dwelling on what I can’t control by accepting that there are some things out of my control. I’ve also learned to place trust in myself. I have experienced significant periods of uncertainty in my life (aka, cancer) and I’m still standing. I trust that if I can get through that, I can manage anything. Trusting I can get through the uncertainty results in trusting that I can handle the fall out of whatever comes next.

Step 2: Embrace the unexpected free time

When events are cancelled embrace it and fill it with things you typically may not make time for when life is hectic. Maybe it’s binge watching a show, taking a day trip to a state park, or even cleaning out a closet. Adjust your mindset from the disappointment of change to embracing the opportunity to suddenly do whatever your heart desires. Ideas may not readily come to mind in the moment, so plan for opportunities of a changed schedule. Similar to a bucket list, perhaps create an unexpected free time list of things you’d love to do when you suddenly have time to yourself. Pull out that list when something is cancelled to bring you from being stuck in the disappointment to embracing the free time.

Step 3: Set boundaries

When life throws a curve ball, know what is important to you, and what is definite on your schedule. Imagine that you made an appointment and someone comes along saying that they need you to do something asap, which conflicts with your appointment. Hear this loud and clear: someone else’s procrastination does not have to be your emergency. If it’s important and you can accommodate, then great. You can plan and be flexible! If the request does not fit your schedule, perhaps saying, “I’d like to help (or do X), but I’ve already got something on my calendar.” Then, discuss an alternative time, or a deadline for their request. Not only is this okay, but it is healthy to have boundaries in your life with communication in a respectful manner.

Step 4: Reduce stress

When you navigate the first three steps you will naturally reduce the stress that occurs with uncertainty, but regularly managing your stress level will also help you manage the changes that pop up. Imagine in are in a bubble, calmly going about your life. Just outside the bubble is chaos…you can see it, you know it’s going on, but you don’t have let it impact you, or invade your bubble. When you practice stress reduction on a regular basis you can have a sense of calm despite the chaos, uncertainty, and changes. Yes, of course, there are times when you will feel stress or lack of control, but that’s a cue that you need to take time for self care and reinforce your bubble. Some of the simplest, yet effective, ways to reduce stress are; journaling, laughter, and deep breathing.

While I list these as steps, they are really all linked together. More like stepping stones that you can hop to in various combinations. I invite you to take a look back at a couple of older blogs I wrote, Are You on the List and The Heart of Self Care where I dive deeper into stress management. Whether you are an ultra planner by nature at any time, or trying to manage the pandemic changes and uncertainty, making decisions and re-routing is better than standing still. Step forward, my friend!

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The Cancer Shoe

There’s a saying in the special needs community that says, “If you know one person with autism, you know one person with autism. ” (And I do!) This describes the fact that there is a wide range of how autism can vary from person to person, and I believe the same can be said about cancer. I was thinking recently about how many different cancers there are, and also about cancer patients, with some receiving a great deal of support, while others do not. At the same time I was thinking about the phrase, “walk a mile in my shoes,” from the perspective that many cancer patients feel that friends and family cannot fully understand the experience. Not that the friends and family are judging or being mean-spirited, but rather they simply do not understand what it feels like to walk the cancer path and do not know how to provide support. This is when I decided the shoe is a perfect metaphor for cancer.

What size shoe are you wearing under the umbrella?

Cancer, a small word, but really it’s a big unbrella under which there are so many different kinds of shoes. There are the bigger shoes, that one one may think of as the more common cancers, and then there are the smaller ones that may be less common. Both the big and the small may appear to be a different size, but they are both under the umbrella and impact the wearer. The umbrella is so big that even if you are familiar with one shoe, others may not fit, but let’s face it, that’s a good thing.

What is the style of your shoe?

Just as each cancer is different, each person experiences it differently, and has a different support system. There are the high-heeled patients, who may receive a little lift, but largely teeter along through the cancer experience on their own. Then on the other end of the spectrum, there are the boot wearing patients, with support that surrounds them. In the middle is the walking shoe patients, with a solid foundation of support, but not an overwhelming amount.

The cancer experience can be a long one, and as with shoes, the amount of support the patient receives will vary over time. The different styles will likely get swapped in and out during the marathon known as treatment. If you are a friend or family member of a cancer patient, I encourage you to be the walking shoe – sturdy and dependable!

Even among the walking shoe there are many styles, which to me says that people with the same type of cancer and solid support, will have their own experience. The beauty of us humans is our individuality, and while we may have similarities, there will still be an individual stlye to the cancer experience.

To the cancer patient I say, embrace your style, and change your shoes if needed. Ask for, or allow support, but place healthy boundaries around times that you may need for solitude or rest, as you kick off your shoes. If your friends and family aren’t able to provide the support that you need to move forward, I’m here for you. I provide support and resources in person in Minnesota, or virtually. Although the size and style of our shoes may be different, I have walked in the marathon and I get it.

To schedule a complimentary consultation, email me at hhckatherine@gmail.com.

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Summer Fun While Living in Limbo

It’s been over three months since the COVID-19 pandemic put a hold on life for many in the US. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t think all the closures would last as long as they have! Now that it’s summer, and after the months of isolation, people are really ready to get out and do things. We are in a transition phase of getting out into the world again, yet there’s also a sense of living in limbo with uncertainty about how our lives will look going forward. I know it’s nearly the end of June, but I feel like I’m just now jumping into summer, and I’m jumping in with both feet – cautiously! I’m trying to balance embracing the summer months and staying safe, so I researched, and came up with plans to keep me dancing through the limbo. Here are my tips and ideas for making the most of the rest of your summer!

Step 1: Determine your level of comfort with outings

Ask yourself if you want to continue to isolate or if you are comfortable with some social distance outside and inside. Some may be comfortable around others, or maybe only while outside, at the same time, others may feel it’s best for them to continue with strict isolation. However you feel, no matter your approach, it’s okay to do what’s best for YOU and you may find some ideas here to add more fun to your summer.

In my family we decided to put our summer fun into three categories:

  • Adventure Day – something new, or a longer activity
  • Local Outing – a shorter activity that can be done between meals
  • Home Day – less structure, but still engaging in activities.

Step 2: Create of list of possibilities

At the top of my list for an adventure day this summer is a zip line and stand up paddle board. I’ve wanted to try both of these for years, so I’ve got plans to make it happen this year. Berry picking is a fun, family activity I have scheduled and I include it in adventure day because for us it’s a longer drive to the farm, so it will take up half the day and may include packing a lunch. Visiting nature centers and museums provides learning opportunities and some museums offer free days once a month. Walking/hiking is also a priority, and I’ve already started doing some. While walking can be done in your neighborhood, of course, in this case I’m talking about exploring a State Park or a new location. Last week I posted a video on my Facebook page while I was in a park and if you haven’t seen it, you can find it here.

Local outing options will depend on your comfort level with being around people even more, or will take planning to attend during less busy times. Some ideas for both indoor and outdoor local outings include: bowling/arcade games, browsing in a bookstore or library, visiting the humane society, miniature golf, farmer’s market, having a picnic at a local park – try a different one and bring a ball or kite. One of the local outings for my family will be purchasing supplies for one of our home activities (keep reading).

Staying home doesn’t have to be boring! One of my favorite rainy day activities is an indoor picnic. You can make it fun for everyone by spreading out a blanket, making decorations or a centerpiece, making a meal together and then playing a game or watching a movie. Baking has been a popular pandemic activity, but why not experiment with a healthy recipe instead?! You could read, or listen to music and when you need to get up and move, crank the music up and have a dance party, or try some yoga. Artwork can be done on windows using window crayons or whiteboard markers and another creative activity I have planned for my family this month is to make a terrarium. These miniature gardens can be in a closed or open container, and there’s plenty of information on the internet to determine which is best for you and how to get started. Mine will be open, and we will be adding items to make it into a fairy garden. If you are avoiding travel this year, now is the time to plan your next vacation! Even if you don’t make reservations, researching locations and making plans for your next vacation can be really fun.

The best part about summer is the nice weather and you can take advantage of it even while at home. I’ve mentioned picnics in parks and in your home, but you can also picnic in your yard, or even camp out in your yard. Playing catch or kicking a ball around is a great way to move the body. On the really hot days, a squirt gun fight among your family members might be just the thing to cool everyone down. Using sidewalk chalk you can draw pictures, play tic-tac-toe, draw and play hopscotch, or leave messages for people walking by. As long as you’re not expecting rain, you can leave a bucket of chalk outside with a note inviting others to stop and draw or write their own message.

Step 3: Research and plan

Whether you are planning adventures, local activities or staying home, it may take some research and planning to make the most of your summer. I’ve learned through this process that while some businesses are starting to open up, it may vary on the type of business and where it’s located. Many websites have updated information, but some do not and if you really want to go somewhere, it’s best to call ahead. You may need to purchase supplies (My squirt guns arrived yesterday!), plan specific menus, or watch how-to videos. The preparation in itself can be a family activity. Once you have a list of ideas that everyone is on board with, or at least willing to try, then plan specific days for the various activities. If you are solo and cautious about being with others, many of my ideas can be done alone as well. Be thoughtful about pacing yourself, and know that the weather or other factors can throw things off, but by being intentional, you will be able to look back on a summer full of memories. Safety and fun is my summer wish for you!!

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Want to know a secret?

Have you ever had the potential for something big, but didn’t want to share with others until it was a for sure thing? I’m one that prefers to share exciting news when I know it’s going to happen, rather than have to retract and show my disappointment publicly. However, today I’m going to be transparent about something I was sitting on, the result, and the lessons I learned in the process.

The back story…

You may know that I have been doing some public speaking. I’ve found it to be exciting for me, and I’ve received great response from the audience. By sharing my story, I’ve been educating and inspiring others, and I had begun reaching out to people to partner in future events. The ironic thing is, I’m an introvert by nature and have to re-charge myself with alone time. When I look back, I was drawn to the stage with dancing and theater throughout my childhood, and even into young adulthood.

In late February of this year, I was contacted by a colleague, Dr. Terry Wu, who suggested that I apply to be a Tedx speaker. Many are aware of TED Talks available on YouTube, but have you ever noticed that some of the videos are labeled as Tedx? TED Talks started out as an annual conference to bring together the fields of technology, entertainment and design. As TED has grown, the mission is to nurture and spread powerful ideas. When you see the “x” in a video, it means that the talk was done at an locally organized TED event. There are groups all over that organize one day events with the TED license. Speakers apply and those chosen go through a coaching process before the big day. Dr. Wu was a speaker in 2019, and his TED Talk is, “Neuromarketing: The new science of consumer decisions.”

Talk about being on stage!

When the idea of doing a TED Talk was first brought to me, I hesitated. Internally, actually, I panicked. It felt like a great opportunity, and at the same time, the idea terrified me! Although I have done some public speaking, having a talk in front of a large audience, having it recorded, and put out into the world was scary! Plus I had a short window to submit my application before the deadline. I was drawn to express my conflicting thoughts to someone I trusted, but who I also knew would be frank with me. And boy did she call me out! She knew I gave talks about facing fears, and here I was hesitating about a great opportunity because I was scared. Don’t you just love people like this?! Elaine Goepfert of I Love Photography LLC, was the mirror I needed to take the leap, and I did, in fact, submit my application. She is also the photographer of my beautiful headshots, by the way.

Applying is step one, which is where I was at when the pandemic closed things down. If I had been chosen to speak at this particular event, it would have been held a few weeks ago, on May 9. Although I had not even been notified if I had been chosen as a speaker, it was disappointing to receive the email that the event was cancelled (due to the pandemic). When May 9 did roll around, I also found myself feeling like I was supposed to be somewhere. Once I had gotten over my fear, I had become excited about the idea of not only the talk, but the process.

Lesson 1:

Trust your instinct, but in doubt, find a mirror. When presented with the idea of applying to be a TEDx speaker I knew I should do it, and I knew I would love to do it, but I doubted myself. Thankfully, although I ignored the instinct to take action at first, I followed the instinct to talk with someone about my doubts. Our own self doubt can stop us from taking steps forward, but others have a way of showing us what we know deep down.

Lesson 2:

Opportunities may present the unimaginable dream. I had never thought about the process of applying to be a TED speaker, let alone dream about being on that stage. However, once the idea was presented to me, and I got used to the idea of it, I realized this was something I did want. To date I have no idea if my application would have been accepted, but I’m grateful to Dr. Wu for believing in me.

Lesson 3:

Disappointment doesn’t mean it’s the end of the dream. Life is full of disappointments, that’s a fact, but that doesn’t mean the dream has to end. Maybe it’s on hold or maybe it will look differently. If the disappointment is due to something falling through, perhaps the time can be used for self improvement or continuing education. Then when a similar opportunity presents itself, you are prepared to jump with both feet into the dream. Or, maybe it means a change in direction, a re-direct, which just may result in an even bigger dream presenting itself.

In my case, I’m choosing both options. I’m studying and practicing, so that if events are held again, I’m prepared to jump in with both feet. At the same time, I’m looking at all my options. It’s a matter of controlling I can control and adjusting along the way. Even though the pandemic has brought much change, uncertainty, and perhaps disappointment, there are lessons to be learned that may lead to an unimaginable dream.