Don’t Judge Me, I’m Working On It

Since I began the Shift for Wellness journey back in 2013, I always felt a little awkward about defining myself; particularly as a “survivor”.   Social media profiles are always asking you to define who you are.  What am I supposed to write?  Is there enough room to list all the hats I wear? Am I listing the right ones to attract my intended audience? I find there’s too much pressure for something that is meant to help and heal.

I’m not quite sure why I don’t feel comfortable with the term “survivor” for myself and I certainly mean no disrespect to anyone who had adopted it for themselves.  I don’t even think twice about it when I hear someone else use it. At the time when I wasn’t well, I was certainly in survival mode, but what about those who did their damnedest to survive during their journey? Those who struggled, won, and struggled some more only to lose?  Weren’t they surviving each day they made it through?

During treatments you’re surviving and sometimes barely.  I remember having my doctor guiding me through breaths every time I came out of anesthesia. She coached me to breath deeper and deeper in order to come out, but it was quite nice to remain where I was. I wanted to stay there.  It was so peaceful there in my little land of grog, I was more than comfortable, but I chose to listen and gave it my very best and deepest belly breaths.

Randy Pouch hadn’t left this life yet when I wasn’t well.  The American professor of computer science, human-computer interaction, and design at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and I share our diagnosis date: August of 2007. Pouch began giving is Last Lecture one month later.  His journey was all over the TV and I couldn’t get enough of it.  Knowing full well he was not long for this life, he had something I needed.  He had lessons to share from a perspective that no one else could offer.  Many would have been afraid to reach for the book but I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it and devour every page.

I wanted to buy this book for everyone I knew but it occurred to me that people managing challenging times may not perceive the book as helpful.  During our “Live Your Best Life” book chat at work, I excitedly recommended The Diving Bell and the Butterfly as one of our monthly reads.  It was so incredibly inspirational to me during my toughest of times that I thought it would be the same for everyone who read it.   After 20 days in a coma, Bauby, the editor-in-chief of French Elle, awoke into a body which had all but stopped working: only his left eye functioned, allowing him to see and, by blinking it, to make clear that his mind was unimpaired. Almost miraculously, he was soon able to express himself in the richest detail: dictating a word at a time, blinking to select each letter as the alphabet was recited to him slowly, over and over again. In the same way, he was able eventually to compose this extraordinary book ( If he could do that, I could certainly find it within myself to give it my all each and everyday. I could certainly communicate, I couldn’t do much else, but I could do that. I was surprised to see how many members didn’t read the book because it struck a chord too close to home or was too depressing for them. It was then I learned that it’s all about where you are in your life and everyone handles life’s challenges differently. Their feelings should not be judged, only respected.

I find it fascinating how each of us is affected differently by books, movies, conversations, songs, etc. What’s important is to respect and to be sensitive to understanding that what works for one may upset another.  This very realization prevented me from creating Shift for Wellness many years ago.  I allowed one person’s negative comment about sharing my story hold me back from sharing and helping others.  Shame on me. I’m glad I later allowed my One Powerful Word: FEARLESS, to kick me in the butt and move forward with the idea.

During our S.H.I.F.T. workshops, I share that I’ve experienced cancer when introducing myself, rather than referring to myself as a “survivor”. It feels better to me since the journey is a chapter in my life that allows me to help others, but does not define who I am. I am so much more. Thankfully, I am that much more because of the journey. What I am trying to find is a way to say it in one word when creating an online profile: mother, teacher, writer,  ………???

What we all need when walking this path alone is inspiration, understanding, comfort, desire, hope, humor, drive, motivation, truth and above all else gratitude.  The universe will not reward you with what you want if you do not already appreciate what you have.   I will always have my journey with cancer.  I will always be grateful for it.  So I’m now in search of how to refer to it without feeling awkward. I should just ask the universe for my answer.

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