All posts by morechange

Update

My meeting with my oncologist yesterday to get the results from the latest scan left us dumbfounded! He announced that that Friday’s CT (not a PET like the original one) scan showed the tumor and other cancer spots had disappeared. I had envisioned many potential reports, but honestly not this one. I’m continuing chemo for one more four week set of doses (considered a cycle) and then next steps will be discussed and decided upon.

The now we’ve had some processing time our perspective is “it’s not a cure by any means, but it has bought me some well appreciated additional time.”

I can’t thank you all enough for the warm messages, cards, gifts, voice mail messages, an understanding my often radio-silence. I know that your positive thoughts and prayers made a difference!

Thank you my friends! You’ll never know what this support has meant to me! What a difference a day can make.

An Honest Look

This is the essay I’ve been struggling with. I’m still not ready to write it, but I desperately need to get it out of my head.

You might wonder why, if you’ve called me. I haven’t answered or called you back. I’d like to try and explain. See, if we talked, I’d have to choose a way to present myself or choose an acting back story. I think I’m a pretty good actor, but I’ve learned it takes a tremendous amount of energy.  Here are my choices as I currently see them.

 

Denial: Ignore the whole thing. Pretending that this isn’t happening is certainly tempting. Some days I wake up and feel like my old self. When I’m immersed in an engaging book – often a mystery—or a TV show with compelling characters or plot – let’s hear it for Netflix – it’s pretty easy. Unless, of course, there’s a mirror in the room. Seeing myself bald shatters any possibility of denial. Talking to someone while denying that anything’s wrong is beyond my ability to sustain for any length of time which is why visiting my mother is so difficult. The innocent question, “How are you?” is amazingly tricky.

Truth: The whole truth and nothing but the truth. Unfortunately, I don’t exactly know what the truth is and won’t until I’m re-scanned next month. What I do know is that the cancer (tumor in my breast and one lymph node) that they originally discovered on January 10th has proven to be far more extensive and more aggressive than originally thought. Surgery isn’t an option. I believe the chemotherapy I’m receiving is intended to be palliative rather than curative. (Palliative chemo is intended to extend life while maintaining quality of life rather than curative chemo which is intended to eradicate the cancer.) Originally my oncologist said he felt I had 3 to 5 years. The scan coming in April will give us new data to identify a more determinative prognosis.  This level of truth without significant certainty is something I discuss with myself, Dr. Onitilo, and two very close friends. (Frank and the kids get a somewhat edited version of this one.) This is the dark night of the soul identified by poets and philosophers.

If this was a magazine article the following paragraph would be in a boxed and shaded sidebar. Please don’t think I’ve given up. I will certainly partake of all the possible life lengthening opportunities for treatment while measuring the effects against QoL. (That’s Quality of Life for the uninitiated.) I also believe that miracles – big and small, expected and unexpected – occupy a place in life. Odds exist because someone gets to beat them!

The Positive Patient: A motivational speaker in action. Not to be confused with denial, this posture contains the “glass is half full” approach. You’re strong, if anyone can beat this – it’s you, and get well soon all need to be met with a nod and a smile of agreement. My mom. my aunt, I had the same thing and she’s/I’m fine 10 years later, also requires this response. All of these spoken-with-love, encouraging comments are meant to provide the encouragement everyone needs and I appreciate their intent. (Note: this is the paragraph that has kept me from writing this essay for so long. In no way do I want to denigrate the wonderful email messages, cards, and advice I’ve received from so many friends and colleagues.  I treasure each and every one. This is a walk in their shoes situation. I know, I’ll change my behavior with others in the future. See the book I recommended in my last post.) The positive, everything will be okay response requires my finest acting skills and tons of energy. I use this script for my grandchildren and friends I encounter in daily life. Friends who call and leave messages and, in my mind, want and need this response, create the most guilt when I ignore them.

Here’s what I’d like to be able to do. Matter of Fact: Telling the resolved truth. Once I know what the scan shows and what my actual prognosis is, and have processed it with my family, it will be easy to share the future. Promising or bleak, I’m really good at expressing this kind of reality. (If you’re a MBTI aficionado you know, it’s what ENTJs do best.)

 

So, here I am counting the days till the scan while the voice mails and conversation requests mount up. Thanks for reading and understanding. I promise, we will talk soon.

Update With an Excuse

I’ve been struggling with an idea for meaningful essay for about 5 days, hence no post last week. Now since I’m heading into a second week with no post, I decided to pass significance and go to “For pete’s sake, Chris, write something!” So with a promise to conquer my confusion over the essay I want to write later today.

Here are some informational updates.

I have now finished two rounds of chemotherapy – once a week for three weeks and an off week constitutes a cycle. After one more cycle – sometime in the week of April 10th, I’ll have another scan and we’ll be able to see if the chemo is having any effect. When I see my oncologist next week I’ll be asking how long we’ll have to wait for results. Instantly would be a perfect answer.

After the first scan, surgery quickly fell off the table as an option. Given the invasive nature of my cancer, removing the breast tumor became an unnecessary step.

Every day I continue to be flooded with cards, emails, and voice mail messages of good wishes and support. I can’t tell you how much they mean!

My daughter Miriam and I tripped over a wonderful resource during an internet search for cards appropriate for icky life situations. We found Emily Mc Dowell’s site www.EmilyMcDowell.com and discovered she collaborated with Kelsey Crowe, Ph.D. on a book, There Is No Good Card For This: What to Say and Do When Life is Scary, Awful, and Unfair to People You Love. IT IS A GREAT BOOK! One that you will be happy you read when you need it. (Of special interest is the brief section that discusses how bosses can effectively help an employee who’s dealing with illness or loss.) I highly recommend you add it to your library. I am in awe of the power of words in difficult times.

Searching for Normal

Days start, some in the wee hours and some at what, in my before-cancer-life, was what I considered a normal time. My run to the bathroom my first clue of how the day is going to unfold. Two things happen in the bathroom that reminds me that my life has fundamentally changed: the quick glance in the mirror that shows either a bald head or, if its been a cold night, a yellow hat knitted lovingly by my friend, Sharon or a colorful bandana supplied by my friend, Pam that I put on at some point during the night. Then there is the pause to remind myself to disinfect the toilet seat and cover before and after flushing. After these relatively quick occurrences, I monitor the time I choose to spend in front of the mirror preparing for what happens next.

(Just a side note about the bathroom. [Warning: Might be TMI] Due to the type of chemo I’m receiving, my bodily fluids are considered toxic waste. So no spitting, sneezing, tissue sharing, sex, or toilet flushing without hazardous waste precautions. In the bathroom that means a toilet wipe down with a anti-bacterial wipe after every use. Never has our toilet sparkled as it does these days.)

Tuesday is a no choice day. Get ready for a trip to the Marshfield Cancer Center for my weekly Chemo Treatment. Feels almost regular. What am I going to wear? What time is my appointment? Who’s going with me? What do I need to bring? Is it a meet with the Doctor week so get your questions ready or just blood work and chemo, so bring a good book or charged iPad? I can almost convince myself that it’s like getting ready to go give a speech as long as I don’t think too hard.

Saturday is also pretty easy. Miriam is going to pick me up at 7:00 am for our normal Weight Watchers routine: weigh in, meeting at 8:00 am, run to the Farmer’s Market for eggs and a great Mother/Daughter discussion over coffee and breakfast at Patina’s. Back home for a nap.

It’s the other days of the week that can be tricky. Those are days I have to make a decision. Am I chemo tired and need to just be lazy, depression tired and need to give into to feeling sorry for myself for a while, or am I attitude tired and need to give myself one of those motivational, change is good presentations I’ve preached to others and just get on with it? Why, I think on these days, can’t things go back to normal? When days were filled with possibilities and activities destined to bring an unfolding future.

It’s not that I’m giving up or that I’m unwilling to fight and do everything possible to have a long and productive future; it’s just that right now with the information I have and the short-term options available, the futures not looking so promising.

Actually if you’ve read this far, please know that this is a good day. As speakers were taught not to share emotional stories with our audience until we’ve thoroughly processed those emotions for ourselves. As a writer, especially in a forum like this, I guess we get a little more leeway. I certainly haven’t finished processing this experience. Guess it will take the rest of my life to get it figured out! For those of you who know me as an upbeat, positive, change-has-a-silver-lining kind of a person, I’m certain this is difficult to read. However, writing this truthfully is helpful for me.

Collateral Damage

I grew up with a storybook mother, not perfect, but close to it.

• Day long birthday celebrations started with mom delivering a breakfast muffin with a lit candle while singing happy birthday.
• Expressions of love including hugs and kisses were given in abundance.
• Sunday dinner was at the dining room table with china, crystal, linen tablecloth and napkins, and gentle etiquette lessons.
• Curiosity was encouraged and rewarded with both praise and tokens.
• When I was sick, she was the world’s most attentive nurse.

All my life, my friends expressed their desire to have her for a mother, a request she usually accommodated. She was my cheerleader, my confident, and my problem sounding board.

Now she is 94, residing in an assisted living facility, has Alzheimers, and I have cancer.

Visiting her means figuring out strategies to hide both my baldness and my diagnosis. Explaining what’s actually happening would require a complete explanation each visit – a task beyond my emotional strength. Answering her questions about my new affinity for wearing hats as a part of my wardrobe is taxing even my fiction spinning ability. Deflecting her attention on me runs counter to my lifetime basking in being the center of her attention. The entire family has, by necessity, become partners in this minor conspiracy of deception.

I just want my mommy!

Flushing My Hair Down the Toilet

There is a difference between intellectual knowledge and emotional reaction!

I knew from the beginning of my chemotherapy treatment that hair loss was probably inevitable. Oh sure, the medical professionals said many people only experience thinning of their hair not actual complete loss but that comment struck me as part of the this-isn’t-so-bad, wishful thinking school of a prepping the patient drill. All of the patient descriptions covered the hair loss phenomenon in detail. Engaging the best of my intellect, I listened to the people who had actually experienced chemo and prepared appropriately.

(Interestingly the medical professionals spoke consistently about the nausea effects I should expect; assuring me that they’d give me anti-nausea medications by IV before the chemo and provide pills to use at home. Either the pre-chemo meds are TERRIFIC or my stomach is lined with stern stuff. I didn’t even experience a moment of queasiness.)

Back to hair. In anticipation, I had my longish, curly hair cut short to accustom myself, and others to seeing me with less on top. Given my amazing hair stylist Steven’s skill, my new punky hairstyle got rave reviews. Those who knew about the cancer figured out my strategy; those who didn’t, thought I was simply making a change. Either way, I felt like I was doing a great job getting prepared for the next step. First my scalp started to itch and hurt. Scratching the itch, even gently, ended in fingers covered in hair. Here we go I thought. I got in the habit of bending over the toilet and scubbing my head to remove loose hair there rather than sprinkling it behind me as I walked though the house. Not too bad, I thought. Two days later my over the toilet riffing became bowl filling and with a great deal of trepidation, I grabbed a bunch of hair and pulled gently and realized that my hair was coming out by the handful. There was a moment of fascination followed almost immediately with overwhelming feelings of grief. The last opportunity for denial—this cancer thing can’t be real or it isn’t going to hit me like other people was GONE!

Steven had vowed to re-visit my haircut with his clippers when I was ready. A call elicited his promise to come over to our house with his partner, Rob, Friday night to finish my shearing with the promise of pizza to end the event. Sheet on the kitchen floor. Stool in the center. Steven’s gentle hands on my shoulder. The unfamiliar buzz of the clippers. Clumps of my remaining hair falling softly to the floor. The end of the hair chapter.
As I viewed my new self in the bathroom mirror, the clippers started up again. Back in the kitchen, Frank had taken my place. Bald in solidarity, he explained; my dear husband finding a way to join me on this strange journey.

He’ll need a haircut in a month. I won’t.

A New Journey Begins

I’m writing this as a story so I can pretend we’re sitting together over a good cup of coffee or a great glass of wine and laughing and crying together. It would have been my preference to share this news with you that way because I know the conversation would be filled with hugs and encouragement.
Early in my speaking career I heard the maxim, “We teach what we most need to learn.” I speak on Change.

On Tuesday, January 10th I went in for my annual mammogram thinking I’d be in the clinic for an hour or so, Four hours later, after a second mammogram, an ultrasound, a biopsy, and a consultation with a radiologist, I headed home driving in a snowstorm (In fiction that would be called foreshadowing.) In typical speaker style, my phone rang while I was checking into a hotel before a speech that Friday night. It was the Radiologist with the biopsy report. “It’s cancer, Chris,” she said as gently as possible. “We’ve got you scheduled with our top oncologist as well as my favorite surgeon next week.” I guess this is what they call off and running.

More tests, lessons in nuclear medicine, forms and insurance approval led to the following Monday’s diagnosis of Stage 4 Triple Negative Breast Cancer with lymph node involvement throughout my body. Good news is my brain, lungs, and liver are clear. We have an aggressive plan of Chemotherapy that started this Tuesday.

As you can imagine Frank and I and the kids are working to figure this new chapter in our lives together. It’s pretty raw and comes with a steep learning curve. (Gary Rifkin would explain that my input strength is working in overdrive!)

At this point I’m adjusting to my body’s reaction to the chemo and figuring out what my new normal is going to be so I’m not really up for phone calls. I would be eternally grateful for notes (P.O. Box 37, Wausau, WI 54402-0037) and emails (Chris@Change101.com). Since I don’t have a clear picture of how the treatments are going to play out, flexibility is our current action plan.
That speech on Change Friday night after I got the news—well, I nailed it. The audience and I laughed and learned together and my client was thrilled. When I got up to my room, I filled the oversized bathtub with a hot bubble bath, got in and cried because of a change I didn’t choose or want. Then I dried off and reviewed the slides I had just used and the messages I had shared with my audience and applied them to myself.

I close all of my programs with my favorite Seneca quote. “It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare; it is because we do not dare that they are difficult.” This one is difficult and with your help, I’m going to dare.

Chris who feels blessed with your friendship

Consider Creativity

When was the last time you thought of yourself as creative? Never? Don’t be too hard on yourself. Many people in our society have a mistaken view of creativity in general and are often quick to point out their own creative shortcomings. Listen to some of the most common misbeliefs about creativity.
• Only some people are creative, usually followed by, and I’m not one of them.
• There is a connection between creativity and artistic ability and I can’t carry a tune in a bushel basket or draw a straight line with a ruler.
• Ok, maybe I am creative sometimes, but not when I need it.

These beliefs about creative ability need to be corrected before each of us will be able to believe in our own creative gifts. The truth about creativity paints a much prettier picture. We all have enormous creative ability, most of which we haven’t really used since we were young children. There is no correlation between creative ability and artistic talent. In fact, there isn’t even a connection between anything beyond basic intelligence and creativity. Creativity is a skill, learn-able by anyone who’s interested in taking the journey.

Creativity is simply the ability to produce new, novel, and occasionally useful ideas. The creative individual is someone who looks at the same thing everyone else looks at, sees something different, explores the possibilities, and then does something with their aha. You can see yourself doing that, can’t you? So why aren’t we all more creative?

There are many barriers to creativity, some personal, some societal, all avoidable if you put your mind to it. Fear is a major barrier to creativity. Whether you fear breaking the rules, success, or other people’s opinions, those fears will keep you from trying. Creativity demands taking a chance. Think back to coloring as a child. Were you chastised for coloring outside the lines or were you supported when you made the sky orange and the grass blue?

Maybe it’s your environment that gets in the way of your creativity. Is your world too noisy, too sterile, or too disconnected from nature? Creative thought flourishes in special spaces filled with rich colors, smells, tastes, and soft sounds. Windows that look out to trees, oceans or mountains are wonderful, but if you don’t have a window, fill your walls with pictures of your favorite nature scenes.

Your creativity might be compromised by the culture around you. How do you and your organization feel about failure? Creativity requires that you try new things and doing something new demands that you get out of your comfort zone. Failure lurks outside your comfort zone. Success lies there also, but most of us focus on the failure and overlook the possibility of success. Creative people make getting out of their comfort zone normal behavior.

Discovering which barriers are holding you back and making some changes might just help you gain confidence in your creative thinking. Once you’ve got the confidence, there’s no end to the creativity you can share with the world.

Message to NSA St. Louis

Just in case you’re here to check up on me and my promise to post, let me explain.

1. I almost couldn’t remember how to get into the blog itself in order to create this post.

2. I can’t find the article on the portable hard drive I’m travelling with.

Okay, okay these are excuses of the lowest order! In my defense, I did post this AND I did link my blog to the Beyond the Platform site in the Resources section. So are you willing to give me a little credit?
NSA

Why Won’t They Just Change?

Here comes a change. Your people react, many not positively. What’s a leader to do? How about a few moments of reflection? Okay, you say, but what am I supposed to reflect on. Try this model.

 

Your reflection needs to consist of identification and action planning. Since people’s reaction to change puts them in one of three categories, your actions need to be targeted for each group.

 

First, identify the Evangelists. These are the people who get the change, support the change, and will sell the change to others. These people need information, support, and encouragement. They are often employees without position power but with tremendous personal power within your organization. As such they often work layers away from you and you many not actually know them or interact with them directly, but you need to figure our how you can, in a meaningful way, become more connected to them! If your organization is of a size that you can’t be as visible as you’d like, get creative.

 

Next, find the Saboteurs. These are the people who will openly or subtly work against the change. They will not respond to information: yet another recitation or explanation of the process that led up to the ultimate decision. Those who are open about their resistance are easier. They need to be firmly confronted with facts and reality. “I realize you’re having difficulty with this change and I have listened to your objections, however, I need you to understand that it is the route we’re taking going forward and I need you to get on board.” is the message that needs to be consistently delivered from by you and all the members of your Leadership team. And by consistently, I mean over and over again.

(Note: this message only works if you have, in fact, listened to their objections and factored them into your decision making process. If you haven’t – back to the decision making drawing board and shame on you for not doing your due diligence before launching this change.)

 

The underground saboteurs are tougher. First you have to find the pockets of resistance. Not for round up and punishment, but so you can smoke them out and deal with them. This group needs to hear a variation of the same message. “It has come to my attention that you’re having difficulty with this change. Let’s talk. What is it about this change that you’re unhappy with?” Then be quiet and make them articulate their objections and concerns. Often, like a bully, when asked to articulate their position, they’ll retreat. At least you’ve let them know that you know what their behavior is.

 

Finally, you’ll have the Aclueistics. These are the people who don’t have a clue and don’t even know there are clues to be had. These people need to educated, big time. In today’s business climate, can your business afford to pay people who have isolated themselves from the environment around you? Can you afford people who are surprised when change happens? Be certain that you haven’t created an organizational climate that says it wants Smart Employees, but treats people in a way that creates employees that are house broken. (Thanks to Dr. Karl Albrecht for sharing that brilliant, to-the-point metaphor.) To lesson the numbers in this group, give yourself and your Leadership team marching orders. “Part of our job is to make certain all our people have the opportunity, the resources, and the encouragement to learn about who we are and what we do, what our customers want and need today as well as tomorrow, and how our organization fits into our industry. Show me your action plan for making our people smarter.”

 

Remember, reflection is the start. Action is where things happen. When resistance to change appears, and it always will, one-size-fits-all actions won’t work. Your job as the leader is to know your team so well that your actions-to-implement list will meet your employees where they actually are and be effective. As you implement your well thought out, creatively designed, and consistently measured Action Plan, you’ll be building an amazing bonus – trust. That trust is like having a big-balance bank account, available for use when the next change comes along.