Tag Archives: Change

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.

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

Dryer Lint, Math, Passion, and Change

Not often that taking the lint out of the dryer filter stops you in your tracks and starts a thought process that ends up connecting successful change to a passion for something–but last laundry day it did.

It started when I realized that I had paused and was intently examining the lint I had just removed for the purity and consistency of its color. (A nice rosy red if you must know.) It took me a minute to realize what I was doing, ask myself why I was doing it, and remember an unusual story on CBS Sunday Morning several LINTmonths ago about a woman who created works of art using dryer lint as her medium. At the time I saw the segment, I was amused at her passion for creating and blending lint in order to get the perfect effect for her pictures. (Would they be called Lintings?) Yet, here I was, stopping in the middle of a busy day, grading the quality of my lint. Trust me, I had no intention of joining her in this offbeat endeavor, the lint ended in the garbage, and as I walked back to my desk, I thought of how her passion for her brand of art had captured a small part of my mind. Reminded me of Mr. Turban

Performance Review Myths

Continuing to answer the excellent questions submitted by the participants in my session Managing Resistance to Change at the ASAE Great Ideas Conference. These Association leaders really know how to get to the heart of an issue with a question!

 

 If you are not a part of the Association Management world, substitute employees for the word member. You're facing these issues, too and the answers will apply.

 

Be sure to use the comments section to continue the dialogue.

 

1.    When mandating change with reviews