Pity Parties – When to Have Them, How to Stop Them

If you have found yourself having daily Pity Parties, it is time to change it up. If you are in active treatment for cancer, experiencing great loss, or any other devastating blow, Pity Parties are necessary and keep you sane.  But if you have had constant Pity Parties for years, and they are a part of your daily routine, it is time to change it up and do something positive for yourself!

After going through two years of treatment for Stage 3 breast cancer with heart complications and then Lymphedema, I tried to have only occasional Pity Parties.  UNTIL, my 80 year old mom’s diagnosis with Stage 1 breast cancer.  I had to rethink my plan for how often Pity Parties were allowed.  While still rethinking it, my only sibling, my sister, Diann, was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer!  Three family members in three years about did me in, and I wasn’t sure what to do about it!

pity partyI knew that if I didn’t want to turn into a depressed basket case, I would have to give of myself even more, beyond my Blog and http://www.hellocourage.com, my online store for cancer patients.  But I knew I needed it to be easy.  I couldn’t take complicated or be over  committed for my health.

My mom, sister and I have been to the University of Michigan Cancer Center collectively over 200 times.  They saved our lives and we have nothing but glowing things to say about our physicians and caregivers.  It is an honor to be a patient there, and we all chose to go there. However, it is a 120 mile round trip so it’s been like driving from New York City to Los Angeles almost 9 times!  Okay, indulge me for a Small Pity Party.  When I hear someone complaining because they had to wait an hour for their general practitioner on their one and only annual checkup appointment, to be honest, I want to choke them.  Okay, snap out of it, Denise, get back to your story!

I decided that I needed a simple attack.  Since I dreaded spending so much more time at the Cancer Center,  my plan was to engage a cancer patient in conversation every time I had to go to the Cancer Center.   I prayed for guidance so I know which person  I should speak with, and often that guidance is just the pick of the empty chair available and who happens to be sitting next to me.

Here are just a few of my conversations:  Herb, a 50 something guy who was told he had less than 6 months to live with Esophageal Cancer.  He changed hospitals, and now Herb was at the Cancer Center for his bi-annual checkup – HE IS ALIVE 9 YEARS and cancer free!!

Then there was Barbara –  She was diagnosed with Stage 4 Breast Cancer out of the gate with bone metastases.  She was in her  50s at the time.  That was 17 YEARS AGO!!  She has never been without cancer that entire time, but she has had treatment after experimental treatment and was now in her 70s!!

Meet Doug, the 28 year old determined and energetic  newlywed with testicular cancer that was in the adjacent chair while my sister was receiving chemo.  He had only been at a new job for two weeks, when he was diagnosed.  His new boss said, no worries, we will make this work.  That made me cry as I hear from so many people who lose their jobs after being a faithful employee for years because of a cancer diagnosis!

Denise the early 50s extremely inspiring pancreatic cancer patient who was living life to the fullest even though she knew her days were numbered.   Robert, the 85 year old melanoma patient on a trial chemo drug because he had more life to live.

Today, I accompanied my sister to her 25th Radiation (she is getting close to being done – hooray!),  and I noticed a man holding his head and sort of napping in the waiting room.  He looked in pain.  I knew he was the one today!

As we began to converse, Tom told me his story that he was diagnosed with an extremely rare sinus cavity cancer that was inoperable.  He was in a clinical trial so he could help others in the future.  This necessitated him to stay for four months away from home at a facility called the Wilmot House in Ann Arbor for long-term radiation patients.  He was receiving radiation and chemotherapy simultaneously.  While telling me his story, he began to choke up and tears rolled down his face.

It has made such a remarkable difference in my attitude when I have to go to the Cancer Center yet again, as I now think how blessed I am to hear all these amazing peoples’ stories. Hopefully, I can bring them a tad bit of hope just because I am a Cancer Survivor and have been there!!   I carry these precious people in my heart every day, so whenever I start sinking into Pity Party Mode for whatever reason, the thought of them snaps me right out of it!

I challenge you — if you are engaging in ongoing Pity Parties long after your pain, you must change it up or it will consume you forever.  Here are some tips to help you move forward:

  1.  Write down what the chatter in your head is constantly saying.  Sometimes you can overlook it, as playing the negative has become such a habit.  Write as many pages as you need to and look at the reality.
  2. After looking at the cold, hard facts, make a list of 5 things you could do to change your life in a positive way.  For example,  my friend, Linda, took immediate action when her only child went 1,000 miles away to college.  Linda was devastated, but she knew she would sink into a great depression so she began to work full-time with autistic children.  Linda had not worked full-time in over 18 years, but she knew it was time to take action.  Gone are the Pity Parties from Linda’s life as she is so much enjoying her new rewarding and very fulfilling career.  Linda is thrilled her daughter is thriving in college.
  3. Ask for help – if it is all too overwhelming and you have no idea what to do first, seek the immediate help of a licensed counselor, Psychologist or Psychiatrist.  Just relaying your story to someone who understands will help move you forward.

Take action, make that change – you know what it is – just do it!  I guarantee your life will be better because of those changes!

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Breast Cancer – How to Feel Sorry for Yourself and Complain

As a breast cancer patient and survivor, do you feel guilty on the days you feel sorry for yourself or when you have a pity party?  I know I do.   Usually, I bring solace to myself by saying, “Oh, at least you are alive” or “So many people have it so much worse than you do, then I let those individuals flash through my mind.”  Plus, I say, “Denise, you are supposed to be a role model and an inspiration, get over it.”

Recently, my mom, sister and I went away for the weekend to a place we used to frequent before my breast cancer diagnosis 2 years ago.  This was my first time back.  When we got to the hotel, it hit me what a different person I was now than the last time I had been there.  I felt very sad, but gave myself my usual “don’t feel sorry for yourself” pep talk.

After a busy day, back in the hotel room, my sister looked at me with much compassion and said, “You have so much to handle and go through.”  I started to cry.  It was the first time someone actually witnessed me for a 24 hour period since diagnosis.  My sister had been observing me quietly.   She witnessed the hassle of my breast prosthesis, the 16 pills and supplements I have to ingest, the Lymphedema compression garment struggles and the countless and constant limitations Lymphedema causes, the food allergies that I now have including gluten and dairy that developed during chemo, my heart issues, and the excruciating joint pain I have on most days from Arimidex.  (Thanks for listening!)  Her compassion and observations rather than a quick “You look good” made me realize it isn’t my imagination that I do indeed have much to deal with that prior to breast cancer I did not.

After I got home, I pondered it all.   An idea popped into my mind.  On Fat Tuesday, the day before Lent begins, people eat, drink and be merry because they are facing fasting and abstinence.  So I decided I was going to have a customized Fat Tuesday of my own and allow myself to complain as much as I wanted within a 2 hour period – no more no less.  Then I would be back on abstinence from complaining.

So I complained up a storm, felt sorry for myself, got angry, and had a solo pity party.  Honestly, it felt good to release some of the pent-up frustration and breast cancer toxins.  After the 2 hours, I went back to thinking, “I am well”  and expressing that sentiment to others when asked.

Something happened that I wasn’t expecting.  I felt energized in a new way.   Giving myself compassion and allowing myself to complain about the realities helped move me forward and  accept yet again that things aren’t the way they used to be.   New ideas, dreams and goals have come to me over the past week after I experienced this catharsis.

I would encourage you to give yourself a window of opportunity to allow yourself to feel the pain, anger and frustration of breast cancer.  It will help propel you to a new place!  And if you are not a breast cancer patient but dealing with absolutely anything, try this.  It will help!

If you have not checked my store, Hello Courage, please click the picture and take a look!  I so much appreciate all the love, support, and orders I have received.HC-CollageSign

 

Feeling Angry after Surviving Breast Cancer . . .

This week I was told by my Cardiologist that my heart has not improved in a year from the damage done from chemo and Herceptin and most likely it won’t.  Then I was told that the reason I am coughing so hard, so much, and so long after an upper respiratory infection is that my lung lost its elasticity during radiation, and it takes a lot more energy to clear the lung.   I felt angry.

According to Dr. Phil McGraw,  “Anger is nothing more than a cover for hurt, frustration or fear or all three.”  Well, that made sense to me as to why I felt angry.   As far as my heart was concerned I felt hurt, was frustrated, and definitely fearful about the future.  I was so uninformed before breast cancer, I had absolutely no idea what it would mean to live as a survivor.  My images were of physically fit, smiling women running Marathons dressed in pink garb with glowing skin, white teeth, perky new breasts and thick long hair pulled back in a ponytail tied with a pink ribbon.  It looked so easy and almost inviting.

I am definitely not alone when I feel angry.  I’ve received countless emails recently from women who feel angry during and after treatment.  They are confused, hurt and feel guilty that they have these feelings.   Almost everyone says this in one form or another:  “I am so grateful to be alive, but yet I feel angry.” Here are some of their statements.    Perhaps you can relate to a few or many of them.

  • I feel really angry that I am the one who got the breast cancer
  • I have pity parties for myself and for what I have lost.  Sometimes my pity parties last for days.
  • I get angry at women who go around flaunting their cleavage especially in front of my husband
  • I miss my old pre-cancer life and feel angry about the loss
  • I cry over what I lost
  • I feel guilty that I lived and my friend (or family member) died of breast cancer
  • I hate how breast cancer left me with all the side effects that remain like Lymphedema, neuropathy, numbness in my breast, no low cut tops, cannot shave under my arms, heart damage, radiation damage, mouth sores, acid reflux, thinner hair and severe pain.
  • I get envious of people who live in a non-cancer world
  • I get angry that I had to quit my job
  • I get angry that I was fired during breast cancer treatments
  • I hate that a pain in my leg or a headache evokes panic of mets and that makes me angry.
  • I feel burdened by the weight of Survivorship like I should always be happy because I survived
  • I get angry at people who say ignorant things to me when they know nothing about breast cancer
  • I feel angry at the family and friends who abandoned me during treatment
  • I get tired of being an inspiration
  • I am angry that I have no sexual desire and feel bad for my husband
  • I get angry that the pink ribbons and pink parades left others thinking that because we lived and because our hair is back, we are fine.
  • I hate that I  never get done going to medical appointments.
  • I  really hate and feel mad that people think because I survived somehow I had the “good cancer”
  • I am angry that chemo stole my mind  and I cannot think clearly like before breast cancer.
  • I  hate feeling frequently detached from the rest of the world.
  • I am angry and tired of people having a quick fix for me when I am in panic mode about recurrence
  • I really hate it and get angry when people who still have estrogen and normal muscle mass (because I lost mine to estrogen-blockers, ovary removal and “chemopause”) say “I can show you how to exercise and lose weight.
  • I get angry when other people complain about really minor things because I had to face mortality head on
  • I feel very guilty for all of these feelings like it is wrong to even have them or admit them

Admitting that we have angry feelings is a huge step.  Of course, we celebrate that we survived.  But the reality is that survival is often at a cost.    So many women have so much to deal with physicially and emotionally after survival.  Some days you feel like jumping around and celebrating survival with pink pom poms.  Other days you feel like taking those pink pom poms and (fill in the blank…..).

When I was researching for this post, I found a very interesting article in Maclean’s, a Canadian Magazine about anger and breast cancer survivors:  http://www2.macleans.ca/2008/11/20/the-angry-breast-cancer-survivors/   Perhaps you will find it interesting as well.

Breast Cancer and Depression

Today I had a regularly scheduled check-up with my Medical Oncologist. I had a long visit with his Physician’s Assistant, Megan. Megan is very skilled and knowledgeable, and treats post-treatment breast cancer patients. After we reviewed my physical health, Megan asked me if I was experiencing any depression as the most common time for any cancer patient to become depressed is a few months after all active treatment has ended.

I told Megan that surprisingly I was not depressed. I’ve experienced depression before in my life so I certainly recognize the signs, but I am not experiencing it now. Megan told me that most cancer survivors experience it at this point because “the fight is over”. Once the fight is done, depression can find room to set in.

My medical team is aware of my Blog. They determined that I am not depressed because I am still fighting cancer through my Blog – for myself and by helping others fight cancer. I thought this was wise thinking and could relate to it. They made me promise if I had any symptoms of depression, to call them immediately. “Do not let it get out of control”, I was told. “There is so much we can do to help.” I was extremely thankful for the discussion.

If you are a breast cancer or cancer survivor, be aware of the symptoms of depression – insomnia is common, withdrawal, sadness, and feeling like you are in a hole and cannot get out. Promise me you won’t fight the battle alone.
Call your Oncologist. If he or she has not had this talk with you, talk with them about it.

This short video has helpful information. I am sorry about the advertisement first, but it is worth watching if you believe you are experiencing depression after cancer treatment. Dr. Mary Jane Massey, Psychiatrist, from Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital in New York City is interviewed.

Breast Cancer and Depression