Survival in Small Talk

We’re having a glorious taste of spring this week. The sun is shining, Snow Drops are blooming and once empty sidewalks are full of smiling, sauntering humans.

Where in winter’s grip I could roam the neighbourhood with my chemo-cocoon in tact, outings this week have been much more social.

And chance meetings with acquaintances have introduced the challenge of responding to pitying looks and casual/earnest inquiries of “Oh, Andrea! How are you doing?”

What can I say?

I’m actually doing fabulously, all things considered. I’ve made it through the initial horror, the decisions, the surgeries, the injections, scans, x-rays, potions and two-thirds of the chemo. I’ve faced the loss of my occupation and income, insurance theft, my own mortality and a huge wallop of uncertainty — and I’ve stayed pretty sane.

But standing on a street corner in the sunshine, no response does this journey justice.

I’m thinking I’ll stick with, “Fine thank you, how are you?”

Thank you!

A huge thank you to Sean McGaughey and Daniele Rossi for gathering good vibes for us at PodCamp Toronto 2010 and to all the fabulous friends who contributed great wishes — and favourite children’s book titles.

You can listen in to Daniele’s messages here and to Sean’s using the inline player, above.

Journey Learning #5: Braving Eye Contact

Christopher was a large crab who lived as a pet in one corner of a pull-out lobster tank at the generous and friendly Butland’s Seafood, just outside Fundy National Park.

Surrounded by lobsters of every size and colour, and occasionally picked up and shown off to lucky customers, he dealt with the terror by closing his eyes. If he couldn’t see us, then we couldn’t see him.

I’ve always done the same.

When faced with the terror of possible judgement, rejection, criticism or the source of a deep and open hurt, I simply refuse to look.

Family gatherings, group activities, crowded school yards, you name it, I protect myself by averting my eyes. If I can’t see them, they can’t see me. They can’t judge me, reject me or hurt me. They can’t see into me.

Reading this post by our friend Daniele Rossi, I realized this is another hamstringing habit that has to go.

To let go, to connect, to be fully alive, I need to open my eyes. I need to take in what’s really there.

I need to touch the burner.

Part of me knows I’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Support Group Jitters

I’m gutted by groups.

As I lurk awkwardly, battling the urge to bolt, the remaining strangers meet, beam, chat, laugh and connect. Stuck quaking on the outside of the quickly bonding group, my panic grows, my force field thickens. I’m too mortified now to function at all.

Seeing I’m “shy”, the group may kindly coax me. Ouch. Or toss me to the bottom of their fresh echelon.

I wonder how they do it. And why I can’t. I vow not to “group” myself again.

Yet, today I join the Stepping Stones support group.

So, move over group-phobia. Here comes fear of grief, fear of germs, fear of other women’s fear. Fear of drama. Fear of bravado. Fear that some of us will die.

Will I give myself a break? Will I let myself engage? Will I help and be helped by other recently diagnosed women?

I’ll soon find out…

Journey Learning #4: Releasing Resentment

Being bullied, belittled and abused from birth definitely didn’t make me the most carefree of characters. It left me raw and responsive to random nastiness. It made injustices cling — each incidental injury tearing into the stinging wound within.

And the clinging hurts became cancer.

I’m realizing now that I have to let go. That to flush the cancer from my body, I need to flush out the pain. I need to expel the anguish I feel every single day. I need to release the resentment towards the handful of people who have hurt me most; who continue to hurt me, through snipes, spite or snubbing.

I must.

But how?

What, Me Worry?

I’ve biked across this country, coast to coast. I’ve spoken hard truths, when most wouldn’t dare. I’m not afraid of the things that don’t scare me……It’s just that most things do.

Fear of failure, fear of injury, fear of judgment, fear of change. Fear of rejection, fear of responsibility, fear of being misunderstood, fear of loss. I’ve bypassed a lot in life, thanks to fear.  I’ve shed vats of tears and spent hours in anguish replaying hurtful scenarios and guarding myself from social snipes. I’ve lived small and safe. I’ve let fear rule.

Yet, here I am dealing with a life-threatening disease — facing surgeries, injections, toxic chemicals, long-term side effects, loss of income, mortality — and I’m taking it pretty well. I’ve cried more over a single nasty coding bug and anguished more over any of a million family affronts than I have during this entire challenge to date.

And almost daily I’m told I’m brave.

Is it the lack of malicious-intent? The lack of choice? The fabulous team that’s supporting me?
Who knows?

My social anxiety certainly remains intact and  I still get stung by the handful of relatives who continue to snipe or snub me. As much as I’d like to, I haven’t really changed since my diagnosis.

I can’t explain it.  But I sure am grateful.

Journey Learning #2: I Count

Years of early indoctrination infused in me an unshakable sense of worthlessness and, as a result, self-loathing. Despite huge efforts throughout my adult life, this injury kept me distracted from the great good that surrounds me and left me raw and reactive to the snipes and whims of every toxic family member or acquaintance.

The unabating care and kindess of friends, family and community members during this health challenge is providing me with a steady stream of invitations to boot my belittling beliefs, to accept and focus on the good, and to let the saboteurs slide.

Will I accept the invitation? I’ll certainly try.