On January 24, 2017, I lost my baby sister, Selina, to Inflammatory Breast Cancer. Selina was diagnosed nearly a year before her death. During that year, my little sister's diagnosis haunted me. She had been a selfless mother of nine, yes nine, beautiful children. She worked, she mothered, she repaired the tattered pieces in her home and within her children, but she left little space for herself.
What I saw in my sister in the years leading up to her diagnosis was a quiet state of overwhelm that lay dormant just below the surface of her active and ultra-organized life. The quietness came in the form of a self-deprecating joke, or a good-natured annoyance with some mundane daily task. What I know now is that this quiet state of stress could have been a communication, a nudge from mind, body and spirit to redirect my sister toward a bit of self-love and self-care. The kind of love and care that she effortlessly gave her children was inaccessible to her in a time of need.
What haunted me was my inaccessibility to fully step into the care and love I needed for myself to feel whole. We were caretakers, us three girls. We had been primed that way by our own overwhelmed mother and a missing alcoholic father. What was even more disturbing, I didn't have to look far to see that same trap of moving away from the self that so many women are snarled in (alcoholic father or not) when balancing a career, children and other relationships. And I can't hold this truth for women only. A stone's throw brought me to men, my brother-friends, whom were on a treadmill of earning, producing, providing and creating a life for their families with honor and with pride. While there is no definitive cause for cancer, stress is a contributing factor. In our modern world of doing it all the gift of self-care has become a lost art and a low item on our lists of “to dos” it it even makes it on the list at all.
My sister's journey with cancer, her stress, her quiet overwhelm was a wake-up call to address my quiet pockets of overwhelm. When carrying too heavy of a load, I now know it can easily be lightened with a simple request from a loved one, or by simply allowing myself the space to sit quietly. I have learned to create that quiet space by saying, "No" when my social training would have me say, "Yes!" I now can utter the phrase, "Can you help me?" when fierce independence is the stuff the women of my family are made of. When the burden I am carrying can be lightened by a friend, I surrender to the love of that friend. I allow myself a more generous understanding of who I am, how I serve, and how I can be served in return. As a clinical hypnotherapist and life coach, my wish for my sister is my wish for you:
I wish, I could have explored, with my sister, the message within her quiet overwhelm. Perhaps that emotion was there to communicate the lack of ease in her life with so many responsibilities. Perhaps that quiet overwhelm foretold of the dis-ease that was brewing within her cells.
I wish I had been there to help quell the mind chatter that kept my sister up at night with worry. She often said to me, "My minds just goes a hundred miles per hour."
I wish I had been there to help manage her pain outside of the heavy narcotics that stole her lucidity and prevented her from being fully present to engage with her family during the last months of her life.
I wish I could have been there before my sister's surgery because I know, as a hypnotherapist, that hypnosis and guided imagery intervention reduces post-surgical side effects such as anxiety, pain, nausea, and fatigue.
The diagnosis and treatment of cancer are often stressful and emotionally shattering, as it was for my sister. Studies have provided evidence that much of this distress can be preventable or greatly reduced by providing a support service that is open-access and fully integrated with other parts of cancer care. There is ample evidence that relaxation therapy, guided imagery and hypnotherapy can be beneficial in helping patients cope with the diagnosis and treatment. It was my joy, on a few occasions, to quietly guide my sister through positive imagery as she drifted off to sleep.
My wish and my promise is to offer those dealing with a cancer diagnosis and their families a professional, caring service through every stage of their illness. What I know to be true is that a positive mindset and healthier lifestyle will not only greatly assist a cancer patient’s treatment, it will also help reduce their perception of pain and reduce the negative side effects often associated with traditional cancer treatments.
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