Yikes, it is the Holidays and I have Cancer and No One is Talking about It

Breast Cancer Holiday To Dos ListBy: Dr. Robin B. Dilley, author of In A Moment’s Notice: A Psychologist’s Journey with Breast Cancer and a licensed psychologist.

Will it be my last? I am doing pretty well. Treatment is coming along but it is my first Holiday Season living with the knowledge that there is this aggressive invader in my body. What am I to do? Sound familiar? Identify?

Living with a cancer diagnosis is not for the faint of heart. And the Holiday season only amplifies the reality that you have come face-to-face with your own mortality. This diagnosis like none other slaps you into the reality that life is not forever for anyone, especially your life, as you are actively fighting for it. I found it helpful during my treatment to keep my life as “normal” as possible. So here are a few to-dos that might be helpful.

  • Do decorate but do not go over board. Your energy is needed to heal.
  • Do buy your favorite foods even if they don’t taste quite the same.
  • If you are one of those who loves to cook or bake then choose a favorite and make it.
  • If you send out a Christmas letter then focus on the positives of the treatment process and use the letter to tell them what you need to hear from them this coming year. The reality is no one knows what to say and often say nothing in order to not say the wrong thing. So include a little paragraph that says something like this:
      “I know the C word makes everyone nervous and afraid. Thank goodness Cancer is not contagious and you can’t transmit it by talking about it. Do not be afraid to ask me, “How are you doing?” Don’t be afraid to ask me, “Do you want to talk about it?” Or “What do you need?” I have good days and bad days and often times I don’t know what I need but it feels good to be asked. And what I need to hear from you most is: “I don’t know what to say or ask, but I am wanting you to know you are important to me, what can I do?”
  • If you love shopping, go at off times when everyone else is at work.
  • Listen to great Christmas music and if you get bored or teary with it, then switch to music you really love. Don’t be afraid of your tears. Tell your journal how you are feeling and what you are experiencing.
  • Watch holiday movies. Go to a play or live performance.
  • Get outside. Bundle up and walk around the block or drive to a park. A change of scenery always feels good.
  • If you are too weak to drive have someone take you to see Christmas lights.
  • Buy an adult coloring book to color in as the days turn into weeks and weeks into months. Coloring can be a useful and fun activity that keeps your mind from worrying so much.
  • Drink tea. It is a wonderful healing ritual.
  • Wear your favorite and most comfortable clothes.
  • And if you are traveling for the holiday on trains or airplanes consider wearing a mask in addition to keeping hands clean to help protect from others’ germs. These are not full-proof measures but the extra steps do help.
  • And, best of all, give yourself permission to NOT do anything you don’t want to do. If you hate wrapping presents, switch to gift bags only. If you hate cooking, order your holiday meal. Pamper yourself.

Create new memories for next year. Having cancer is a real bummer but do not let it control you and your mood. You are still alive right now and use this time to make the most of it with your loved ones. None of us are immortal. We will all die. We do not get a choice about that. But we do get a choice about how we live and what we create while we are here. Never allow self-pity to steal your joy. Find something to enjoy everyday. Give back. Call a friend who is down and cheer him/her up. Look for ways to make a positive difference in the lives of people around you. You may have cancer but that does not mean your entire identity has changed. Don’t let cancer own you. Live your life the best possible way and get determined to enjoy this Holiday Season regardless. Turn up that music now!

Dr. Robin DilleyDr. Robin B. Dilley, author of In A Moment’s Notice: A Psychologist’s Journey with Breast Cancer is a licensed psychologist in the State of Arizona. Her eclectic practice allows her to cross diagnostic barriers and meet clients in their need assisting them to respond to life in healthy and empowering ways rather than react to life’s circumstances.

Happy New Year

Breast Cancer Authority Blog Wishing U Happy New YearDr. Robin Dilley, Author of In A Moment’s Notice: A Psychologist’s Journey With Breast Cancer and a licensed psychologist.

The NEW YEAR is filled with hype and promises of change. I suppose that is good in many ways because if we didn’t have some day to mark our effort at new beginnings perhaps we would never begin the arduous path of change. Yes, I used the word arduous. Arduous means difficult, trying, taxing and full of effort. But guess what, change is not something that happens without arduous work. Thus, let me switch the focus here for cancer survivors. You already know and are intimately acquainted with the word arduous. Your New Year began with the day of your diagnosis. Everything changed within that moment when the doctor said, “You have cancer.” A myriad of feelings ran through your body, your mind hit the numb switch and a blur of medical terminology flew at you like a foreign language. It felt like the doors blew open and regardless of what time of year you heard those words, the world shed its color and the bleakness of winter swept through a broken barn door. Everything familiar turned unfamiliar and difficult emotions would not be shut-up. But guess what? You are reading this today. Perhaps you are in the throws of difficult treatment, perhaps remission has slipped far away from your grasp, or perhaps you are feeling on top of the world with your foot firmly planted against cancer’s neck and the flag of hope is flying high. Regardless of your state of being, January 1, 2015 is here. You made it. Your arduous work has paid off for now. Arduous work does not necessarily change the outcome but it does change your character as you move through this battle. You are a champion today. You are an Olympian Champion with a gold medal. You suited up and sweat it out, trained and tested the limits of your endurance. No one knows your journey like you do. Know one can stand by the sidelines and cheer you with an adequate sense of what it is like. Hopefully you have cheerleaders. Cheerleaders help when you are on that 22-mile of a 26-mile marathon. The band plays and the cheerleaders’ shout-out, “almost there, keep going.” Hope fills your mind and breath enters your being and you pick up your speed and declare, “almost there.” January 1st, 2015 will be unpredictable and regardless of how arduous you are you will not be able to control the outcome. However, an arduous (hearty and profound) spirit will help you take the next step and then your next step. Yes, some days you may want to give up and if you do, don’t worry. Just allow yourself to give-up for a day or two. Stay in bed if you want. Sleep. Drink green tea and look out your window. Watch a movie or do ABSOLUTELY nothing. Giving up requires energy and effort too. Letting yourself relax into your bed for a few days can give you a renewed sense of self. Once you renew yourself then you will know what your next step is. You will be ready to take it. Be kind, be gentle, and be good to yourself this year. No one can do this journey for you. Those friends that walk along side of you while you are on this journey are often feeling helpless about how to help. Tell them what you need. They cannot read your mind. Helping them, help you is a gift that you give to them. Your journey is something no one else can do for you and as you face your journey eye-ball to eye-ball you come to understand the complexities of a fear blended hope that keeps you placing one foot in front of the other to see what will happen next. Remain curious. Remain open. Remain hopeful. Be encouraged that none of us are guaranteed a tomorrow, so make the best that you can out of today. Tomorrow do the same. One day at a time is how 2015 is meant to be lived. Live it well.
Dr. Robin DilleyDr. Robin B. Dilley, author of In A Moment’s Notice: A Psychologist’s Journey with Breast Cancer is a licensed psychologist in the State of Arizona. Her eclectic practice allows her to cross diagnostic barriers and meet clients in their need assisting them to respond to life in healthy and empowering ways rather than react to life’s circumstances.

Doctor’s HOLIDAY Advice For Cancer Patients And Survivors

Holiday Advice For The HolidaysDr. Robin Dilley, Author of In A Moment’s Notice: A Psychologist’s Journey With Breast Cancer and a licensed psychologist.

The HOLIDAY season comes at the best time of the year, starting in fall and finishing in the heart of winter. It is the best time of the year, because it is my favorite time. The weather changes and the colors of fall dance in the crispness of evening dusk and then snow falls and purifies the debris of hot summer months. From Halloween until Valentine’s Day there is a HOLIDAY to look forward to with opportunity for plenty of hallmark moments.

However, the HOLIDAY season can be marred with ghosts from times past that you need to clear out in order to celebrate and take every opportunity to be fully alive in the HOLIDAY season. One good way to do this is to write journal letters to the people or memories that have scarred your HOLIDAY mood. Write a letter to the people or memories that haunt you and burn those letters in a fall bond fire. But don’t stop there. Write a new letter to yourself for every letter that you just burned. This new letter is a letter of declaration. Declare to take back the joy, mystery, and excitement of this time of the year and describe in detail in the letter how you are setting yourself free and specifically celebrating the HOLIDAY season this year. This letter of declaration is your bill of rights to enjoy your life without the haunting of past memories. This is most important for us as cancer survivors. If you are currently challenged with a certain cancer and are wrestling with treatment and recovery the HOLIDAY season can be shadowed with fear and life and death thoughts. It is very important that you rally to claim this time of year for yourself and your family. HOLIDAY’s can be the best memory making times of your life. In order for that to happen you must drop the “should and have-to” demands of society and simply enjoy the presence of festivity and connection that this time of the year provides.

So, cancer survivor’s and current patients get out your pen and paper and write your letter of independence today. Do not let cancer shadow or shatter your HOLIDAY this year. You may not have control of the outcome of your current cancer story, but you can control the way you celebrate this time of the year just because you are still here and this is an opportunity to enjoy.

Hallmark and commercialism have over-burdened and over stimulated many of you with all of the commercial glitz of consumerism. HOLIDAY’S can becoming burdensome surrounded by clouds of should and have-to. Do not allow commercialism to ruin the enjoyment and zest that can be yours during this magical time of the year. Learn to own what your HOLIDAY thoughts and dreams are and execute the HOLIDAY the way you want to do it. For instance, choose the HOLIDAY you enjoy the most and celebrate it fully the way you that brings you the most enjoyment. If Halloween is your favorite HOLIDAY then full celebrate it. Give HALLOWEEN gifts if you want and put it in the card: “Happy Halloween. I just love this holiday and since I can’t do both Christmas and Halloween I am gifting you now and hope you will enjoy this just as much if you were opening it on Christmas morning.” It is okay to have boundaries and not have to do all of everything for the HOLIDAY. If you are overwhelmed with other people’s expectations, you are the only one that can change that. I promise you they won’t change it for you.

Then for the rest of the HOLIDAYS choose one part of the HOLIDAY to truly participate in. For instance if you live near family and have to do HOLIDAY meals on Christmas morning, afternoon, and evening as well as a big celebration on Christmas eve, you know that already. So rather than resist it, pre-plan and prepare what you are going to take, organize it and have it off of your to do list. As a result of these obligations, trim down on other HOLIDAY have-to obligations and learn to say no to the cookie exchange and last-minute wrapping and gift buying. Sometimes, you can be your own worse enemy. Family expectations are tricky and you do not have to take an all or nothing stance. Resisting your mother-in-law’s expectations is a waste of your mental and emotional energy. Just pre-plan around her expectation and do your family obligation with a joyful attitude and the have-to becomes an act of love and service. That is the true spirit of the HOLIDAY season. It becomes your Christmas gift to her even if she is too busy to notice. You know and that is all that matters.

It is up to you as to how you choose to celebrate this HOLIDAY season and if you take ownership you can actually have the best HOLIDAY ever, regardless of HOLIDAY ghosts or your physical health at this time. You are more than your cancer. Do not let cancer define you or your HOLIDAY this year. If you need help taking ownership of this festive time, then seek out the help of a mental health professional that values living in the midst of any situation. May you look forward to the opportunities of mystery and magic during this awesome time of the year.
Dr. Robin DilleyDr. Robin B. Dilley, author of In A Moment’s Notice: A Psychologist’s Journey with Breast Cancer is a licensed psychologist in the State of Arizona. Her eclectic practice allows her to cross diagnostic barriers and meet clients in their need assisting them to respond to life in healthy and empowering ways rather than react to life’s circumstances.

Thanksgiving: An Opportunity To Take Inventory Of Our Lives Blessings

Give Thanks For Our Lives BlessingsThanksgiving provides each of us an opportunity to take inventory of our lives and truly list our blessings. Thanksgiving has a way of opening the door of our hearts and souls to others, allowing the spirit of generosity to permeate to each other.

But the happy face of Thanksgiving does not always fit. For breast cancer and other cancer survivors this time can be bitter sweet, especially if you are currently in treatment or wrestling with bad news on how your treatment is going. If you are having a difficult time emotionally or physically then this holiday can present some challenges. Rather that asking you to hide those challenges and pretend that you are just thankful to be alive, I am giving you permission to be honest with yourself and others. There is a trick to this honesty because as you probably know by now, honesty is not always well received by the general population. Most people just do not know what to say when you say you are in treatment for cancer. It is not that they are selfish, inept, or rude. They just don’t know what to say. As a result they end up saying something like, “hope you feel better soon.”

Here is my Thanksgiving advice for you:
The bottom line no one knows if he/she will be alive this time next year. Now, by telling you that truth, I have just leveled the playing field. You are really no different than your neighbor who seems to be happy-go-lucky Mr. Good Guy. The difference is that you are aware you are now mortal. That reality allows you to make a difference this Thanksgiving in ways other people can’t.

Here are some things to do as a result:

  1. Make a list of your friends, family and acquaintances. Be mindful as you do this by getting out a large notepad or even beautiful stationary. Spend time listing these people.
  2. Next, ask yourself, “Who would be my best ally or friend on this list if I allowed myself to be vulnerable with him/her?” Imagine yourself calling that person and asking them to come visit with you for a little bit. If they live far away ask for a time when you can have a brief but meaningful conversation with them on the phone. I know your anxiety is rising because I am asking you to do something for yourself. Take a breath and relax a bit because I am going to ask you to do something for all of those other people on your list in a minute. However, you must learn how to take care of your difficult emotions first.

Here is a brief script you can practice saying to the one person that you chose to be your friend on the list:

Susie (the name of your person) I am reaching out to you today because I trust you and believe I can be honest with you. You have shown me over our time together that you are genuinely interested in how I am doing. To be truthful with you, I have never really known how to answer that question. But today, I just need you to know that I am having a difficult time right now. This Thanksgiving is feeling overwhelming and I am sad. I hurt and my treatment is not going very easy right now. Because, I know you have cared about that in the past, I am letting you know that now in the most honest way I can. It feels better just to say the truth to someone. I know there is nothing you can do Susie to change anything I am going through. I just needed to get it off of my chest. Thanks so much for listening to me.”

See, that wasn’t so bad was it? That was an exercise in reaching out to get your needs met and allowing a friend to be there to listen. In most cases sharing with a friend at this level of honesty will help you feel a little better.

Now, look at that list of people. What do you know about each of them? Ask yourself, “What would I say or do for them if they were in a difficult spot this Thanksgiving?” Asking yourself that question will help you get out of your box and into his/her box, making you aware if it is not cancer, it is usually something.

Depending on your energy level, here are a few suggestions of some action you can take:

  1. If you a person of prayer, you can offer a prayer for each of them.
  2. If you have the energy and the contact information you can call them and tell them, “Happy Thanksgiving. I am just thinking about you. Hope you have a wonderful day.”
  3. You can send a note or you can just keep the list handy and look at it often to remind yourself that we really all are in this together, one way or the other.

The last suggestion for this Thanksgiving is for you to do something this day to distract yourself from you. Don’t allow yourself to dwell on your fear. Any activity out of the ordinary will help you get your mind off of yourself and be thankful that even though you have cancer you still can do some activities and be valuable to others along the way. Be thankful for that and enjoy what you can. Let go of the rest.

Dr. Robin Dilley

Dr. Robin B. Dilley, author of In A Moment’s Notice: A Psychologist’s Journey with Breast Cancer is a licensed psychologist in the State of Arizona. Her eclectic practice allows her to cross diagnostic barriers and meet clients in their need assisting them to respond to life in healthy and empowering ways rather than react to life’s circumstances.


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