The Road to Empowerment –
I thought about this blog for almost two years before sharing anything online. Although this gap was mostly due to my inner tug-of-war over sharing such a personal story, this time was also filled with some practical concerns and logistics that I needed to work through.
What should I name the blog?
From the moment the blog seed was planted in my brain, I knew I wanted it to be firmly rooted in the theme of empowerment, as I believe that finding and embracing personal empowerment while dealing with a serious health diagnosis is critical for every patient.
I played with several ideas and ultimately settled on “The Empowered Patient.”
As a longtime marketer, I loved the name. The Empowered Patient conveyed strength, purpose, and authority.
But as a patient, something didn’t feel right.
Was I ready to tell the world that I am “The Empowered Patient”? That I had cracked the code on how to channel this superhero alter ego to fight for myself and my best interests in all things health-related?
While the fashionista in me loved the image of wearing a well-tailored cape, framing myself as a health empowerment warrior began to feel like a burden.
Empowerment is an incredible energy source to fuel action, intent and decision-making.
But even Superman could be brought to his knees.
Fear, uncertainty and fatigue are all kryptonite equivalents that aim right at the heart of empowerment. They are severe and at times debilitating emotions that a patient is guaranteed to experience during a health crisis. No one is immune.
Fortunately, my internal struggle bumped up against a real roadblock, which forced me in a different direction.
Securing the rights to The Empowered Patient was proving difficult, as there was the possibility I would be infringing on a preexisting trademark. I was lucky to have a dear friend who is also a lawyer tell me to think about other options.
Think about switching the words, she said.
Patient Empowered? I thought to myself. It wasn’t quite right, but I could feel a sense of relief through my body. I was close.
Patient and Empowered
Never underestimate the power of an “and.”
Like most things in life, choices, paths, and decisions never come down to just one thing.
This is what I liked about the idea of being both a patient and empowered. Neither are mutually exclusive. Both could not exist without the other.
The fear, uncertainty, and doubt that come with being a patient are the Yin to empowerment’s Yang.
There is no way around it.
And it’s yucky.
But it’s necessary.
When I was halfway through my chemotherapy treatments, I met with my oncologist for a check-in.
I was feeling great and rocking my wig with a new air of confidence that rivaled my real hair days. Even my neuropathy symptoms had subsided. I was wearing heels!
My oncologist did not approve.
You really should wear flat, supportive shoes throughout your treatment, he said.
Flats do not go with this outfit, I replied, enthralled with my clever response.
My attempt at humor was met with a blank stare from my oncologist.
Ok, funny girl, I thought to myself. Let’s reign it in and get back on track.
Before the appointment, I had given some thought to what I wanted to talk about with my oncologist. Since I was halfway through chemo and feeling so well, I wanted to talk about the future.
What will my life be like after treatment? I asked.
My oncologist replied, We will check you every three months for several years through a combination of blood work, scans, and physical exams.
I already had this information. It wasn’t what I was looking for.
I tried again.
Following treatment, how do I move forward with my life? What can I do to make sure this cancer never comes back?
In a calm and measured tone, my oncologist replied, I can’t answer that question. You will be in a position similar to most cancer patients once they have completed treatment. And we will continue to monitor your progress.
I felt a burning sensation in my eyes. I knew I was seconds away from tears, so I switched the subject.
Deep down, I knew the answer I was looking for, and I also knew that I wasn’t going to get it.
I was attacking chemotherapy like I was going after a grammar school perfect attendance award. This would result in a gold star or some trophy type memento that would provide a permanent reminder of what I had achieved, with no threat of it being taken away.
But this was not the case here. And it scared me. I left my oncologist’s office in fear.
Then I called my Mom.
What ensued during the call and in the days that followed was a dark cloud of desperation—one that even wearing high heels could not overcome.
In no way did I feel like The Empowered Patient. My cape was crumpled up in a ball, buried deep in my closet.
Or so I thought.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but when I left the appointment with my oncologist I requested something that would ultimately restore balance.
I asked for a referral to a naturopath.
Long before I received my cancer diagnosis, I was always amazed and amused by the prevalence of naturopaths in Seattle.
I am a great believer in the benefits of Eastern Medicine and have worked with various practitioners since my twenties.
My amusement over the ubiquity of naturopaths in Seattle came from decades-old memories from a time when I would hide the fact that I saw an acupuncturist out of fear that some of my friends and family would think I was dabbling in voodoo.
Times have definitely changed, as evidenced by the fact that my oncologist was more than willing to make the referral.
The following week, as I sat in the naturopath’s waiting room, I was still mentally bruised and reeling in fear from the conversation with my oncologist.
When I walked into the exam room, I barely got through the introductions before the tears started rolling down my face.
This time, I didn’t fight them.
I spoke for several minutes. I can’t remember exactly what I said – and to be honest, this may be due to the disjointed nature of the sentences I was stitching together. But the gist of my monologue was this:
Where do I go from here?
The entire time, the naturopath met my gaze with both warmth and empathy. When I stopped speaking, she leaned in and said the following.
Christine, your oncologist’s job is to kill the cancer. That is his role in this. I can certainly support you through chemotherapy, but my job is to help keep you healthy after chemotherapy and in the years to follow. Our work will begin once you have completed treatment.
My tears stopped. Probably from shock.
Harkening back again to my grammar school days, what I was feeling in this moment is best described as a “do-over,” like the ones extended to me during a kickball game when I whiffed the kick.
This was the conversation I wanted so desperately to have with my oncologist. But as my naturopath so eloquently explained, his specific role on my team was not best suited to meet the needs of my request.
This experience also affirmed for me that I am the captain of the team and it’s my responsibility to make sure everyone plays their position.
Even when fear takes over, I am still the captain. Unconsciously, I think I understood this, which is why in the midst of a challenging meeting with my oncologist, one where I wasn’t getting my needs met, I asked for a referral to a naturopath.
Empowerment comes through fear. I have learned that fear is simply information I am struggling to understand. Knowing this doesn’t always make the struggle less difficult, but it always provides me with faith that the struggle will lead to something.
It’s also why I’ve abandoned all aspirations to be a health superhero. For I believe that being both a patient and empowered is much kinder to oneself – and ultimately—more heroic.
But I still enjoy wearing a cape.
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