My First Lesson –
After speaking to my doctor, I kept the scan results to myself for about an hour. Initially, the high functioning aspects of my personality took over. Catch your breath, said the calm, patient voice inside my head, as I started to think through how I was going to explain my situation to the people closest to me.
I considered different words and phrases, similar to preparing for a work presentation to a large audience. Then a violent wave of reality hit. This was so not a work presentation. Descriptive words and PowerPoint would be of no help here. My chest tightened like an overblown balloon desperate to pop in order to relieve the pressure.
An internal voice I did not recognize began to yell.
Just freaking tell someone!
This voice was strong, loud and impatient. It was so powerful that I got the sense that her patient voice counterpart took one look at her and said, You’re in charge now.
The best piece of advice I ever received was from someone who told me that I would become a much happier person once I realized the whole world did not think like me. I could devote an entire blog on why this advice was given to me. However, I mention it now because it helps explain how my mind operated up to this moment.
I had always been a cautious communicator. My approach to sharing was similar to how I managed my Pinterest account: a highly curated collection of images, neatly organized into “public” and “private” categories.
I was hyper-conscious about what aspects of my life I was willing to share, which I could easily attribute to the need to be seen in a certain way. But there was more to my behavior.
If I could control what I communicated, then I had a better chance of being understood and getting the outcome I wanted. And more importantly, by limiting the amount of details I shared, I could significantly limit the risk of having information come back to haunt me. Ironically, this is a personality trait that enabled me to excel in my career, but was definitely a rate limiter in some of my personal relationships.
When I called my Mom, my communication conundrum was brought to a head as she unknowingly drew a line in the sand that forced me to make an immediate choice.
My Mom said, Christine, I am going to be with you through all of this, but you need to make me one promise. You have to tell me everything.
Done, I said.
The word had barely left my mouth, when the impatient voice came roaring back, somewhat amused.
Seriously? YOU are going to share everything? Have we met?
The answer I gave my Mom was the truth. I did intend on sharing everything with her, but that promise was almost as scary as the unnamed intruder living in my abdomen.
My fragile psyche was simultaneously riding on two parallel emotional roads. The first was Fear. The scans provided tangible proof that there was something wrong – something inside of me that should not be there. Yet I had no clear answer that it was cancer – and if so, how bad. But right next to Fear, was the other road: Hope, which manifested almost immediately after talking to my Mom – in a conversation that I did not rehearse what I was going to say beforehand, nor self-edit as I spoke.
I started to feel a steady internal up-swell of confidence, which told me I was going to survive. By no means was this an emotional 180 that replaced everything I had been feeling only moments earlier. I was still petrified. But similar to watching a movie and correctly predicting the outcome in absence of all the facts, I started to open up to the idea that I would come out of this OK. And since I always found that the really bad movies were the ones easiest to predict, I was hoping this would work in my favor.
This early lesson would prove to be deeply valuable for the weeks and months ahead. Whereas I once viewed fear and confidence as emotions in complete contradiction to one another, I now had proof that when in the throes of a crisis, they are not mutually exclusive. In fact, my continuing to learn how to let widely divergent emotions coexist would become one of my strongest weapons for battle.
Also, continuing to release my steel grip on the information faucet to allow more details to flow to others would also be important—but it still posed a challenge for me. If at the time, I could have remembered the infamous Seinfeld episode when George achieved great success by following the “the opposite” of his usual instincts, this might have helped me to adapt my behavior more quickly. But in the immediate future, my attempts at being more open and honest with my situation resembled the more typical “Costanzaesque” outcomes –ranging from ridiculous to hilarious.
More on this in the weeks ahead.
If you have feedback or questions you would like to share; we would love to hear from you! Share your experience in the comments below, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. To receive regular updates from patient and empowered, please subscribe here.