3 Life Lessons for Surviving Personal Storms

Last month I shared a very personal and painful story with you. We kept it a secret for months. Sharing our secret has been like fresh air healing a wound. Before I announced it, I asked Renee for her permission. After the response from sharing it with my community through email, I asked her if I could post my blog on Facebook. She courageously said yes. Within minutes she was getting messages from friends and family sending her love and support. The volume of comments and private messages continues to grow.

When Renee decided to share it on her own Facebook Timeline I noticed a powerful shift inside her. She will NOT be defined by her experience with breast cancer, but she is owning it.

Last week she posted pictures with her bald head and with a wig. She had learned about a local salon that is part of an organization called Wigs and Wishes. They donate wigs and make overs to woman who lose their hair from chemotherapy. They filmed Renee and another young woman for a TV news feature called “Everyday Heroes”. They were recognizing the woman who owned the salon. She has provided this deeply meaningful service to over 200 woman in our area. Paula Abdul gave her first public performance in 25 years to support the volunteers of this program.

I’m not going to lie or sugar coat it. Cancer sucks. I don’t pretend I can imagine what it feels like to be diagnosed with cancer, much less treated. It’s hard enough being the primary support and care giver. No one likes to see the ones they love in pain, physically or emotionally. One in eight men in the U.S. are supporting a woman with breast cancer and I am one of them.

They say cancer can destroy a marriage or make it stronger. A close friend was treated for breast cancer four years ago and divorced in the process. Two months before Renee was diagnosed, our friend’s ex-husband started a non-profit organization to support families of cancer patients. Little did I know we would be in that club.

We’ve been through some difficult challenges in our relationship, especially over the last four years, since quitting my comfortable corporate job. The challenges seemed to stem from my work. The work that I am so passionate about was causing my wife major anxiety. Stress is one of the leading causes of heart issues. Research shows it could also be directly linked to cancer.

Did I cause Renee to develop cancer?

That question haunted me for months. I had to let it go. Still I’m faced with serious guilt issues. When I worked for the large corporation we had excellent health care and rarely needed it. I believe everyone should have access to good health care and hoped Obama Care would provide those less fortunate than me. I had no idea than I would soon be an independent business owner paying 100% of my own insurance. It’s just not the same quality we had before. We are blessed that Renee is receiving the best medical care available. Fortunately she has worked on both sides of insurance claims processing them first for a doctor and later for an insurance company. She knows the process and how to get it done. She’s learned to be her own advocate.

Renee has a Bachelor’s degree in Holistic Nutrition. We buy and eat primarily organic, healthy foods. She runs about 10 miles every week. For the first two months after her diagnosis she spent hundreds of hours researching alternative treatments in the US and around the world. We had always avoided traditional medicine. We don’t even take aspirin. Even after surgery she didn’t take the pain meds she was given. The problem she found was that there is little scientific evidence for most alternative treatments as a cure for breast cancer. There are plenty of antidotal stories. She found that even some of those were hoaxes. The people making the claims either did not exist or had not been diagnosed by a doctor.

A few months after we received the results from Renee’s biopsy a young friend of ours died of cancer. She too believed there had to be a better cure than the traditional treatments of surgery, chemo and radiation, often referred to as “Slash, Poison and Burn.”

When nothing else worked and it metastasized she decided she had no other choice. By then it was too late. She left behind a little boy. The thought of not being here for her children was too much for Renee. If she was not a mom, it may have been different.

Have I mentioned she’s the world’s greatest mom?

In my last blog I shared our two biggest lessons so far from this experience:

#1 – Practice extreme self care. You are your own best advocate. Remember to put the oxygen mask on yourself first before helping others. Taking good care of yourself ensures there is more of you to give. It also models self love to those around you.

#2 – Ask for and accept help from others. We are so good at caring for others, sometimes we forget or are to proud to ask for help from others. Remember to allow others to enjoy the gift of giving. You are loved. Receive the love.

Renee has done a great job at both. I fell like I am getting better, but I still have a long way to go. What has stood out for me over the last month is

#3 – The importance of a positive attitude.

We know in theory about the power of the mind, but putting it into practice is not always easy. I was able to look at the challenges and tragedies I’ve faced over the last four years. I am not always proud of the way I’ve reacted to adversity.

When my 31 year old godson died last year I went to the park outside our neighborhood and got so drunk I lost my cell phone and didn’t realize it until the next day. We never did find it. I was depressed for some time. I found excuses to stop working out and started emotional eating.

When Renee received her diagnosis she quit drinking wine immediately. She cut out sugar, high glycemic fruit, grains and coffee. She bought a Vitamix blender and an Omega juicer which she uses every day now. She took supplements she had researched and exercised everyday. Her motto has become, “I am a healing machine.” She continues to do all she can physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

Even after all that, the surgery revealed the cancer to be much more aggressive than expected. It caused her to question her beliefs and her faith. Soon I started to question my own. That was the beginning of a brief downward spiral. Fortunately I have friends (she is one of them) who reminded me how important it is to keep my faith and stay positive. I need to be optimistic and strong for her, for me and for our children. I learned that people are watching me that I don’t even know.

Renee asked our kids’ teacher if they seemed negatively affected by it. She said they seem very secure, confident and unshaken. I know it’s because that’s what they see in their mom, even with her bald head. She is not broken. She is whole.

We are already stronger and more courageous than we were just a few months ago. We still have a long road a head. It won’t be easy, especially for her, but I know that we will both continue to grow from this experience. Rather than dimming our light, this is fuel to shine even brighter.


1 in 8 men are supporting a woman with breast cancer

Support her fight against breast cancer by taking care of YOUR health. She needs you at your best now more than ever.

Support all of the women in your life. Encourage them to get regular well-women exams, and if older than 40, to have annual mammograms.

3 Intimate Ways to Support a Woman with Breast Cancer:
– Reassure her of your continued love
– Go to all medical appointments and treatments if possible
– Listen without judging and share feelings openly

Affirmation: “I am a healing machine. I am well and whole, body mind and soul.”