Nancy Sharp concludes her Resilience series with a poignant reflection on what it means to lead a more resilient, optimistic life after losing a loved one to cancer.
“I see a lot of patients and caregivers paralyzed by fear, especially after a tough diagnosis,” Dr. Boxwell said. “It’s easy to become immobilized in these situations, and this is why movement created by walking is so essential. When we move our bodies, we move our minds. In this way, patients and caregivers learn to see different possibilities.”
I think it’s the cruelty of it all that has me so upset. Cancer is fierce. Cancer doesn’t discriminate. Cancer kills. This is true: there’s nothing quite like a cancer diagnosis to bring us face to face with mortality.
It would be great if we had some kind of roadmap for these unprecedented times, but this is a once-in-a-century event according to some estimates. No, the pandemic playbook is being written in real time, and, much as the world would like to move on, we are nowhere near done grappling with COVID and its life and death consequences.
Merriam-Webster defines hope as follows: 1) to cherish a desire with anticipation: to want something to happen or be true. This feels right to me. For those whose lives have been touched by cancer, hope is longing and acceptance and cautious optimism. Hope is central to resilience because it’s impossible to move past adversity without feeling positive about the future. A resilient mindset requires a hopeful mindset.
Everywhere you turn people are grappling with fears both real and imagined. There are no easy answers but amid such fraught times we have to find ways to continually challenge our fears. Nancy suggests three simple things to try.
With all the disruption and upheaval in our lives, it’s been a real struggle to feel joyful about welcoming the happy moments this month typically brings. Everyone Nancy knows seems to be riding this rollercoaster: fearful and anxious one day, grateful and calm the next. This is to be expected in the throes of such global uncertainty. Nancy was in a real funk at the start of the month, and a bit conflicted at having to be the face of resilience when she felt anything but resilient. But then two things happened that shifted her perspective.
Nancy shares a strategy passed on to her from a friend in recovery, of how to pause to take care of ourselves—body, spirit and mind. When we tend to our needs, we have so much more to give to others.
After being a caregiver for her husband during his nearly 7-year battle with brain cancer, there’s one thing that Nancy’s learned, It’s to rely on cautious optimism and find ways to adapt and find joy in the face of uncertainty and social isolation.
This is the first in a series of new columns about resilience, an area Nancy Sharp is passionate about and grew to be an expert in precisely because of her experience as a longtime cancer caregiver. She'll share her philosophy on resilience with you.
Place matters, especially when home must be redefined because the person with whom you made a home is no longer alive.
Grief comes in waves, in ebbs and flows, even for three-year old toddlers. That first year without Brett was a pendulum of conversation, reasoning, and tears. But there’s nothing easy or linear about parenting, let alone parenting grieving children. I learned not to expect too much from myself or from them.
When at last Brett died, I expected peace, not chaos all over again. I’d buried him prematurely in my dreams throughout his illness, bracing myself, I suppose, for the inevitable. Now that he was truly gone though, I was unprepared for the tidal wave of grief within me. The first few months after Brett died were a blur.
The toll of Brett's cancer on his body made home hospice no longer a viable option. After his most recent seizure, he was admitted into hospice. Going into hospice was almost a relief. I lived with premature anticipatory grief for years knowing Brett's cancer was incurable.
Being Brett’s wife and caregiver was a complicated role, and it strained my nerves. It was hard to simply rest my head on his shoulder the way I used to, or to express my own need for emotional intimacy and comfort when the gravity of his illness loomed large. I bounced back quickly from hurt feelings because there was no choice but to be present when we our time together as a family was diminishing. Every moment mattered.
Six years into her husband's cancer diagnosis, Nancy Sharp felt cancer's toll on their marriage and children. Like many caregivers, she learned to cope and adapt, even as Brett's brain tumor progressed and treatment options failed.
Nancy Sharp was a new mother wanting to go on her first family vacation with her husband and twins, but even that isn't so simple when you're a cancer caregiver.
For cancer caregivers, life is lived even down to the nanosecond. Time for me has become less a measurement of the day than the minutes.
Cancer caregivers must learn to embrace the gray of life.
When your loved on is diagnosed with cancer, and life seems to throw you one bad turn after the next, hope can seem elusive. Cautious optimism taught me how to hope again and to navigate the bumps of life which are always more jarring after a cancer diagnosis.
When a loved one is diagnosed with cancer, how do caregivers live? Seeking that elusive answer nearly leveled Nancy Sharp in the early months of her husband Brett’s brain tumor diagnosis.
When her husband was diagnosed with a brain tumor at 32, Nancy Sharp suddenly found herself navigating a new role as a cancer caregiver.