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.
Nancy's husband died of brain cancer when her children were just 2 years old. Read more about her experience and her insights on the humanity of medicine today during the COVID-19 pandemic.
I dare say I’m not the only one feeling fragile during these long months grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s like I’ve lost a layer of skin. And now, just as students like my daughter have returned to the classroom and college campus, cases are rising. How long will the pandemic continue to pose a threat to our health and way of life? Will things ever be “normal” again? The answers seem more and more unclear. Still, life persists. Babies are born. Lovers marry. Too many good people die from 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.”
Welcome then to the gray zone, a space that can feel equal parts unsettling and empowering. Both are true, and here’s why. The gray zone is where we rid ourselves of rigid black and white thinking and certainty by appreciating small, less defined moments that give shape to our experiences.
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.
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.