The importance of community in healing journeys
By Jessica de la Morena (Spain)
The day before I started treatment, I went to the office to attend a meeting I had scheduled to tell my team what was happening. I had been receiving messages from team members and colleagues asking why I had cancelled a trip to Australia and was working from home, and I had been avoiding telling them anything until I had clarity on my next steps. During this meeting I delivered the hardest speech I have ever given, explaining the situation to my work family. The outpouring of love and support from my work family has been heartwarming, from near and far, and I am forever grateful for this.
As I mentioned in my last article where I shared my experiences with the world for the first time, community is an important pillar in my healing process. As my community has expanded and become stronger, I had a few helpful realizations that I have carried with me that I’d like to share.
At the onset of my journey, of course I was very emotional when speaking about the situation. It was very hard to talk about it, and I would feel emotionally drained every time I would. Every time I would encounter someone for the first time after they’d heard the news, they would become very emotional, and that would set me off on another round of crying. Even though it was tiring, I embraced each conversation as an opportunity to externalize my feelings and considered them as gifts! As time passed, and I processed my feelings of fear, anger, and sadness, I was able to express my underlying positivity more overtly and didn’t feel as overwhelmed emotionally.
I was amazed at how many people were so supportive and caring. I noticed that some people were very uncomfortable with my situation, as it probably brought up fears and other difficult emotions. Many people would want to share a similar experience with me, in an effort to relate to me. The first time this happened I was completely shocked. After telling me how sorry they were about my situation and expressing a lot of caring and support, the person proceeded to tell me that his father had had a long battle with cancer and had passed away. I immediately went from crying to feeling a huge knot of fear in my stomach. Naturally, I subsequently turned my focus onto their story while thoughts of dying and abandoning my children emerged in my own mind. Later, I contemplated this interaction and realized that what had happened was quite normal, but it wasn´t inevitable, as I could take “response-ability” in the conversation.
As a reminder, “response-ability” is our inherent ability to decide how we respond to any given situation. Remembering my response-ability has shifted my perspective dramatically and has empowered me greatly during my healing journey. It has led me to observe my reactions and behaviors in many situations and to decide whether that behavior helps me or hinders me.
The next day when I encountered another person, after she expressed her sympathy and love, she started to say, “you know, my mother had cancer.” I interrupted her with a smile and reached out and touched her arm. I proceeded to say, “I am so sorry to hear that. Before you continue, may I ask you whether what you are about to say is positive and constructive and will leave me feeling good?” She stopped and thought about it, and then she shared a story about how her mother had tried hypnosis and how helpful it had been. I never found out whether she lost her mother, but I did receive a constructive suggestion and was left feeling uplifted by her story.
This is how I began directing the conversations and thus ensuring that they were going to help me and not hinder me. Indeed, sometimes people would just not say anything further, and that was okay too because I could remain in my positive mindset. I didn´t feel comfortable the first time I did this, as happens any time one does something differently. Also, I have it engrained in me to be considerate of others’ feelings, and I always tried to deliver my message in a loving and constructive way. However, it got easier the more I practiced and eventually became one of the tools I regularly used to ensure that I was shifting the things I exposed myself to towards positivity, a vital step in my journey.
This action came from what I call “survival mode,” meaning that I felt pressure to do something about my situation because I couldn´t bear to not make a change. However, it got me thinking about other situations that I was exposed to repeatedly when I didn´t feel good. Once I became more aware of this, I began observing situations and noticing conversations that were not helping me. In each situation I considered how I was feeling and what I needed, and I subsequently started to modify my behavior to respond in a way that was more aligned with what I needed. My inner hero came to the rescue. I felt very empowered!
After becoming more comfortable with my shift in perspective, I changed my focus to think about how I could use this learning in a proactive way to actually create an environment instead of limiting myself to only to reacting to my environment. I asked myself the following questions:
What kind of environment do I want?
What are the values of my community?
I created more opportunities to spend time with friends and family who are creative people with positive mindsets, and I was surprised to find that new people with my values gravitated towards me. I also became closer to certain people in my life, connecting on a much deeper level. I focused my thoughts and conversation on how serendipitous everything is, seeing situations as opportunities and getting excited about them rather than dreading a change.
I also started building a community of people with a positive mindset that were going through similar medical challenges. Unfortunately, a few of my friends have had similar experiences as me so they understand first-hand how hard this can be. Their experiences were very helpful for me and having them as examples of happy endings on similar journeys gave me additional hope. My friends introduced me to their friends with related stories, and I made numerous new friends. Lastly and most importantly, my mom has also been a lighthouse of hope for me during all of this ordeal, as she went through her own journey with another rare form of cancer, and her strength and positivity has influenced me dramatically, as well as my dad´s relentless positivity and love. Unknowingly, I have also connected all of these different people with each other!
My daughters are also my community. Their perspective as children has been invaluable for me to see things objectively and without any of the “adult” stigmas attached. Their minds are open and accepting of new situations and they take them at face value, allowing for you to easily attach a positive idea to them. For instance, I explained to them that I was taking very effective medicine that was so powerful that it would make my old hair fall out and allow new and very strong hair to grow in! When my hair did start falling out, while I was alarmed, they exclaimed, “the medicine is working!” Hearing this stopped me in my tracks and helped me embrace the situation. At the beginning, I would always wear a hat, until my daughter asked why I would wear a hat at home when it´s not cold inside and the hat was probably uncomfortable. I told her that I thought I looked strange, and my daughter said that it didn´t matter to her. Needless to say, I stopped wearing a hat.
Words cannot describe how supportive and loving my community has been. I could not have sailed on this healing journey alone. Their support has come in numerous forms. The best support was for them to just “be there.” They spent nights with me at the hospital, they spent days with me while I napped in living room when I was too nauseous to move, they cooked meals for us, they gave me “hygge” packages, they coordinated in the background among themselves to make sure that during more critical times I was always accompanied, they made me videos of encouragement, they sent me flowers, they had meals with me over videoconference, they listened to me, they took my daughters on day excursions, they sent me postcards, they took me to my chemotherapy, they took me to see the ocean, they sat quietly with me, they sent me daily messages of encouragement, they took me on walks in the mountains, they lent me books, and the list goes on and on. I am the luckiest person alive to have such an amazing community.
And now, I am widening the community to include YOU.
I encourage you to share your story with others and add the #uarethehero hashtags and tag @u_are_the_hero on Instagram. Also, please grow our movement by sharing my account with your network so that we can build a supportive and healing community.
And I’d love to ask – what kind of boundaries have you had to establish in your conversations? What are the values of your community?
Tell me and others about it as this openness supports us all on our journeys. In helping others, YOU can also be the hero for them.
I’m sending you much strength and love, and a reminder that no matter your journey you are not alone. And oftentimes the hero you are searching for has been within you the whole time.