Asking for Help & Feeling Ashamed

I saw this video after Neil Gaimon tweeted it out to his followers. It’s a TED Talk featuring Amanda Palmer. Okay, maybe like you, I’d never heard of her before. But Neil Gaimon is a very cool author and I trust his suggestions, so I clicked through.

At first I wasn’t sure what to make of her talk, but by the end I was thinking to myself, “I’ve got to share this with the awesome people who read my blog.”  (Skip to bottom of this post if you’re really excited to view it!)

Her message is just SO powerful. The idea that “it’s okay to ask.” Sure, she’s speaking from the point-of-view of an entertainer trying to make a living . . . but going beyond that, to the concept of asking, to the concept of supporting. It’s amazing. It’s powerful.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again right now. It was damn hard to ask for help during chemotherapy – hard to the point of shaming. And yes, when I finally did break down far enough to say I wasn’t okay, people were incredible in giving their support. I think of my family, I think of my friends, I think of my cousins, my aunts, my boss, my colleagues, my husband. They were all incredible.

So why – WHY – so much shame in asking?

There is power in asking for help. Maybe Amanda is right. Maybe this is the future – and not just for music, but for dreams and lives and ambitions. I know of one women in the US who is struggling to pay her medical bills (Okay, I know of several women in the US who are struggling – universal healthcare is a GOOD thing, not a communist thing) and her friends are crowd-sourcing to help her buy a new car (replacing her ancient clunker) to get between treatments. I know of another young woman who has started an amazing charity called A Fresh Chapter, and she’s been raising funds to help twelve other people discover life after cancer.

Whether it’s thinking big or just thinking about the next meal – what is wrong with asking for help?

So here is the video. Don’t get weirded out by the ‘live statue’ intro. It’s worth watching through – this may well be the future of creative work. And asking for help, that’s something we should all be able to do without shame.

How to STAND OUT during chemo and beyond

I don’t know why I’m writing about this today, except that last week I met and chatted with a women who is going through chemotherapy. We met in a coffee shop, and while it’s clear from our chatting that there is much going on with treatment and life, I couldn’t stop thinking how lovely she was looking; she undoubtedly stood out from the coffee shop crowd, and it was largely because she choose to be striking with her clothes and makeup alongside with her bald head.

All of this made me think back in time, as I realised, “Geez, like this beautiful lady (she has a name, I’m just not using it here), I really stood out after chemo with the bald-to-short hair.” Which led to other thoughts like, “Should I cut my hair short again?” (NO!) “Didn’t I promise myself to be fabulous ever moment possible once my body had recovered?” (YES!) “Maybe I should write a post about standing out.” (Which I’m doing right now.)

Here’s the thing about chemotherapy – it knocks you on your ass. And frankly, if you decide to leave your home, which is rather inevitable during treatments, you will attract attention even if you’d rather be invisible to the world.

Let me say it again. You will attract attention.

And after treatment there’s still months upon months of very short hair. Once again, you will attract attention.

But is that a bad thing? If you are going to stand out, then why not do it on your own terms? And hey, why not use the months following chemo as a practise trial for standing out for the rest of your life? Let it be a warm-up for becoming a spectacular presence in your everyday life – a unique energy people can’t help noticing.

Personally, this is a big challenge for me since I grew up being the too-tall-for-the-boys constant wall flower. But the more I try with things like pink glasses, big blue rain boots, funky jackets, pretty clothes, blond highlights to come . . . the easier it becomes. No joke, practice makes this easier, and really satisfying too. Every wall flower wants to be noticed.

Therefore, I present to you, with an invitation to add your own ideas in the comments: Five ideas for standing out during chemo (i.e. whenever you can manage the energy) and beyond!

1. Find some beautiful accessories, e.g. scarves, bracelets, statement necklaces, earrings. Remember, scarves are not exclusively for your head – these can be worn around your neck as well. The lady in the coffee shop wore a beautiful combination of a pale pink scarf wound around a gold thread scarf. The result was so complimentary, I just kept looking at it and thinking how pretty she looked.

2. Smile at people. If they are going to be looking at you, look back at them. Smile, nod, say hello. I’m not saying you need to stop and converse with everyone about cancer or whatever else is on your mind that day, but smiling makes you instantly more relatable. It’s the universal ‘hello’ and everyone is better looking with a smile on their face.

3. Invest in an interesting and impeccably flattering piece of clothing, make it different from the crowd . . . you could snap up something from a local designer, or search a vintage shop for some old-time charm. If you don’t have the energy to shop, no worries – just keep a general eye out, and in the meanwhile look for daring pieces in your closet you’ve never had the guts to wear before this moment in life. (But obviously wanted to, cause how did it end up there otherwise?) Maybe it’s a jacket that’s tailored to your curves, maybe it’s an asymmetrical dress or shirt – I don’t know. All I know is it should be well made and different from anything else you’ve been seeing on the streets.

4. Embrace the short hair . . . at least for a while. I had mixed feelings about my short hair, but while it was there – I tried to style the blond curls (throw-back to my baby hair) sky high like Kramer from Seinfeld. Why not? Having pixie short hair is such a unique experience, and it instantly marks you from the crowd as a daring individual. Instead of hating the hair – love every second of your re-growth, from punk-rocker shaved to Natalie Portman sweet. . . you will stand out with that short hair, so make the most of the experience.  (Speaking of which, I really need to get some highlights put in. I’m aching to go BLOND again!)

5.Embrace colour. Please resist the urge to hide behind black or grey on a daily basis. Okay, I agree that black and muted tones can be very flattering . . . but if you want to be striking, find colour that flatters your skin tones. Couple darker tones (if that’s your comfort zone) with pops of coral, strong blue, light pink, oranges & reds with with blueish tones, green or yellow. Combine those colours with your statement piece, and lady, you’ll be smoking hot – and not because of the menopause!

I have this blue jacket that I wear whenever the weather allows . . . it’s cut quite uniquely, has polka dots and is rather flattering. People say to me often enough, “oh, you’re the girl in the polka dot jacket. I’ve seen you before!” You bet your ass they have. Chances are they’ve seen a lot of people before, but not everyone stands out.

You are fantastic, you are alive, you are YOU. So I reckon take the attention and twist it in your favour. Everyone deserves attention, why not use now to practise how to be present and seen? It’ll get you off to a running start for all those lovely and healthy days to follow treatment.

And that’s my two cents about that!

Catherine

The Resolution List

Today the sky is grey, I’m about to get my period (so guess what my mood’s like. Or rather, ask my husband), and this room is rather dark. Having described all that, I’d like to talk about the bright side of things.

(And I’d like to turn on a light in this place. One moment please.

Okay, better.)

Right. So being diagnosed with cancer absolutely and undeniably sucks. I will never be a person to argue against the position, and don’t wish the illness (in any of its varieties) on anyone. Not even the most horrible of horrible people, because chances are someone loves them nevertheless, and cancer is most certainly terrifying and devastating to the ones we love.

(Okay, so I warned you already. I’m about to get my period and am therefore sliding toward a darker tone – but it’s not all bad, because I KNOW I’m a little moody, and can therefore attempt to apologize whenever things get a little too dark. Unfortunately there are no more lights to turn on in this room – oh! But there another widow shade that could be opened. Excuse me.

Better. Much better. Oh, hello natural lighting.)

So we’ve established that caner is bad. But here is another thing – a potentially good thing. It’s also like the BIGGEST perspective-whacking-stick you could ever have, well that and I guess maybe an out of body experience where ghosts of Christmas past, present and future visit you with each stroke of the clock.

And if you had anything in the way of a similar experience to myself (though fair enough if you didn’t, because everyone’s journey is unique), you most likely found yourself making resolutions. These aren’t New Years Eve’s resolutions where you give up chocolate, or promise to go to the library more, or aim to lose five pounds. These are “if my life is at risk, and my mobility and health could end at any time – these are the things I’d wish for most before any more of this crazy shit happens.” So there’s a lot of honesty and desire behind these feelings. These are the resolutions that tap into what it is you want/need most.

So I’m challenging you to make a note and keep it someone. To share it with us. To write it in your diary. To stick it on your fridge. Whatever. If you have been here – if you are here in now in treatment, or were here sometime in the past – or forget cancer even, if you’ve had your life thretened, or hit rock bottom, or just woke up and said:” Oh shit!” then I’m challenging you to sit down and make a list. Get it together in one place.

Back when I was diagnosed my initial and strongest desire was to return back home to Canada. Ultimatly we waited things out, and I’m glad that we did, but cancer firmed me up – Zsolt would immigrate, we were going to move.

Whether this is/isn’t a good thing in our lives remains to be seen. (It’ll be a great thing just as soon as a few strings get tied up . . .) But I can tell you this. While I miss my incredible friends in England, I no longer have this feeling thata piece of me is missing. You know? Like, before diagnosis it dawned on me that Canada and I may be permanently parting ways, and that was totally crushing. Crushing. It broke my heart. This was realized after getting married and setting up life in England. Canada was not in the cards. Crushing.

But then I made a resolution based on a deep, demanding urge. It uprooted everything we had had planned for our lives, however this past July when Zsolt and I boarded the plane to travel to Europe and spend the summer – I didn’t feel sad. I didn’t feel sick. I was nothing else but happy to be going. And that is really new.

Resolution = accomplished.

Other resolutions were to spend a summer in Balaton and Pecs, which we did last year. It was one of the most healing things I could have chosen. The fact that we are lucky enough to do it again this year is just a freaking miracle. (See, my perspective is brightening, along with the lighting.)

I yearned to travel. After treatment we flew to Portugal and I went in a bikini on the beach. Sure, I don’t have a right boob – but we were on a beautiful beach! The water was gorgeous. The markets were busy (don’t get me started on that awesome cheese) and it was just so freaking fun. Next up! The Atlantic ocean for 7 nights! Resolution = done. And will do again.

I wanted to buy a canoe. How ridiculous for someone who doesn’t even own a car. But guess what, this past June we bought that damn canoe – and even though it’s currently waiting at home in Canada – the pleasure of paddling with my husband on a quiet and lazy river has been huge. Yes, we spent money at a time when it was really stupid to do so (kinda like this trip), but screw it. I used to sit in that chemo chair with those drugs dripping in, and imagine the rivers in Canada – imagined showing Zsolt a loon, and splashing water onto our faces. Resolution = owned.

And yeah, there are BIG resolutions too. Moving to Canada, as I said, was one – and that’s still proving difficult. But my gut took us there, and my gut says this will work out. Having a baby is like the biggest, more life changing resolution ever – but it will happen, and we will get there. Being a professional writer, one step at a time. . . resolutions = still in progress!

It’s not easy.

But it’s good to reflect on the big and the small, and one-by-one tick off the list of chemo/cancer resolutions.

So what are/were your resolutions? I dare you to look back (or look around) and write them down – make them real on the page, and then see what can happen next.

 

My List:

-travel

-go home

-write more & publish

-have a family

-get a canoe

-go to Hungary for the summer

-buy real estate (and a cottage in Balaton)

-split time between Canada and Hungary,

-bring food to those who need it

-dress well/stand out

-eat good food

-be with family

-be with friends

-make this work