012: Cancers Secret, not so Secret, Club
Updated: Jun 22, 2021
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"There is a secret, not so secret, club that comes with a cancer diagnosis, and it is amazing." Join Tammey as she illuminates the power of community and "tribe." Listen and learn about the gifts of friendship, belonging, and new identity that can and do follow those terrifying three words "you have cancer."
Topics in this Episode:
Alive in the diagnosis
A diagnosis that blends with identity
Seek the long end of the curve
The gift of people
Time is our currency
Find your club
A sneak peek of the up-and-coming guest lineup
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Hello, and welcome back to your killer life. I am Tammey Grable-Woodford, and I am your host today, and I am so excited to have you back with us on the podcast. So today we are going to be talking about, Oh my goodness, I call it the secret, not so secret club. And when you're diagnosed with cancer, It's a bit of an exclusive club that you get an invite to.
And, uh, I was ever so thankful for it. So we're going to talk a little bit about that today, about what an honor it is to be a member of it and how important it is when you're first diagnosed. So for me, when I was first diagnosed, I immediately felt very alone. I didn't have anyone in my family who had ever been diagnosed with cancer, at least not in my immediate family.
And I was really in uncharted territory; I had never even really had any significant health problems. And so for me, I was really staring down this just unknown, into the unknown and, and really confused, lost, scared. Oh gosh. I didn't, you know, no idea what to expect. And of course, when you're first diagnosed with cancer, at least for me immediately expecting the worst, right?
Alive in the Diagnosis
Within probably 72 hours of my diagnosis, someone I knew in the community stopped by my office, and they brought with them a business card for their oncologist. And this was somebody in the community that... a County commissioner... did not know that it was somebody who had been stage four for some time. And it was this beacon of light and hoped to have somebody stop by and say, "Hey, I am living with cancer. I am alive. I am living my life to the fullest. Here are my people."
And he left with me, his oncologist, his medical oncologist, and his naturopathic oncologists' information.
That was huge for me. And I know I have thanked that person and I'm definitely going to have to send them a link to this episode, because I can't tell you from my heart of hearts, how important it was for me to see someone not just living, but alive in their diagnosis.
And that was over five years ago. Amazing, right? Then, I was amazed at the number of people that made themselves available to me. That would reach out and say, I've been diagnosed, or my sister has gone through this, or I have a friend and, or even strangers that would reach out to me. I got letters at the office that were absolutely amazing.
I had flowers sent to me from people that I didn't; I didn't, I didn't know. So it was just such this amazing club. I had the folks that, um, relay for life, stopped by the office with, with roses. And it was interesting to me how quickly the news traveled, but the way in which it traveled and the result of that news reaching others.
I... being newly initiated into the club, had a girlfriend say my sister has been through this and connect me with her sister. Her sister subsequently sent me a book that was absolutely amazing, and such a great resource for me. I'll actually put it into the show notes as I was first diagnosed, and subsequently, I went on to share the book with someone else. I had people who had, not just breast cancer, people who had esophageal cancer, testicular cancer, all types of cancer. I had a very good friend of mine introduced me to one of her childhood friends who was diagnosed the same month that I was.
And so I had a cancer buddy going through it. And then I, unfortunately, since my diagnosis have had friends and people that I've worked with that have been diagnosed.
But here's the thing. It's such an honor, as odd as that might sound, it's such an honor to be a member of that club because you get to bring hope. And you get to be a resource for those who are going through the same thing or something slightly different, but still somebody who can understand those fears and that trauma and the depression and the fatigue and the uniqueness of this diagnosis. Even though all of us have chosen different treatment paths, all of us have had different oncology and medical teams. All of us have had different surgeries and different outcomes. There's still something about being able to talk to someone who is there or who has been there.
A Diagnosis that Blends with Identity
I say, "is there," someone who "is there" because frankly, you never leave your cancer diagnosis. I won't speak for everybody. I, now over five years, have never been able to walk away from my cancer diagnosis.
That doesn't mean it runs my life. It doesn't mean that it is my every pressing thought every moment of the day. In fact, it has sort of benefited me in that it does make me aware of the importance of living my life to the fullest. The the the gift that every day is because something unique about cancer is that, and we all know this, we're all headed to the same place: death and taxes. Nobody gets out of it. Right? True story. So we all know that, but there is something about that cancer diagnosis that brings you so close to the end and in such an unexpected and untimely way that it's jarring. It really provides an opportunity for reflection.
Cancer is scary, and you don't want to go it alone. And very few of us do. We have friends, and we have family, but there's something different about somebody who can share with you their experience. And there's something critical about being able to reach out to someone who understands for those of you who have not been diagnosed with cancer.
It might surprise you to know that we can have a conversation and be an absolute tears talking about terrible news, a bad scan... and in the next breath, we can be laughing and loving.
It's not a continuously sorrowful existence, nor is it a continuously joyful or grateful existence. It is a complicated existence.
I'm thankful for those that have shown me. The way through their experience, I'm honored to be a person that some people have chosen to reach out to. It's a joyful, and it's a sorrowful, and it's a heavy gift.
When I think back to my cancer buddy at the beginning and Danna, I love you, when I think back to to Lori, who shared with me her experience and treatments. When I think back to Randy when I think back, and I know I'm gonna forget somebody, and I'm going to feel terrible about that, but I think back to so many people. To Suz connecting me with her sister too, you know, I just so many people and so much love and so much empathy. To Curt, who shared his own story.
Each of these people have provided me with wisdom, with love, with their energy, the gift of their time. And it's so... amazing that I'm five years out. And these folks that were diagnosed before me or battled at the same time I did are continuing to thrive. And I think that that is one of the more bigger myths that I want to bust.
When we're diagnosed, look, we don't know when our time is going to come. And I just had a powerful conversation with a friend of mine who, who is battling metastasis and doctors raised, or gave a timeline, and I just wish they wouldn't do that.
I know that they want us to prepare as cancer patients. And I know there's the whole false hope dichotomy. But the thing is, none of us has some secret expiration date that only a certain provider can see. And the reality is that I got second opinions on everything. And guess what? Rarely did they agree on anything!
Seek the Long End of the Bell Curve
In having that conversation, pointing out that really when you're given this diagnosis, your job is to do everything that you can to be on the tail end of that bell curve, right? Where your whole purpose is to extend your life and maintain a quality of life for the longest amount of time that you can. And so you've got to feed yourself and feed your soul and feed each other.
It is an honor when a newly diagnosed person reaches out and says, "Hey, I was just diagnosed, talk to me."
I'm so thankful for all of those people who were there for me when I was at that moment.
With cancer came community. And I did not expect that. I don't know what I was expecting. I don't know if I was expecting, I dunno, I was probably expecting what you see on commercials during pinktober. Right? Like that's what I was expecting.
And now here I am podcasting and bringing to you, additional women and people who have had a cancer experience and are living and thriving through it.
Cancer does not equate to an immediate demise. People are living with cancer for longer periods of time. And I wanna, I wanna kind of start reframing the conversation around living with this as an autoimmune or, or as a, I guess, terminal disease, but living with it really that's the bottom line living with cancer instead of waiting for cancer to rob us of our essence and rob us of our life.
One of my oncologists, I'll be honest. I wanted to throat punch him, but one of my oncologists said to me, "Many people find cancer to be a gift."
Okay. If you were if you were newly diagnosed and you heard me say that, I know you want to throat punch me right now. As odd as that might sound in the end, I shouldn't say in the end, later... that did present to be true for me.
It created opportunity for me to make the changes in my life that frankly were passed due. For me to begin prioritizing things, and more importantly, people. Created the opportunity to step away from my identity, being my work to exploring and getting to know my identity as me.
Who I am. What I like. What I enjoy doing.
The Gift of People
Cancer was a gift of people. Some of the most amazing, strongest, most talented, oh, most giving, most loving, most joyful people, are people who are thriving through this.
In some ways, it's a requirement because for us to get through this... and I will tell you one thing, a couple of my doctors agreed on is that mindset was critical to success when it comes to cancer, that mindset is what is going to create good outcomes.
And when they say good outcomes, then they mean live. Right?
And that was so critical. And so, so important for me to understand. And even though I did not like it, when I heard the oncologist say it, in the end, I can see how it is that patients had shared with him how important that transition and transformation was and what a difference it made for them in their lives.
That's not to say it doesn't get heavy. I had a heavy week. I had a friend reach out with a new diagnosis, and I had a friend reach out because they had a friend who was newly diagnosed, and I had a friend reach out because of results of a recent scan.
And I cried, and I was exhausted, and I was genuinely hurting for others, in a world where we almost sometimes glorify selfishness and self-focus.
What you find in the cancer community, in that cancer club, if you will, that secret not so secret club. Is selflessness. It doesn't matter what I'm doing when someone is recent, has recently been diagnosed. If they need to have a conversation, we're going to have the conversation.
Time is our Currency
Because there is no greater gift that I can give than my time, and if you have a friend or a family member who's been diagnosed with cancer, just know the currency we trade in is time.
There is truly... people say time is money. I'm going to tell you time is your life.
Time isn't money. Time is your life.
It is quite literally an exchange of your life for whatever it is that you are doing. For whomever, it is that you are talking to. For every little bit of our existence. Time is life.
It's interesting to think of time as your currency, and it's critical. And it's an awareness and a gift of awareness that comes with the cancer diagnosis.