Plunging into a new life! Hard-earned lessons in transition

This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series Hard-Earned Lessons of a Cancer Thriver
A Note from Heather Jose:
As your host at We Are Caregivers, I’m pleased to welcome back guest columnist Kathy Macdonald. She is sharing her inspiring story as a cancer thriver in four parts. Click on the headlines in the index box, at right, to enjoy each part. Feel free to share these columns with friends and, please, take time to add a comment, today. You’ll be helping Kathy and our readers far and wide face these challenges.

SONY DSCPlunging in …
Will you help me revise my list?

By Kathy Macdonald

I’m an expert on transition.

For years, I’ve traveled widely coaching executives through major challenges. Some of those I’ve coached were facing performance problems. The problems often came as a result of bad transitions.

I’ve come to appreciate that all transitions have a beginning, a middle and an end. Most of us focus on the beginning, some of us pay attention to the middle, but too few of us pay attention to the end. For example, most us know how to plan in advance for a vacation, a job transfer, or a new project (the beginnings). Very few of us spend an equal amount of time planning for returning from a vacation, leaving the old job, or finishing up a project (the endings). This is where many executives stumble. In not focusing on completing the full transition they don’t think to thank others for their contributions to making them look good enough for a promotion, or they forget to manage the closure phase of a project leaving others just hanging.

I thought I knew about transition. Then, came cancer—and I’m freely admitting: This expert is learning a lot.

Cancer surprised me, as I explained in the first of these columns. That was a sudden, jarring change. But my most challenging transition is right now—as the heavy-duty treatment ends. The medical personnel, therapists and trainers are vanishing—but I am not yet whole. When daily radiation ended after seven weeks, I wasn’t sure what to do.  When fluid infusions stopped after multiple weeks, I had my afternoons back.  When my post-treatment LiveStrong fitness program at the local YMCA ended, I had to figure out how to continue on my own.

EVERYTHING during treatment was managed.

NOTHING after treatment is managed. I’m on my own.

I now have an even deeper empathy for those I coach. A lot of transitions in life come without maps. We need to make it up as we plunge into the future. We may suddenly feel: ALONE.

And this transition unfolds while people around us think we are doing fine since “the treatment is over.”

Listing Hard-Earned Lessons in Transition

The following list isn’t a set of lessons, yet, because I’m still in the midst of this transition. But, I am starting with these 5 commitments as I’m planning my next steps. If they are helpful, then share them with friends by clicking the blue-“f” Facebook icon—or use the email icon. And, please, take a moment to leave a comment. I really would appreciate your help with this growing list …

Accepting a New Normal: For now, I am assuming my new normal will be different; I’m not automatically trying to restore the old normal.

Drawing a New Map: This takes time—and I’m taking that time.

Thanking Caregivers and Friends: I am mindful to thank those around me.

Appreciating Life: I’m making a conscious commitment to appreciate life’s fine points.

Celebrating: Almost everything.

Not everyone gets this chance. For their sake, as well as my own, I don’t want to blow this.

Please: Share. Comment. Help with this list.

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  1. Beth Miller says

    Thank you for authentic and thoughtful insight into the process of adapting to change, especially in regard to health or physical abilities. You have offered rich wisdom and practical ideas for approaching life, no matter where you find yourself. I do remember one point in my life, following a surgery with far less impact than what you are adjusting to, realizing that healing and life come from within. It was very freeing and empowering. Of course,we avail ourselves to medicine and science. But, we can also experience wholeness of spirit and life in the depths of our soul even in the midst of intense pain.

  2. Rebecca Jessup says

    The only thing I would add is that much of the map ahead will be revealed as you live forward, rather than drawn. I had open heart surgery in 2009, with the result that I’m on medication for life, which has to be carefully monitored. The learning curve is not necessarily rapid or predictable. I am lucky, and I am grateful for many aspects of my experience. It’s been over four years and I am still re-calibrating myself, still having to adjust to life as it now is. Journals are valuable. Helping others facing similar challenges is very rewarding. Bonding with others in similar situations is helpful. For me, poetry is a deep asset — reading it, writing it, listening to it. I think we need to express the inarticulate parts of transforming experience, the non-verbal shifts — maybe through prayer or art or music or dance or meditation, or just by developing a minute-to-minute sense of wonder.