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The Hardest Good Bye: The Death of My Husband, Jeff

September 23, 2019

I have been quite transparent in sharing my brain injury journey, then our cancer journey when my 44-year old husband Jeff was diagnosed almost two years ago. Now, I would like to share with you how the rest of the story goes.

For those of you who are new to our story: I suffered a brain injury in 2012 during a freak fainting incident while getting a stand-up x-ray at a medical facility. My head went crashing down on the concrete floor and it was lights out for me.  I have been in 6 years of brain rehab/clinical trials while Jeff was the primary caregiver for our baby girls and me. My brain injury symptoms have greatly improved, yet I still continue to get headaches.

Fast forward the clock to September 2017. Our family had a bomb dropped on us when Jeff was diagnosed with stage 3 esophageal cancer.  This was only a short while after we buried my 66-year-old Dad who died of lung cancer.

Our world felt like it was spinning out of control as we grappled with the fears around the what ifs.  A quick google of survival rates for esophageal cancer told us it was within the realm of possibility for him to survive, yet the statistics showed the odds were against it.

Jeff embraced the chemo and daily radiation for 5 weeks like a champion riding a wild rodeo bull.  He kept getting bucked off, facing symptoms of severe nausea and fatigue, and then out of sheer determination would climb back on and ride again.  Then after he was burned and poisoned, the final piece of the possible cure was for him to be cut. He endured a 7-hour esophagectomy surgery.  This surgery removed a large part of his stomach, esophagus and almost 50 lymph nodes.  This surgery left him in intensive care, learning how to walk and eat again.

We prayed the cancer journey was behind us.  Our hopes were shattered when Jeff and I were told in August 2018 that his cancer had returned…or maybe it never truly went away after his surgery a few months earlier. The cancer had spread to the peritoneal lining of his stomach. This put him from stage 3 to stage 4 and also delivered the heartbreaking news that this cancer was not curable. Jeff had likely months to live.

We cried and held each other and thought about how in the world we were going to deliver this message to our girls.  They were 7 and 9 years old. To them, their Daddy was the best thing in the whole world.

Jeff and I approached the girls with honesty and love, like we have throughout their lives and this entire cancer journey. We told them the cancer had spread and that the doctors thought this will be what Daddy ends up dying from. The girls asked questions like – Is our last summer together as a full family? Who will walk them down the aisle at their weddings? Who will take them to the Toronto Blue Jays games? Will Daddy ever live to see them graduate from elementary school?  Their minds were running as rampant as ours were, trying to figure out how we could possibly say goodbye and how this would totally change our lives forever. And, for Jeff, he was facing the ultimate fear of life carrying on without him and emotionally scarring the three people he loves most in the world.  I struggle to imagine what it must have been like for Jeff to think about his girls and wife continuing to live in a world (albeit missing him at every turn), where he didn’t get to be there to share in the joy, hardships and support us through it all.

But Jeff never gave up fighting.  We both knew the odds were stacked against us, yet there are those miracle stories of complete cancer recovery out there and we figured we would never know what was possible if we didn’t try to help Jeff survive.  We tried naturopathic treatments, mindfulness, off-protocol medication from his oncologist, palliative chemotherapy. And I made a concerted effort to try and make this the most meaningfully fun time of our lives.

Now, this was a struggle as Jeff was scared, stressed and sick.  Yet, we tried our best to build this magical time.  We went to Disney World for the first time with our girls.  Jeff completed a triathlon in Ottawa for Winterlude where he skated 8 km, ran/walked 5 km, and then I was able to finish the last leg of the race with an 8 km cross country ski.  He also participated in the North American Pond Hockey Tournament.  His team won the championships, with Jeff scoring the winning goal and being named the MVP. All of this with stage 4 cancer and on chemotherapy. Our girls and I were honoured to be along on the ride with this inspirational man.

But on the morning of our big girl’s 10th birthday, our lives changed yet again forever.  We decided to spend the day together doing something fun.  But first, I had to take the dog for a walk while Jeff took the girls out for breakfast to celebrate this double-digit milestone in our family.  On their drive back from breakfast, Jeff’s extremities stopped working.  Thankfully, the car came to a halt safely in the middle of the city street.  A woman pulled up alongside them and proceeded to yell and swear at my husband, calling him stupid, before driving away. (It took me a while to get over my anger at this lady as she could have asked if they needed help, especially with kids in the car.)

Within moments, my husband regained strength in his body and chalked it up to bad neuropathy in his hands and feet from the chemo.  But when they arrived at our home, he couldn’t get out of the car.  I went out to the driveway when I heard the kids flying out of the vehicle, crying and telling me the car wasn’t working properly. They said some lady was yelling at Daddy.

I opened Jeff’s car door and he was in tears. “I can’t move,” he said fearfully. “Here, I’ll help you,” I said as I put my arm around his neck and prepared to hoist him out of the car. But he was like dead weight and even though he’d lost 100 pounds from his athletic frame since his cancer diagnosis, I couldn’t budge him.

I shut the car door and ran into the house to call his nurse, bringing the phone back outside so I could be with him.  The nurse advised calling 9-1-1. I made the call.  They notified me to gather all of his medicines to give to the paramedics.  I called the girls back outside and told them they need to stay with Daddy and also call Grandma to see if she could drive to our city and meet us at the hospital to take care of them.  The girls were crying, and our oldest asked if we are going to be able to go away still for her birthday. “I don’t know,” was my honest answer. I felt like everything around me was moving in a weird combination of super-fast speed, alternating with slow motion, waiting for the ambulance which seemed to take forever.  I promised our birthday girl that she would still do something to celebrate with Grandma and if we couldn’t do something as a family, that we’d do something another day to make it up to her.

As the ambulance pulled up, neighbours came outside wanting to assist. There was a crew of people who helped transfer Jeff from the car to the ambulance stretcher as my girls cried. The stretcher rolled over our Hosta plants in our flower bed that Jeff had built, ripping them all to shreds.  “I am sorry,” one of the paramedics said as she looked down at the flowers wrapped around the stretcher wheels.  “I don’t care,” I said. The only thing I cared about was Jeff being healthy.  Our life has been ripped into shreds like these flowers since my brain injury and then Jeff’s cancer diagnosis.  None of this other stuff mattered in the least.  When it comes down to it, it’s all about our relationships and love. Health, happiness, and safety.

I instructed the girls to get buckled up quickly in our SUV as I wanted to follow that ambulance closely.  Our youngest asked, “Aren’t they going to turn on the sirens?” wondering if the ambulance was going to start making some noise. “It’s not that kind of emergency, honey,” I said. Within two seconds of me saying that the ambulance sirens started up.  “Oh shit,” I thought to myself. It is that kind of emergency.

At the hospital, Jeff was told he had a stroke.  The stroke had paralyzed him completely down his right side from his arm, hand, core, leg, and foot. He was admitted and we heard a doctor say he could be in for a week.  Thank god he will be okay and home to us in a week.  One of my Grandma’s had many strokes before she passed away last year. They seemed to knock her out for a short while and then she’d be home and back at it again. Albeit a bit slower each time, but she seemed like herself again in many ways. I was hopeful the same would happen for Jeff… But, it didn’t.

After the first few days of being in the hospital, Jeff was moved onto the rehab floor with the intent of helping him get some movement back in his extremities by stimulating them and his brain. This move to that floor is a good thing, the doctor assured us.  But, when one of his rehab workers came in and wrote Jeff’s scheduled departure date on his whiteboard, Jeff was devastated.  It was two months away! What happened to the departure plan in a week?

But as time went on it was very clear that Jeff would need as much time as he could get in rehab.  His movement in his arm and hand on the right side was returning slowly but was very weak.  Jeff had always been super smart and very athletic.  He was always good at things.  So, this was tough on him to have to work so hard to barely move a finger as he clumsily slid a ball across the tray in front of him before it hit the ground as he couldn’t stop it.

Jeff’s leg still had no movement.  He had to be transported by a mechanical lift, his body encased in a hammock attached to a motorized apparatus that resembled a small crane used to elevate his body above the bed and then move it so he hovered above his quadriplegic-style wheelchair at the side of the bed before gingerly dropping him into the chair.  Jeff could tolerate sitting in this chair for about an hour before the pressure in his lower back became unbearable.  You and I are constantly shifting when we sit down. Likely we don’t realize it, but we are. That is our body’s way of alleviating pain caused by pressure resting on one spot for too long.  Jeff couldn’t move due to the paralysis from the stroke. I couldn’t believe he was doing triathlons months ago and scoring hockey goals and now he could barely move. Life can change in a moment.

Due to the stroke, Jeff was not able to continue his participation in palliative chemo. He was too weak, and the chemo would just further beat him up.  This time away from chemo allowed the already aggressive cancer to ravage Jeff’s body with no obstacles in its way.  Jeff’s health deteriorated and he was moved off the rehabilitation floor to an acute care floor. The doctor on duty told me he will not be leaving the hospital. Even though I had researched this cancer extensively and had developed a friendship with Jeff’s oncologist who would call me once a week for us to brainstorm possible options for Jeff, this news put me into a tizzy. I gathered Jeff’s belongings from the rehab room with my heart beating so hard I felt it was going to leap out of my chest. This all felt like a bad dream.

Jeff and I celebrated our 11th wedding anniversary on July 26. When I arrived in the morning at the hospital, Jeff was in a panicked state.  “I feel like I am going to die,” he said. He told me it had been a really rough night for him and that he felt like he had been holding on to see my face. I held him and tried my best to calm him while stepping out to see the nurses and doctor on duty to ensure Jeff’s medication would be adjusted to control his pain. Then I spent the day with him in his single-sized hospital bed, watching the movie Second Act with Jennifer Lopez and other shows on the TV. I ordered dinner from Skip the Dishes for us.  He wanted so desperately to eat, but all he could do was pick at his food.  Before, I would be on his case a bit on the eating as I wanted him to stay strong to heal.  Now, I knew that this was part of the dying.  I didn’t want him to go through this and I was definitely not fully accepting he would die, yet I understood I needed to trust the intelligence of his body.

From there, Jeff declined more and more each day. On August 5, the doctor told me he felt Jeff could be within 3 days of his death but that it is hard to tell when someone is young with a strong heart.  I brought up the idea of transporting Jeff to a hospice.  I had been in contact with the hospice since Jeff’s cancer came back.  I wanted us to have options for whatever Jeff wanted for his death, if that day should arrive.  The doctor told me he feared that Jeff would die in the ambulance. He didn’t think he was strong enough to be transported the 10-minute ambulatory transfer.  We agreed to monitor Jeff.

That evening, I helped Jeff transfer to his wheelchair (much to the amazement of the nurses that we were still doing this transfer and leaving the room at this stage in Jeff’s journey) and then pushed him to an outdoor patio that the two of us had spent a lot of time at that summer. We had included our girls in many of these patio visits as they made frequent visits to see their Dad.

We sat in silence and then Jeff said, “I better go to that hospice place soon.” I asked him what he was thinking, and he said he felt like he was dying.  I told him that the doctor thought the ambulance ride could wear him down a lot and that it was okay to die at the hospital.  I wanted him to feel like he could give himself permission to let go there as I wasn’t sure we would be making it to the hospice.

But Jeff’s brother Jon had come down and spent the evening with Jeff at the hospital.  He told me the next morning that Jeff had been restless all night.  I knew that Jeff needed more intensive evening care than he was getting at the hospital, so the decision was made to move him to the hospice.  I was praying the whole way, but he made it there alive.  His stretcher was wheeled through the front doors and to the backroom, number 3, with a beautiful view of the lush gardens and gazebo.  Looking outside, this place looked like what I envisioned heaven to be like with bright blue sky, lots of colorful flowers, and bright green grass and foliage.

The staff at this hospice was amazing and Jeff was able to get more care here due to the better staff-patient ratios, and a focus on quality end-of-life care.

On the evening of August 6, I stayed with Jeff at the hospice holding his hand all night long. His breathing was very soft. The girls came in and I got pictures of each of them holding his hands. Jeff was heavily medicated on a continuous pump for pain as well as an additional pump to help him remain calm as he was really fighting his death. He desperately didn’t want to leave our children and me and this was putting him into a state of anxiety.  The doctors, nurses and I didn’t want that for him so I gave my okay for this pump so he could find more peace in his final days or hours, knowing that this would also cut off my communication with him as was would be really out of it.

On the morning of August 7th, I was awoken early by a nurse who came in and announced joyfully that he made it through another night.  I was happy to hear this news, although, knew I should probably feel conflicted as we were in a hospice after all and Jeff was in a state far from the form of existence, he would want for himself.  The nurse went through his closet and held up his green St. Paddy’s Day shirt. “Is this okay to wear?” she asked.  I felt like someone kicked me in the stomach.  Jeff was born on St. Patrick’s Day and had worn this shirt every birthday we have been together.  Something inside me said this was going to be the shirt he leaves the world in too.  All I could do was nod at the nurse as she began to pull this special t-shirt over the head of my husband who resembled a rag doll in his movements, his eyes mostly closed but showing some whites due to even the energy it takes to fully close his eyes now being too much.

I laid in the bed with him. His eyes were open, but I don’t know if he could see me as they didn’t really look focused.  I could tell he heard me as I played a song for him song by one of our daughters and he raised his eyebrows and kind of smiled and squeezed my hand.  We talked before about this and I asked him to squeeze my hand if he got to the point where he couldn’t verbally communicate but could still hear me.

Then I held him, and I told him,

“Every time the sun touches my face, I will think of you.
Every time the winds blow against me, I will think of you.
Every time a raindrop falls on my face, I will think of you.
When I dive into the water at the beach (my favorite place), I will think of you.
When I close my eyes at night, I will think of you.
And when I wake up in the morning, I will think of you.”

Then I was so exhausted with almost no sleep from the night before that I decided to go into the reclining chair beside him and try to catch some shut eye.  But I didn’t sleep. After 30 minutes, I opened my eyes and looked over at Jeff.  I noticed his breathing had big gaps. I got out of the chair and went onto the bed with him.  I held both of his hands and told him I am here and that I love him so much and I am so proud of him. “You rest, honey,” I told him.  I watched as a single tear fell out of his right eye and rolled down his cheek. I kissed it and tasted the saltiness of his tear. I remembered my Mom telling me that my Dad had three tears roll down his face in the moment of his death.  Is Jeff dying now?

Then he took another breath and I noticed his lips turned a bit blue, but his facial colour was still the same.  And then there was a 10-second pause and I thought, is he dead? Then he took another breath, and I thought selfishly, “Oh good, he is still alive.” That was his last breath. It had been about one minute from the time I got out of the recliner to sit with him on the bed. Thank God, I had looked up at him at that moment.

I held him briefly, waiting for the next breath.  I didn’t see a breath but thought it could still be coming as breathing with long pauses in between can be part of the dying process. Then I rang the bell and anxiously stood in his doorway. The PSW asked if we needed help, I whispered I think he is gone.  She said she’d go get a nurse and ran to do so. I rushed back and curled up in the bed with Jeff.  I began to cry as the nurse came in and I said, “I don’t think he is breathing.” I could feel the panic build inside of me as I kept repeating, “I don’t think he is breathing.” The nurse put a stethoscope on Jeff’s chest. “He is gone,” the nurse said. I let out a mournful wail as I laid with him, clinging onto him so tightly and kissing him all over. “I love you. I love you. I love you,” I said over and over again as I tried to stock up on enough kisses to get me through the rest of my life.

Then, I phoned for the girls to come. I just laid with Jeff and cried and cried.  When the girls came, I told them in the sitting room right outside of Jeff’s door that he had died, and they began to cry.  I brought them into the room, and they were devastated.  For five hours, the three of us laid in the single-sized bed with Jeff. I put his arms around us so he could hold his three girls one last time.

Watching the funeral home staff come and take Jeff away was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. To get up from his embrace and know I will never feel his arms around me again. To know that the four of us will never be together in one room like this again was the most heartbreaking feeling I have ever experienced.  Yet, I knew I had to get up. I knew I couldn’t stay in that room forever and that I have children to take care of and they were going to need every ounce of me that I could give them.

When we came home after grabbing something to eat with my Mom, the girls were going nuts with emotional agony. Jeff knew that nighttime would be especially hard for us, so he had pillows with pictures of him and each of us made to give to us on his first night in Heaven. He also wrote letters for each of us and birthday, graduation, wedding cards for the girls for the future. He had a special package set aside for me, too, with a shirt, letters and a few gifts.

I know this is a long blog, but I am processing this as I write, and I want to do Jeff’s dying the justice of sharing his/our story.  We miss him with all our hearts.

Jeff had set up a ‘Jeff’s Girls Education and Care Fund‘ in place of flowers since nothing meant as much to him as his family.  Thank you for sharing in our family’s journey during this time.  We miss him so.

I also invite you to follow our story on Twitter @potentialultd

 

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My ‘Real’ Christmas Out-of-Office Email Response

December 20, 2018

Last year, I posted my ‘real’ out-of office message for the holidays. I have done the same this year and would like to share with you.”I am out of the office from Dec. 24 – Jan. 4. This Christmas may be my husband’s last one on this Earth. He was diagnosed in 2017 with Stage 3 esophageal cancer. After 5 grueling weeks of daily chemo, radiation, and a massive 7-hour surgery, our hope was that he was cured.

Our hopes were dashed this summer when tests showed the cancer had come back. My handsome, athletic 45-year old husband was told he has months left to live. This breaks my heart for him, our young children and for me.

So this Christmas, I don’t plan to check my email a lot. Let’s face it, most things can wait until we return from our vacation. I am going to focus on being present, loving those around me as much as I can, and trying to find some moments of joy despite the strong feelings of being terrified that grip me from the moment I wake up until the moment I go to sleep at night.

I wish you a happy holiday. I encourage you to not get caught up in the small stresses of the #holidays, but focus on the big picture. Focus on your loved ones and make the most of each precious moment. Happy holidays from my family to yours!

How To Become A Vulnerable Leader Who Resonates With Your People

April 30, 2018

“With each passage of human growth we must shed a protective structure. We are left exposed and vulnerable, but also yeasty and embryonic again, capable of stretching in ways we hadn’t known before.” Gail Sheehy.

I can’t help but be struck by the irony of me writing an article on vulnerability. The “I” of 10 years ago would have known very little about this topic. In fact, I might have thought for me to show vulnerability was a sign of weakness, even though, I very much respected those who demonstrated this quality. I just seemed to have my own set of rules for myself.

But as I am sure you have found in your own life, time and experience shapes us and moulds us into who we were meant to be versus who we planned on being.

I must say that as I continue to recover from a brain injury of almost 6 years now, I have heard whispers within my mind of lessons that I am learning through each stage. Patience, letting go, mindfulness, compassion and gratitude have all been my gifts through the pain. My latest gift comes through my husband’s cancer journey. And this is vulnerability.

How to Become A More Vulnerable Leader:

1. Remember we are all people first and employees, leaders second, regardless of how attached some of us may become to our jobs. When we see people in this context, it allows us to connect with people at a deeper level and see each other as human beings trying to do our best. We all fail. We are all vulnerable. We all want to be loved and accepted, no matter how ‘strong’ someone may appear in the workplace. Human beings want compassion, so by treating each other with compassion, it will help you to deepen your connection.

2. Share your story. Perhaps a colleague may ask about your weekend. We have the opportunity to share a very real account of some of the emotions we felt during our personal time versus just a generic rundown of the events. This could be a feeling of pride for your daughter when she tried her best at a dance recital or how you felt like a bit of a fool when you tried taking up golf for the first time. When we can share our emotions with people, it is putting yourself out there in a more vulnerable way and allows others to connect with you at a deeper level.

3.Use presentations as a chance to share more than business information. I love listening to people tell stories. There is always an opportunity to insert a short story that can tie back to your topic to drive home a point and use as an opportunity for your audience to get to know you better as a person. This will help differentiate you and make your presentation more memorable for the right reasons.

But, it does take guts and vulnerability to change-up a cookie cutter, formal business presentation and insert a personal quality to it.  Presenters may feel like they don’t want to waste their audience’s time talking about themselves or fear others will think their stories are stupid. Again, if it is a quick story that you can relate back, I think you’ll find it is worth the risk to add a personal dimension to even the most quantitative of presentations.

4. Tell someone in the workplace that you care about them and their wellbeing.  Don’t make assumptions they know.

5. Share your failures with others and talk about the lessons learned. I think we tend to put people in senior positions on pedestals, imaging that their work and home lives run seamlessly and that they rarely make mistakes.

To me, the onus is on the senior leadership to tell their people how life really is and own their mistakes and lessons learned from these failures. Sharing our mistakes is a great way to help nurture future talent, particularly young women who may glass ceiling themselves at Director level as they fear they couldn’t perform at that impossible level of perfection. Women tend to be so critical of themselves. Give your employees a real look into how you make your life work for you.

6. Work and live mindfully. Mindfulness helps you to be aware that you are feeling vulnerable in the first place. Otherwise your busyness will dull down your emotional experience of life and you will not have a chance of showing the emotions you don’t even realize you are experiencing.

8. Stop pushing. Sometimes extremely driven, ambitious people have a goal and they keep going at it over and over again, even if after a while they get the feeling they are pushing too hard. Often the harder we push, the further away we are moving from achieving our goals.

If you are like me, I believed that “hard work= results” and before my brain injury and lessons learned, I didn’t know any other way to succeed.  When you feel like the harder you push, the worse things are going. I encourage you to pull back. Take time to reflect. Sometimes pulling back and allowing yourself to feel vulnerable by taking your foot off the gas pedal is the best thing you can do.

Final Thought:

I am a big proponent of listening to our gut feelings and expressing the ideas we hear inside our minds.  I think way too often we sit on these ideas, afraid they wouldn’t be received well by others.  I say “share your thoughts,” “be vulnerable!” Sometimes, you will fail, but I bet more often than not, you will succeed. And being vulnerable at work is the key to letting your authentic leadership style shine!

Visit Potential Unlimited’s Web site to find out more about my Coaching Programs and How to Become a More Vulnerable Leader

Surviving Day-by-Day When Life Gets Tough

April 4, 2018

There is something raw about finding out that one of the people you love most in the world could die. Sure, I know we will all die one day. But, this is a bit different.  When we got the news from the doctor in the Fall that my spouse has advanced esophageal cancer, a cancer I’d never even heard of before, it sent our world spinning.

My husband, Jeff, started his chemo-radiation (which is doing chemo and radiation at the same time) for 5 weeks back in November. He fared quite well throughout until he got to the last week. The compounded effect of the treatment began to wreak havoc on his body. His heart rate was going through the roof when he went from sitting to standing. He faced severe dehydration because he couldn’t keep even the smallest amount of food or drink down. And, the doctors discovered a blood clot in his lungs.

The heaviness of his situation reached a breaking point when he collapsed onto the kitchen floor one day when I was upstairs and he smashed his head off the ceramic tile. When I came running, I could see as I stood at the top of the stairs, he was lying unconscious by the fridge with our children’s artwork lying on the floor around him. In an attempt to stop his fall, he must have reached for the fridge. But his efforts were in vain, and he was too weak. All he could do was drag his fingertips along the surface of the front of the fridge before he went crashing to the floor.

I called 9-1-1 and he was hospitalized for 5 days that month. This was not long before Christmas. By mid- January, he began to get stronger. Jeff was at the gym lifting weights and doing cardio. He was gearing up for a surgery to remove most of his esophagus and stomach, making a small stomach pouch in his chest.

His surgery took place on January 31, 2018, by Toronto General Thoracic Surgeon, Dr. Gail Darling. We arrived at the hospital for 6 a.m. Watching him be wheeled away for his surgery, I clutched my heart and just stood in this empty hospital stall, praying, knowing there is a chance this might not go well, desperately wanting this to be the start of our new chapter. But, just not knowing.

When I saw Jeff’s surgeon around 3:30 p.m. that day, she told me the surgery was now over and it went well.  I jumped up and hugged her. She hugged me back even tighter.

When I finally got to see Jeff over an hour later, he was in the ICU where he would stay for a while. He had about 20 tubes coming out of him. He was really groggy and in pain. The kind of pain where you can barely express it because even trying to move or talk makes it hurt even more. I just sat with him in silence and held his hand.

Here began our journey to make him stronger.  I stayed downtown for the time Jeff was at the hospital, with my Mom taking care of the kids. Each day, I helped him with his rehabilitation efforts. I would do anything to help him heal and he was determined to get well. Jeff worked so hard.

A few weeks later, we received the pathology report. This is the summary of all the ‘stuff’ they took out of Jeff during the surgery that they biopsied.  At this stage, the hope is that the chemo and radiation prior to the surgery got all the cancer and this surgery was to try to ensure it didn’t come back. This kind of cancer has a high recurrence rate.

Jeff and my eyes raced through the report, seeing negative biopsies for many organs. Yes! Negative is good. This means no cancer. Then we got to the section on the lymph nodes. One of the lymph nodes tested positive for cancer and there was also cancer showing up in the blood vessels as well as scant tumour cells at the site of the primary cancer in the esophagus.  We were crushed. Yes, this ‘stuff’ is taken out, but it does leave the question for us and doctors about what might be in Jeff’s body that wasn’t taken out. All it takes is one microscopic cancer cell somewhere to start up.  And we were told by Jeff’s doctors that if the cancer comes back, it is incurable.  This message hit heavy like a hammer to my heart.

When we look at our girls, we feel scared. We know that we are on a healing journey now. And I really do pray this is all behind us. But, I know there is a chance it is not.  My mind sometimes goes to places of ‘what if’ about the future and it scares me so deeply to my core.  But, then I remind myself ‘what if’ can also mean what if this is all behind us. What if we really do live happily ever after together and have learned some, albeit painful, but important life lessons from this experience.

Today, I am choosing to focus on the now. Taking life day by day. To use my lessons learned through my brain injury around mindfulness, gratitude, even patience as Jeff continues to heal, to be kind to ourselves and to not become overwhelmed by the possible scenarios.

What are my takeaways from this experience thus far? First, the importance of self-care including daily exercise, meditation, proper nutrition and talking to friends/family as a part of staying sane in the midst of this crazy, turbulent time.  It is often when we are the busiest that we need self-care the most.

Another lesson is to not just be open to help, but to ask for it.  This is definitely tough for many people to do. But what I now see is that people really care, whether it is about us and our work projects or our personal lives, and they want us to let them in.  And, feeling supported is the best way to set ourselves and others up for success.

We all have our stories. Through this journey, I have had the opportunity to hear from many people who are going through stuff.  We all face highs and lows. We all feel love, fear and pain at some time or another. We can choose to deal with this ourselves and close off from the world with our heads down, or open ourselves up to others. I choose to tell our story. To stand in our imperfections and feel vulnerable, hoping that by sharing our journey, it could help others who are struggling with something in their own lives. To put a spotlight on what is most important because I know we all get busy in our lives and it is so tempting to switch onto autopilot mode and take what’s most important for granted. And maybe, just maybe, by sharing our story, my heart will heal a bit more too.

My Special Out-of-Office Alert for this Holiday Season

December 19, 2017

I just finished writing my out-of-office message for the holidays. I wanted to share it with you and encourage you to write your own real message.

Season’s Greetings.

I am out of the office from Monday, December 25 and returning on Monday, January 8. I am unable to respond to your email right now because I plan to be lounging in my PJs with my kids and husband.

I hope to be playing in the snow and then sipping a hot beverage with my loved ones, cuddled under a blanket by the fire. I plan to enjoy the small things that really are the big things.

Since my husband was diagnosed with cancer in September, he has made his way through 4 chemo and 23 radiation treatments. He is now resting up before his big surgery in the New Year, with hopes of curing his esophageal cancer.

So, if I check my email, it will be because I want to and not because I “should.” My wish for you this holiday season is to spend your time doing what makes you happy. Time, my friends, is our most valuable gift of all.

My Husband’s Cancer

October 30, 2017

 

To see a picture of my family on social media, we look almost perfect. Two beautiful, blue-eyed blonde little girls, an athletic, handsome husband and of course, the quintessential golden retriever puppy and me. Social media is this century’s biggest PR machine for our companies as well as our personal lives. But, social media often doesn’t tell the story behind the photo.

My family is amazing, but severely broken. Not only do I continue to recover from a brain injury, but my husband was diagnosed recently with esophageal cancer. This is the kind of diagnosis that takes your breath away, that leads me to cry openly walking down the street because the pain and fear inside are so intense that it is wild and uncontrollable.

By the time his cancer was detected, it has left him with a 6 centimetre tumour and cancer that has spread to his stomach and surrounding lymph nodes. If you were to go on the web site and search for his prognosis, you would understand why we are so terrified.

Every time we look at the girls, our hearts break for them. They are 6 and 8 years old. They know their Dad has cancer, but we have kept the outlook very positive for them. We don’t want to burden them with worries about the struggle their hero is facing as his treatment begins, to fight like he never has fought before, to save his life. To live to see them graduate elementary school, high school, university, to walk them down the aisle at their weddings and to meet our grandchildren. There is still so much ahead of us.

These girls have already given up so much. My youngest was an infant and my eldest was 3 years old when my head came crashing down on a concrete floor after I fainted, in some strange twist of fate, during a standing up x-ray in 2012. I had to limit my time severely around stimulation, which meant they were sent away to live with my parents for a while and then when they returned, my husband assumed the role of primary care giver while I spent most of my time upstairs in the bedroom, resting. I listened to my daughters scream for me while Jeff wrestled with them downstairs to do his best to put pony tails in their hair before taking them to gymnastics

And now, the man they love so dearly is going through hell. He is facing an intense battle through a combination of chemo and radiation at the same time. And then will endure a surgery we have been told is more intense than heart surgery. His esophagus will be cut to a smaller size as well as his stomach and an internal feeding tube will be attempted to be re-constructed for him while clearing out about 30 lymph nodes. There will be months of recovery from this.

So, how do we cope? First of all, there will be a lot of days, we probably won’t. We will be hanging by a thread, emotionally, physically and spiritually. I have no idea what we are in for. My Dad died of lung cancer two years ago. We saw how he bravely worked his way through his diagnosis, right up until his death on that freezing cold, crisp February evening. He was only 66 years old.

But, each cancer journey is different.  And, Jeff is only 44 years old with two young kids. Support will be key for us. Our neighbours have stepped up in a big way as well as our amazing family and friends.

I believe I will have to practice what I preach in my professional life as a Coach, now more than ever. I will have to dig deeper into my mindfulness practice that has been ingrained in me through my brain injury journey. We have to stay here, in this moment, to be focused to make the best decisions as well as to not let future fears take hold.

So, what does this mean for my business and my coaching?  I am continuing to work throughout this journey. I am taking on new clients. I realize my mind needs to keep focused on regular life from time to time. I think work is good for me, and also from a financial standpoint, I need to keep working to support our family.

I feel like I am approaching my coaching work with a slightly different attitude. I am pushing my clients harder. I feel like this journey I am going through personally is shining a light about the preciousness of life and making every moment count. We really don’t have time to be complacent.

I challenge you the next time you are on Facebook or Twitter and see a photo posted of someone having the time of their lives on the beach or getting that great promotion, remember there is always a story behind the picture. Every person faces struggle. At some time or another, we all doubt ourselves, hit rock bottom and feel lost. We are all people, going through this life on a journey. There will be ups and there will be downs, and that is the way life seems to be designed to be. That is the beauty of life and the mystery of it, all at the same time. Be grateful for who you are, the work you do, the family and friends that you have and be kind to yourself, not falling for the trap of comparing yourselves to others around you. Because at the end of the day, we are all people, just trying to survive.

To be a part of our journey, follow me on Twitter @potentialultd

How To Be the Kind of Mentor Your Mentee Deserves

September 4, 2017

FORBES article by Carey-Ann Oestreicher

Mentoring is a great way to develop talent within an organization, but research shows it can also have a positive impact on the mentor’s own job satisfaction. I have done a lot of work around leadership development, and to me, few areas are as satisfying as being able to mentor someone to successfully progress in her/his career and life.

A lot of companies have formal mentorship programs, and even for those that don’t, employees can seek out mentors behind the scenes. We all know that mentorship is important, but still, a lot of people don’t seem to be as effective as they could be in this area. So, what does it really take to be an outstanding mentor?

An outstanding mentor knows:

1. To set the rules of engagement at the start of the mentoring relationship: Determine how often you can realistically meet and then commit to keeping those appointments within those timelines. You need to make mentoring this individual(s) a priority if you sign up to be a mentor. Also, talk about the goals of this mentoring relationship. I suggest focusing on only one to three goals to keep the relationship focused.

2. When to give advice and when to sit back and listen: Often people think their role as a mentor is to impart their great wisdom onto someone else. But wait… this is really only half of what is most effective. A great mentor is able to ask the right questions and listen to their mentee to really be able to understand them. Then, you can share how you have dealt with a similar situation in the past. Remember, however, that what worked for you may not work for someone else. Hear them out first and then you can brainstorm ways to address the issue together.

 

To read more, go direct to the Forbes site.