Living with cancer has given me the opportunity to spend more time reading for enjoyment. It is a welcomed escape. I recently read one of Brené Brown’s books, Braving the Wilderness. In today’s post, I explore this book’s themes from three different lenses.
Lens One: Braving the Wilderness Brené Style
This lens is a basic introduction to the book’s main message. Brené Brown explains that being brave involves being true to yourself. Being brave means bringing life to your story. You are the only one who can do it.
She says you aren’t going to please everyone. Inevitably, it means you can’t be brave and never disappoint anyone. So true.
If you seek the constant approval of others and people pleasing is more important than your own inner happiness, you are not being brave.
There will be criticism with braveness. There will be LOTS of criticism.
There will be great moments of uncertainty because you are standing alone.
There will be vulnerability as you discover all your truths and how you are discovering exactly how you belong.
These sound terrifying. Going through life not knowing yourself is more terrifying. Braving the wilderness means you stand firm when you face the wind and disapproval of others. When you know yourself, you have the courage to stand firm in your beliefs because you know who you are.
To truly belong, you only need to belong to yourself.
That’s the biggest take away for me in the whole book. In a world where belongingness is sought after in almost every interaction and relationship, we all lose sight that the most valuable relationship we have is the one we have with ourselves. The interactions that matter most are the ones directed at how we treat ourselves.
She writes that “true belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are, it requires you to be who you are.”
Belonging is intertwined with I AM.
Lens Two: Braving the Wilderness with Cancer
My opinion and personal interpretation take over with this lens.
Having cancer is a wilderness of its own. Truly belonging to yourself and blending that wilderness with a cancer wilderness is challenging. To own both wildernesses is overwhelming.
I believe if Brené Brown were to speak directly to me, she would say to lean in fully to the loneliness and discomfort of cancer. She would emphasize the need to become vulnerable with it. The personal connection with it would change how I feel about it. At least I think that’s what she’d say.
I also think I’ve had plenty of loneliness, discomfort, and enough of a personal connection with cancer already.
Brené Brown writes a lot about boundaries. The firmer the boundaries, the more respected they will be. It is not okay to be taken advantage of and trampled upon physically or emotionally. You can’t belong to yourself if you are crushed.
Cancer can crush a person as much as someone else can. Being bald makes you look and feel less feminine. Surgeries do the same and you’re left feeling “less than.” Others often confirm it. If you are flat, then you somehow have lost your womanhood. Perceptions around going flat are slowly changing. Treatments take all the oomph out you so there isn’t much energy left for you to object to cancer defining you. Medical labels, side effects, perceptions, and an evolving normal keep shifting. It’s easy for cancer to define someone. It’s much harder to claim belongingness.
Suddenly, you are not you anymore, but the person with cancer. Everyone has a story to share with you because that’s how they attempt to connect with you and now identify with you. It’s important to set boundaries for how you want to be treated.
Firm boundaries support trust. When others respect boundaries, it is safer to trust them. Trust has caused me an ocean of hurt. A lot has become clearer to me in the last few years.
To me, living with cancer and learning to trust more means:
- I share what I want about my health and expect my privacy to be respected.
- I do not have to explain or justify my feelings, nor do I need to provide a reason so others understand.
- I can’t trust a person with the big stuff if someone has betrayed that trust with smaller stuff.
- I need to feel physically and emotionally safe in order to feel connected to someone.
Strong boundaries enable a person to have more empathy for others. Self-care comes first. Then you know what you can do and not do for others. I still identify as a helper. Taking care of myself first lets me know what time and energy I have available for others.
Living well demands I brave it – it being life – and I’m braving it fiercely these days. The older I get, the more at home I feel in my own skin. I’ve known for some time that my happiness depends on my braving life. I am comfortable with most of the decisions I make. Being brave is both frightening and peaceful at the same time. The uncertainty and vulnerability show up as frightening, but then the acceptance of those parts of my life oddly brings an element of peace.
Lens Three: Braving Well Together
This sounds like an oxymoron if braving the wilderness involves only needing to belong to ourselves and having the courage to stand alone yet firmly in our beliefs and values. The way I see it, there is still room for the support of others who are also being brave. Picture a wilderness scene. I can be standing in my wilderness next to a beautiful mountain lake holding a sign that proclaims my beliefs. Another person can be standing a few feet away near a magnificent tree with a sign that reads entirely different. Part of my wilderness may be accepting and trusting others. This holds challenges for me, but I need to be vulnerable enough to slowly test those waters. The other person may be working on keeping a few more personal thoughts and the confidences of others private. We can give each other the acknowledging head nod to show our support while still recognizing the work is an individual inner process.
The other way I believe we can be brave together is that it’s when we feel alone and are brave that someone else comes along and gives voice that they feel exactly the same way. We may think we are alone, but we are not. It’s very possible that someone was feeling the same way and was beyond grateful to cross paths with someone else giving voice and standing his/her ground in a way they needed. When we are brave on our own, social connections can be found. It’s part of finding your tribe.
Vulnerability has always been tough for me. Honestly, I haven’t always liked Brené Brown’s work. I stopped reading her first book years earlier because I didn’t like what she had to say and I found her too repetitive. Looking back, I wasn’t ready to do some of the work I needed to do.
I still have work to do. LOTS. There is so much I don’t have figured out. I’ve figured out this much: I’ve become more comfortable braving the wilderness.
- Have you read any of Brené Brown’s books? What stands out to you?
Warning: Reading further may cause you to be uncomfortable. It’s kind of the point.
I have read a lot over the past month.
I have read posts and tweets from mothers who want more time with their precious children.
I have read from mothers who have said good-bye to children who endured cancer for the majority of their all too short lives.
Husbands have carried on important work in memory of what their wives started.
Brave men and women have laid it all out there, revealing their souls and bodies in photographs and words.
Anger, pain, rage, doubt, despair, fear, suffering, grief, compassion, sympathy, empathy, humor, support, hope, inspiration, courage, strength, and love have all been represented. Feelings have been brutally raw and honest.
I have sobbed uncontrollably. I have grieved for their losses and relived so many of my own.
If only survivors or survivor supporters read these impassioned stories, not much will change in advancing research that will save lives.
More people must be reached.
More people need to be outraged.
More people need to feel uncomfortable.
Ignorance is not bliss in this case. Ignorance is more senseless death. Feeling discomfort means you care and that you may push for something better.
I believe we all have a responsibility to speak out and keep speaking out. Shout from the rooftops.
I ask you to consider how you can best influence change and then do it. Small shifts in the right direction are still shifts for positive change.
More effective treatments are needed. They were needed years ago. Who gets them should not be decided by insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, politicians, or based upon who can afford them. Having access to drugs and surgeries is very personal – not some business for profit. We need something better for our mothers, fathers, children, friends, and all those we love. We need more for ourselves.
I refer you to Sweat Pants & Coffee for a post on 5 Charities that are making a real impact for breast cancer patients to add to you list for possible donations. My new favorite is still the More For Stage IV Fund.
The first breast cancer awareness event in the U.S. was just one week back in October of 1985. Thirty-three years ago. The number of deaths from metastatic breast cancers has not gone down since 1995 and has remained pretty much the same at 41,000 a year (113 a day). How can that be?
Hold the presses . . . I know why. It’s because 30% of breast cancers become metastatic (in addition to the 6-10% that already are at diagnosis) and only 4-7% of research funding is allocated toward secondary cancer research (also known as MBC). Eleven months from now it will start all over again. The awareness. The pink crap. I am over it. I want a celebration for the month when a cure is discovered. Every month is an awareness month for something. The thing is, if you have cancer, a different disease, or a chronic condition, every day is a day of awareness.
One of the key ideas I taught my second graders every year was that reading was thinking. I revisited this idea countless times during the year because I wanted it to stick like super glue. Reading gives us the opportunity to think, to act, and to change the world. This month my reading choices were not chosen for enjoyment. I read to gather information and then pulled it all together. One conclusion that emerged from synthesizing all this information was that the voices of those affected by metastatic cancer of any kind have grown louder and louder. What we have to say may be hard to say and possibly difficult to hear and to read, but we won’t be quiet.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you so much for reading.
I’ll be more positive in November.