The Power of Words

outlivingit

As featured on First Descent’s Outliving It http://outlivingit.com

 “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you,” was a phrase uttered in my household growing up. This was usually preceded by an insult or verbal nastiness from a cousin or sibling. With all due respect to the adults who doled out this prescription…Worst. Advice. Ever.

Words do hurt and have the power to evoke the strongest emotions. Chances are, if you’re reading this, cancer has been one of the most powerful, painful, transformative, definitive words of your life. It’s a word that takes less than a couple seconds to say, but it’s effects permeate a lifetime.

Through personal trial and error, I’ve found that after spending some time thinking about the vocabulary, it is possible to transfer some of the control from cancer to myself, which is a welcomed feeling considering how powerless cancer makes me feel. I’ve also learned that the vocabulary is different from person to person. If you’re not sure where to start, below are a few of the guidelines I’ve created for myself when talking cancer. Hopefully some of these will get you inspired to create your own list.

I have chosen to not to claim cancer. Don’t want it. Never have. Never will. Therefore, it’s not “my” cancer, but “the” cancer. “I don’t have cancer,” but “there is cancer inside my body.” Sure, it’s a play on words, but this is how I make sure cancer knows it will never be mine no matter how hard it tries. Like, ever. Also, something about the word “patient” makes me feel helpless, which is why I refer to myself as a “survivor”, which makes me feel powerful.  This is a label I attached to myself the day I was diagnosed and not the day I heard, “no evidence of disease.” There are many definitions to “survivor” but it’s pure context is, “to endure or live through (an affliction, adversity, misery, etc.)” so I am surviving no matter my current medical status.

One of the many things cancer has taught me is that most people do not know how to respond when I tell them how it has impacted my life. I can easily predict the deer in headlights look as the person searches for the right words. Naturally, they respond with a cliched, pre-packaged, canned and sometimes offensive response. I totally get it. I used to be this person. I still am this person sometimes. Cancer is so awkward and uncomfortable. However, what I have found useful is to tell my friends and family what’s up, ahead of time, if possible, through an email message, so they have time to process and formulate a response.  In addition, I’ve also found it helpful to tell them what they can say to encourage and support me. Doing this has made it easier on both of us. Our friends and family want to be a source of encouragement and support and it’s unreasonable that we expect them to say the right thing when they have no idea what we need or want to hear. Here’s a couple suggestions I’ve used in the past:

Instead of saying, “I’m so sorry you’re going through this,” I ask that they say,  “I know you have the strength to get through this,” because I do. The former invokes feelings of pity, while the latter makes me feel strong and supported. I also asked for my supporters not use battle language or tell me to beat it, stay strong or positive. My feeling towards these phrases is that they imply if I just try a little harder, then I will be healed. Being the recipient of these words only invokes feelings of guilt if I don’t beat it or have the inevitable and normal periods of weakness or negativity. Cancer is not a matter of trying hard enough. And when all else fails, I enjoy the honest simplicity of, “I don’t know what to say.”

And for the love of all that is holy and sacred in this world, please, I beg of you, to not saying that someone, “lost the battle” if they pass away. We don’t describe death from heart disease, freak accidents, natural causes etc. in this manner. Using this phrase implies if the person only fought harder, they would have not died.  Loser’s lose which is the exact opposite word I would use to describe someone who’s been through cancer treatments. Those impacted by cancer endure surgeries, toxic chemicals, crazy side effects – cancer survivors are hard core, bad-asses. The strongest of the strong. Not defeated losers. In fact, in the Sorcerer’s Stone, Dumbledore wisely says, “Death is but the next great adventure,” which seems like a fitting description for those in the First Descents tribe, who have passed on.

Again, these are the terms that work for me. Just like every cancer is different, the words we find comfort and power in will be different. I encourage you to spend some time thinking about your vocabulary and once you’ve built your dictionary,  tell your support team.

This blog was featured on First Descent’s Blog, www.outlivingit.com. First Descent’s is a non-profit that offers young adult cancer survivors (FREE) adventure trips where they learn the healing power of community and nature through participating in activities such as kayaking, rock climbing and surfing. In September 2016, I attended a First Descents Surf Program in Santa Cruz, California. Read about that here.

So Many Activities

One of my goals this year was to post weekly blogs. Like many people, by mid-February, my New Year’s resolutions began to lag. While my good intentions were there, the mental space and energy was not.

So, if I haven’t been posting, what the heck have I been doing?

The answer – so many activities!

First and most important – I’ve devoted countless hours to an essay I started nine months ago. I’m happy to share it has (finally) been submitted for consideration to the New York Times, Modern Love column. I put a lot of time and energy into the piece.  I’ve never been more proud and more sick of something. The column has a one percent acceptance rate. Yeah, the chances are slim.  However, the Editor reads every single essay and I think it’s pretty darn cool a New York Times Editor will be reading my work within the next 2-3 months. Yes, it takes a long time.  Please say a little prayer on my behalf to the Editor Gods. Accepted or not, I will share it on my blog as soon as the Times gives me the green or red light.

If you haven’t heard of the column, it’s guaranteed to warm even the coldest of hearts. Here are the most popular essays and a few of my favorite podcasts:

I’ve also continued my quest toward minimalism. The Minimalists even shared my post about Cancer and Minimalism on their Facebook page, which was pretty sweet. Otherwise, our entire house has been cleaned out and organized. We made over six trips to Goodwill where we donated fifteen boxes and bags. I’ve since moved on to tackling digital clutter. The biggest achievement has been reducing 25,000 photos down to 2,500. My goal was also to do “Internet Free Sundays”. It failed miserably and Fabien is grateful. In April, I’m looking for someone to play the Minimalist Game with me. If you’re interested, send me a message.

What’s next?

I’m currently working on a few more cancer related blogs, which I’ll share here in the coming weeks.  And the biggest news of all – next week, I’m starting research on a subject which I hope will turn into my first book. I am excited and terrified. Stay tuned for more.

Otherwise, I want to share a few things that are rocking my world:

  • Podcast: Missing Richard Simmons. Filmmaker, Dan Taberski, is on a quest to find out what happened to Richard Simmons and why he all a sudden fell of the face of the earth. It’s fascinating and strange.
  • Podcast: The Forward. Much to my suprise, Lance Armstrong is actually a pretty great interviewer and interesting subject himself.  In The Forward Podcast he talks with everyone from Malcolm Gladwell to Rahm Emmanuel to Neil deGrasse Tyson to Bo Jackson. It’s quite entertaining.  Love him or hate him – you have to tip your hat to a guy who raised millions for cancer research.
  • Podcast: The Minimalists. Are you seeing a theme? The podcast is almost better than the Netflix documentary.
  • On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. I’m late to this party since the book was published in 2000. If you ever write anything (ever), you should check out this book. It’s a master’s degree in itself. Plus, King is an impressive guy and the stories behind his stories are captivating.
  • Die Young With Me. I’ve read a lot of cancer memoirs, but this one is by far the best because of it’s raw honesty. By pure coincidence, the author, Rob Rufus, lives in Nashville.

Lastly, someone, somewhere shared my blog and my readership has gone through the roof. Whoever you are – THANK YOU FOR SHARING AND READING!  I’m also on Twitter at @staciechevrier.

I hope everyone is off to a great 2017, living large and doing so many fun activities:

Bonus cool points if you knew “so many activities” came from the movie ‘Step Brothers’:

Not the End of the World

Eek! I’m so excited – I put an obsessive amount of time and emotional energy into this essay.

 

 

This was published in Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Momentum Magazine and tells the story of my four year journey to and on the Camino de Santiago.

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Kevin & I at the end of the world

I went to the Camino with a map and a plan to walk alone, but the universe conspired for something better. That something better goes by the name of Kevin Keystone. So, I’ll dedicate this to him and the universe for bringing me the medicine I needed most. My thank yous will be forever immeasurable.

Not the End of the World

To watch Kevin’s take on our voyage together, check out this YouTube video.