I’ve been a parent for over half my life. That includes a ten-year marriage. I wasn’t yet divorced when the diagnosis came down. At the time, I was a med student focused on building a career and living out my surgical dreams as a physician. Taking care of my kids’ financial needs was the cornerstone of my overall focus. Nothing else mattered.

Since then, life has changed quite a bit. Lymphoma came down on me hard and put the kibosh on my plans for my future. Stymied by a foe I could not even see, I began the ongoing fight for my life, for my right to exist. All of it, while raising seven kids by myself.

How Do I Do It?

The old adage rings true. It really is something I take one day at a time. In the beginning, I was counting favorable minutes just to get through each set of 24-hour blocks.

Pain is the universal constant. In my personal blog I talk about this in depth. Pain is truly the only aspect of the human condition we can all relate to. Divorced folks know the sting of failure well. So deep is it that it leaves a permanent scar across our very soul. We think about the future differently, learning from it and vowing not to make the same mistakes.

I felt it when my marriage ended in 2012. It’s not so different from physical pain. Like it, there are levels from tolerable to sobbing. Begin by not masking the ache.

Pain and cancer go together like Forrest and Bubba. Cancer causes the worst combination of electrical charges coupled with pressure building inside my bones.

Opioids are for instances in which I can no longer walk. My advanced case means my illness has spread from my lymph nodes (where it originated) to my spine, bones, and liver.

I wait until this point precisely because I’m a mother. I have to be present for my children. They see it and can predict with good accuracy when the time is coming. The pain reaches the point of crescendo then begins to die down. It’s a less-than-terrific cycle with unpredictable duration.

Take advantage of every good moment. Don’t just live in moments. Instead, revel in them. Absorb events through the pores of your skin into your very being, your energy. Feel the charge, as the hairs stand tall on the back of your neck when recalling the memory.

Every divorced person should have a stash, a mental file filled with joyful days. When the pain creeps up, put yourself back in there. Feel your child’s hug. Laugh aloud at the joke at the comedy club. Let it happen. It’s not a cure to emotional or physical pain, but it helps me get through.

Seek help. Part of the reason my disease progressed as far as it has is because I spent eight years in denial over it. Erroneously, I believed anything capable of killing me would’ve already done so. I was wrong.

Heed the warnings of your insides. Intuition is real. Don’t wait until a manageable problem becomes a catastrophe. I had to wake up out of my delusion to acknowledge that my body was fighting. Once I could name it, I could begin to aid in the solution.

The same was true with the end of my marriage. I’d ignore symptoms of my emotional distress. My gut would turn in protest of my emotional turmoil, and that would lead to more pain.
Now, I no longer wait for problems to become mountains. A therapist helped me figure out that I was clinically depressed. She said cancer causes it. I’m not sure about that. But by addressing the problem, I could treat it. I opted for regular counseling sessions in combination with antidepressant medications, so far so good.

Write about it. Writing is a cathartic exercise. The action in and of itself forces the writer to spew forward their thoughts. It creates a space in which the mind can meditate and make sense of life’s challenges.

I’ve kept a journal since my teens. I still have them. The act of bringing it all up and out of my body liberates me from the dramatic aspects of what’s happened. Because I’ve been able to work out my life on paper, I can focus in on the present. Rearing five daughters (three of them teens) and two sons requires 100% of me.

Meditate. I don’t mean the religious kind. If you’re into that, great! If not, then relax. You can do this, too. The point of meditation (for me) is to bring the boil down to a simmer, so to speak. I use lots of visualization, so bear with me.

I begin by lying in my bed with my eyes closed. Next, I picture my day’s challenges. I try to recall what I’ve already written down and what I’ve forgotten about. Then, I think about what common threads these challenges had. Was it all work-related? Was I overwhelmed by activity? Was I in pain? What lay at the center of my day’s issues?

Once I’ve identified my true problem, I make a mental note to remove some of it the following day. For example, if it’s my kids’ issues, I sit them down and clear the air. If it’s my ex, I’ll call him in the morning (wait until the drama dies down a bit) to address the issue. If its work, I spend fewer hours at it and exhaust less energy. If it’s pain, I treat it right away to avoid waking up with it.

The goal of all of this is to avoid having the same troubles two days in a row. By doing this, two peaceful days will become three. Three will become four. Then, you’ve gone a week.

In Short

I’ve recovered from the end of my marriage. I may not recover from cancer. But by acknowledging my body’s signals, treating pain accordingly, being present in the moments that take my breath away, seeking professional help when I need it, and journaling regularly I’m changing the vibes around me. Meditation helps me change the outcome of each day in hopes of relieving some of the pressures over time.

This can create long-lasting balance both inside and outside.

Today, I’m all about positivity. I feel more energized and am stronger. There’s no telling what will happen. But these things keep me grounded and focused. They’ve helped me recover from the end of my marriage and charge me up to fight cancer. The key in all of this is focus and balance. When used together, they create a big picture mentality that can restore your faith in yourself.

Rebuilding isn’t easy, especially with all my challenges. Honestly, the work I’m doing to rebuild my life, after divorce and sickness, is the most difficult thing I’ve done. I aim for a clear head coupled with a balanced life. It’s slow at first, but by setting the tone for each day (one day at a time), the healing will come.

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