If you know me well, you know that I LOVE Brene Brown, her books and her teaching.  I appreciate her authenticity and wholehearted approach to life.  Part of her definition of wholeheartedness is accepting “Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am brave, and worthy of love and belonging.” (1)  She has taught me much about the down-sides of perfectionism, about the value of increasing my vulnerability, about my people-pleasing tendencies, about pressing into courage and what that looks like, and so much more.  Most recently I am reading her book, Dare to Lead.  In this book she quotes James Stockdale, an 8 year Vietnam POW survivor. He says (2):

“You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end- which you can never afford to lose- with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

FULL STOP.  I like the “faith that you will prevail in the end” part.  I do good with that part. But, in the last couple of years I’ve become aware that I do not have good coping skills for “confronting brutal facts” and the feelings associated with them.  I am an avoider.  Growing up I didn’t talk about my feelings.  Feelings are inconvenient, feelings are inefficient, feelings are….vulnerable. I held in front of me a shield of perfectionism and performance.  This was my coping mechanism for dealing with brutal facts: stone-facing them.  And I didn’t even realize I was doing this.  I attacked the “hard” of life with an impenetrable shield, thinking I simply wasn’t very emotional.   Brene Brown has taught me that you can’t selectively numb emotions.  If you numb the difficult ones you also numb ones like joy.  Huh! You see, this coping strategy, this shield of mine, worked for 30+ years.  As it was falling apart, I thought it was still working.  My body’s voice spoke otherwise: CANCER. A BROKEN IMMUNE SYSTEM. YOUR SHIELD ISN’T WORKING ANYMORE.

I’ve come to an understanding in the past year or so of the inseparable integration of my body, my soul/spirit, and my mind.   Health is multifaceted.  I cannot separate physical health from spiritual and emotional health and vice versa.  With my medical background it was a journey to this realization, and yet even in the medical professions it is now common belief that “stress” (mental health) has a negative impact on the body (physical health).

I share all this in hopes of helping others.  Perhaps some of you resonate with aspects of being a perfectionist, being performance driven, and lacking in the vulnerability department.

Furthermore, I share this because this September I began writing a book about my cancer story.  This is a courageous endeavor.  Writing a book about my cancer story is a journey of facing the not-so-neat-and-tidy parts of life. It is requiring me to re-enter the trauma of being told at 35 years old, with a preschooler and 2 babies, that I would only live 1 more year.  I didn’t want to “go back there” to rehash that traumatic time in order to write about it.  In fact I’ve been dragging my heels in doing so.  However, I feel compelled that I need to write my story (and do all the re-hashing that entails) in order to spread HOPE.  Interestingly, in writing my story and facing my brutal reality I am finding “increased faith that I will prevail” because look, LOOK at what I have survived.

In re-entering the “brutal facts” of my reality with a new vulnerable approach, with my shield down, I’m uncovering truths about myself that keep me curiously pressing forward.  I realized just yesterday that I need to wholeheartedly explore how motherhood has shaped me.  I realized that my cancer story starts with the stresses of twin-motherhood that I didn’t have coping skills for, that played a role in the breakdown of my immune system.  This is a “brutal fact” of my reality I previously didn’t know how to face.

Today images popped up on my google photos memories taking me visually down memory lane of 3 years ago. As I sit in remembrance of the trauma of 3 years ago, it aches.  As I open myself up to feel, I feel broken.

This hits me hard.  I remember those days feeling like Peter from the bible: terrified so close to drowning.  The bible story tells of Peter in the middle of the sea in the middle of the night and seeing Jesus walking on water.  He accepts Jesus’ invitation and hops out to join him.  He experiences the supernatural and also walks on while water keeping his eyes on Jesus the source of this supernatural experience.  But when the huge waves come, he takes his eyes off of the Source and begins to sink.  He is terrified. He is in over his head.  He will drown without the help of the Supernatural.

Those days 3 years ago I felt so close to drowning, grasping to keep my head above water.  The only way to do so was by focusing on something more powerful than myself: a bigger and greater power than I could ever muster.  A power mightier than the storm waves crashing on my life.  I was living an impossible life.  The only way I kept from drowning was by focusing my eyes on my Supernatural Source.

Today too, rehashing the past and the reality of my present and the uncertainty of my future I need walking-on-water-kind-of-power coursing through me.  Because this is too much.  This is real life and the waves are knocking me over.

My Higher Power is God.  So I call out, oh God keep my head above water. Oh God don’t let me drown.  Oh God I cannot do this.

And My Higher Power replies, “No, you can’t. But I can.”

To write my cancer story I must lay down my shield and expose my very vulnerable humanity.  I must remember that I am a very fragile vessel of life.

To live and write wholeheartedly I must repeat this process every single day:

1. Acknowledge the brutal reality of my life
2.Call out desperately to my Higher Power to keep me from drowning.
3.Find faith that I will prevail in the end.


A brave journey SO worth braving.

I sincerely thank you for joining me in this whole-hearted adventure of writing my cancer story.


  • Dare to Lead, Brene Brown. P. 72
  • Dare to Lead, Brene Brown. P. 57, Referencing the Stockdale Paradox as cited in Jim Collin’s book Good to Great