Those who can truly be accounted brave are those who best know the meaning of what is sweet in
life and what is terrible, and then go out, undeterred, to meet what is to come. - Pericles

Your Diagnosis and Your Shoulds

A diagnosis of breast cancer hits women at many emotional levels and often pushes all kinds of buttons from the past, as well as challenging our current beliefs about ourselves. One major issue for many women is their sense of responsibility, which pushes them to continue with their commitments at home and at work during their treatment. Often these women had already been carrying a workload that was 24-7, both emotionally stressful and demanding. With diminished energy from surgery and/or chemo, women have tearfully said to me in therapy, "I just don't know what is wrong with me, I just can't do everything I used to be able to do." "I just feel so tired all the time." Their expectation is that they should be able to continue on as usual, immediately. "Everyone else returns to work right away." Or, "So-and-so told me her friend went back to work in two weeks - what's wrong with me?" "I should be able to handle this better - I should be strong."

Shoulds become our guidelines and the gold standard at an early age in our development. Think of the all the shoulds that sit on your shoulders - unfortunately they do not leave when you are ill or in pain. Interesting, isn't it, to look at the words "should" and "shoulders"? Both bear a lot of weight for women. The dictionary tells us that one meaning of the word should indicates an obligation or necessity. That dictionary also says that shoulder can mean to carry a burden, to bear or to support, to assume. It can also mean to push through or to apply force: to shoulder one's way through. And that is exactly what many of us try to do when we are facing a breast cancer diagnosis or any kind of chronic illness.

Our challenge, and our task, is to allow ourselves time to heal and recover. We need to learn to take care of ourselves in the same way we would take care of our families or friends if they were ill or in pain. I often tell clients to be their own best friend: to give themselves the same compassion, tolerance and understanding that they give to others. If you are tired, take a nap, sleep in, or stay in bed and read a favorite book. This is OK! Don't worry about what "people" will think. When you are sleeping or resting, you are not "doing nothing". Your body is working hard to heal itself. This is one function of rest, and this is one of the reasons we sleep. Sleep heals and restores the body. Taking it easy is not being lazy or unproductive. Learn to recognize both the internal and external voices of the shoulds. Are they always asking you to take care of others first? If so, take the time to question these voices, and I hope that you will sometimes choose to take care of yourself, and not shoulder all the responsibilities.

Breast Cancer Web Surf Recommendation for the Month: Community Breast Health Project

Breast Cancer Book Recommendation for the Month: The Feisty Woman's Breast Cancer Book: Elaine Ratner

Published in The Woman's Voice Magazine May 2000 Issue
Copyright May 2000 Sam Marye Lewis, MFT

Breast Cancer Articles by Sam Marye Lewis, MFT


Sam Marye Lewis, MA, MFT License #MFC27919
1190 South Bascom Avenue, Ste. 211 San Jose, CA 95128 Tel: 408.271.9005 Fax: 408.271.9006