Sunday, September 7, 2014

Mutant Mentality

I was walking the dogs with my daughter Lauren, to stretch out her sore muscles from her recent foray into cross country.

We have long been talking about being thoughtful, and developing good habits.  Mostly, these have been tangible or outwardly visible habits:  eating healthy food, exercising our bodies and minds, spending time in service to others, both in our family and in our community.  Like running, it is hard work at first.  But with practice, we do not need to think about these things, as they simply become incorporated into who we are.

Last week, however,  I spoke to Lauren about her mental habits, the ones that go beyond developing an intellectual curiosity (my kids are daily encouraged to read 'something smart' that is not covered by doing homework)  While I can check in with Lauren to see how she understood an article in the newspaper, I cannot as easily see the mental dialogue she has going on.  After she joined cross country this fall, I have gotten a glimpse of a mental muscle that needs stretched and strengthened along with her quads and hammies.

We talked about how on the back stretch of the course, when the sun is hot, the encouraging crowd is sparse and her body begins to rail against the run, her mental dialogue is, unsurprisingly, fairly negative.  She is tired, and sometimes she walks a bit.  I do not mind the walking, for the record.  But we talked about how the thoughts in her head influence her actions in those lonely parts.  In order to get better, to be stronger and to win--not the race overall, but to win the competition, the one that really matters in my opinion is the one in her mind--she needs to be disciplined in her thoughts.

Over time, repeating the affirmations ("I can do this."  "I am getting stronger." "The crowd will be around the bend to encourage me." "There are those ahead of me and those behind--I am not alone") and repeating the motion of taking one step, then another,  both of these things will become habit, not worthy of the monumental effort that is required to accomplish it now. 

Focus on the good, always.  If you focus on a problem, let it be only in order to fix it, otherwise it is wasted energy.

I was reminded of our conversation as I checked in this morning on the LFS support group that I help a friend administer.  A woman from Brazil shared that while her brother tested positive for LFS, he did not consider it a death sentence, because their mother had beaten cancer 5 times.  I thought about how many people in our group have benefitted by sharing our experiences, particularly our successes and the successes of the researchers that we deal with.

Our individual stories may be frightening and overwhelming.  But through this support group over the past year and a half, I have seen a change in the collective mental dialog.  Instead of LFS being considered a death sentence, and one to depressingly bewail, waiting for the next cancer to arrive, there has been a shift, to cautious optimism, with encouragement coming across the internet in the lonely back stretch.  The prevailing theme is one of determination, and hope.  And action.

When we give voice to our fears, we can begin to conquer them.  When we are tired,  tired of cancer, tired of fighting, we can reach out for encouragement. For compassion. For ideas.  For information.  For resources.

We have begun to change the culture, that place in our brains that focused on futility, and despaired of our 'predisposition' to cancer, twisting its meaning to become 'predestination.'  While death will come to all eventually, and cancer is likely to come to us, we are now facing it on our terms.   There are meaningful and effective things to do, both in our personal battles, as well as in our community. 

We are now doing them together.

While every day cannot be a raging success either on the mental or physical front, we are collectively improving on both, becoming stronger and more proactive.  I am proud to be part of this change.  I am grateful to be part of this community, cancer aside.

We are busy Living LFS.