Winning with Grief

By Cancer Horizons staff

Yesterday I had the privilege of watching a TEDx presentation by a phenomenal woman, Sophie Sabbage.  Sophie has lived with Stage IV lung cancer since 2014.  Let that sink in for a bit.  She has been living with this beast for the last five years. In those years, cancer has taken from her immeasurably.  In turns, it has taken her hair, it has taken her voice, it has taken her mobility.  But with these losses, some that have been overcome, she has learned to embrace her feelings about these losses.  It is when we allow ourselves to experience the grief of these losses, that we begin to heal. If you haven’t had the chance to watch Sophie’s TEDx talk “How Grief Can Help Us Win,” we highly recommend it.

Here at Cancer Horizons we have the honor of working with some amazing contributors that have used their experiences with cancer and in life to reach out to others. Some of them are survivors of the disease, some continue to thrive through the fight, and some have sat by the side of a loved one as they take their last breath.  Each of these experiences provide us with unique insight into the way cancer shapes our lives, how we can grow from it, embrace life to the fullest, and lift up our brothers and sisters as they engage this beast.  These women come from diverse backgrounds, and even different continents. What each of these ladies have in common is their shared goal of utilizing their experiences with cancer to empower others.  Today we’d like to introduce you to them, their struggles, and their triumphs.

Sophie Sabbage

In 2014, Sophie was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer.  This diagnosis is undoubtedly terrifying for anyone, but Sophie’s daughter was four years old at the time.  Telling a family member about cancer is awful, but telling a small child can be unthinkable. In Sophie’s own words (from “Darling, Mommy Might Die”):

From the beginning, we told the truth. This is no easy thing to do with a four-year old and remains onerous over two years later. First, we told her I had an illness called cancer. “C for cancer,” she replied phonetically, as if the next word would be “D for dog.” Piece by piece, over a period of weeks, we gave her more information. Mommy was very ill. Mommy might not get better. Mommy can’t pick you up as easily as she used to (due to tumors on my spine). Mommy wants to spend as much time with you as possible because she might not be here on your next birthday. Mommy might die.

One thing that Sophie tells us that there is no “right” answer for talking to a child about cancer.  There is no “one size fits all” conversation that will explain and comfort at the same time.  Each parent makes these calls based on their own experiences, their child(ren), and their spirituality, among many other factors.

Grief, according to Sophie, is “…the courageous expression of sorrow…” What an amazing way to look at it.  In her TEDx (have you watched it yet? You really should.), Sophie talks about embracing our grief.  She explains that the five stages of grief that we hear so much about, really seem to her as our minds’ avoidance of that very grief.  Denial, anger, bargaining – all ways that we unconsciously push away that very basic human emotion.  She explains to us that grief “…keeps love alive and it holds lost loves close.” When we succumb to the sorrow of loss – be it a loved one, a physical trait or ability – we allow ourselves to fully feel, and with that feeling, we can begin to heal.

Sophie further tells us in “Stop Battling Cancer” about her perspective on the “fight”.  She, like many other cancer patients don’t care for the terms battle, fight, etc.  She feels that this puts a stigma on those that “win” versus “lose”.  Sophie tells us that EVERY cancer patient wins EVERY day.  By looking for our daily triumphs versus a singular battle, we can help lift up cancer patients everywhere.

Sophie holds a B.A. Hons (First Class) in English Literature and Psychology from the University of West England, as well as a Diploma in Change Agent Skills and Strategy from Surrey University.  She is the author of Lifeshocks – And How to Love Them and The Cancer Whisperer, as well as an active member in many social media cancer communities.

Miranda Murry

Mandy Murry is a force to be reckoned with.  This strong woman has overcome cervical cancer not once, not twice, but three times.  Beginning her career as a travel agent, her life was upended with a diagnosis of cancer.  Since the time of that diagnosis and life changing treatments such as a hysterectomy, Mandy has become an outspoken patient advocate.  She advocates not only for patient care, but also for living life to the fullest. In “Its Your Right to Make Changes,” Mandy tells us of when her long time doctor (that had operated on her four times!) seemed to not know her at all.  She explains:

Making yourself a priority when you have cancer, or if you have pre-cancerous cells is important. No one knows how fast these cells can grow and what can happen. Staying positive is only one piece of the equation. Making your health and wellness the most important part of your everyday is what you have to do.

Taking care of yourself, as a cancer patient, is of utmost importance. The combination of the right care team, researching and knowing your disease, and knowing your body cannot be underestimated.

Following her cancer diagnosis, Mandy truly discovered her passion for marketing and writing.  She has been featured not only here on Cancer Horizons, but also as a contributor at The Huffington Post, Cloudsurfing.life, and Thrive Global. Mandy loves to inspire, “audiences with stories of not giving up and inspire that we all have the potential to accomplish our desires as ‘We all put our pants on one leg at a time.’”

Mandy’s TEDx presentation at TEDxRiverton was truly inspiring.  In line with her message to us in taking charge of our health, she tells us “In order to create change, we must first unmask the roots of the problem… Education is the vital component to being stronger citizens, leaders, and change makers.”

In addition to Mandy’s writing, speaking and activism, she engages with other entrepreneurs such as herself.

Kathryn Vinson

Having dealt with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis since she was ten, Kathryn knew the odds.  She knew that her thyroid condition put her at a high risk for developing thyroid nodules, and that each of these had a 10% chance of becoming cancerous.  What she wasn’t prepared for was to be 27 years old and pregnant when the diagnosis came. Much like Mandy, Kathryn is an advocate of knowledge of your medical conditions and your body:

A couple months prior to my diagnosis, I suffered a miscarriage. I had known for many years that hypothyroidism could be linked to fertility issues, so I went to see my endocrinologist. He sent me for an ultrasound, and then a biopsy. Due to some miscommunication, I wasn’t told about the need for a biopsy until I was already pregnant again. My cancer diagnosis came ten days after I found out that my youngest son was on the way. Without the baby that I lost, I may have never known about my cancer. In my heart, my angel baby saved my life.

After a thyroidectomy at 15 weeks pregnancy and radioiodine treatment almost a year later, Kathryn has been cancer free now for ten years.

Kathryn’s journey with cancer sadly didn’t start there.  When she was 12, her aunt succumbed to Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.  “There are so many times that I think that had today’s treatments been around in the early ‘90s, Aunt Deede would still be with us.”

This loss put a passion in her to pursue medicine and research.  Prior to the birth of her children, Kathryn enjoyed a career in clinical research, helping clinical teams bring treatments for myriad conditions to the market.

Kathryn holds a B.S. in Biomedical Science from Texas A&M University and an M.S. in Clinical Practice Management from the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center.  She is also a Certified Clinical Research Coordinator via the Association of Clinical Research Professionals.

Lifting Up One Another

Cancer has a lot of power over us. It defines us for both a time in our life, and for many of us, for the rest of our lives. It defines our schedules. It defines our nutrition. It can define our self-esteem. And with these, we can feel that it has taken over and taken from us.  But, like these ladies, we can use these struggles to help, to inspire, and to educate. We can take the grief that is placed upon us by cancer and use those emotions to reach out.

What if each of us – patients, survivors, thrivers, caregivers – took a moment to encourage and raise up one another? What if we use the sorrow of our losses to teach others to see a brighter day?

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