Cissy Brady-Rogers
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Archive for July, 2013

Yesterday I passed my semi-annual breast exam with an “all’s clear” from the doctor!

Thanks be to God!

And thanks be to my own good choices over the past twenty years!

Hereditary and genetic predisposition for diseases like cancer can’t be altered–although researchers in the fields of epigenetics and psychoneuroimmunology are working on it–but how we live each day significantly impacts our risk. Research indicates that where we live, what we eat & drink, the quality of our relationships, how we manage stress, exercise and many other choices we make each day profoundly affect disease onset as well as our ability to recover.

An Example of Self-Neglect

Growing up with a mother who neglected her health gave me a good example of what not to do.

Moira Diedre Ford & Moira-Cecily Brady 1983

A diagnosis of breast cancer in her sixties did little to change her lifestyle. In fact, even after a second round of breast cancer followed by lung cancer a few years later, she smoked her Virgina Slim cigarettes right up until her last days of life.

In her last weeks of life she was confined to bed and on respiratory assistance. Yet, several times a day she’d rally the energy and strength to get out to her balcony for a smoke lest she blow up the entire house by lighting up in the vicinity of the oxygen tanks!

Mom had courageously overcome other addictions but remained a slave of nicotine until her final breath. Sadly, her cigarettes were her “precious” delight, her tonic for what ailed her, what she valued more than life itself to some degree.

Addictions do that to us. The immediate gratifications of soothed anxiety, numbed pain, and avoided interpersonal conflicts, lure us into a state of forgetfulness about our deepest values and highest aspirations.

Waking Up to My Own Need for Self-Care

My breast cancer diagnosis at age 30 woke me up to the way I’d been using alcohol to cope with mom’s dying. It was painful to visit her. My arrival was often her excuse for a smoke. “Help me up and we’ll have a visit on the balcony” she’d say with both a genuine gladness to see me and a sense of relief that she could get her fix. The last six months of her life I’d often pick up a six-pack on my way to visit and nurse a beer while she smoked her cigarette. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Six weeks after her death I received my wake up call. “Early stage…micro-invasive in-situ breast cancer…less than 5% chance of occurrence…” — none of that mattered. To me, it was cancer. And my early research indicated a correlation between alcohol use/overuse/abuse and breast cancer. Having watched my mom make poor choices for her own health, I choose a different path.

Me & Mom in a Box 1984 - Remarkable & Silly Mother

My mother was an amazing woman whose life inspired me in many ways. Her intelligence, humor, generosity, charm and diversity of friendships with men and women from all walks of life are gifts that continue to inform my development. I am forever grateful for those blessings.

Today, I also give thanks for the twisted blessings of her imperfections. I saw the damage her midlife struggle with addictions did to her well-being as well as the ways it undermined my own adolescent development. I’m grateful that my wake up calls came in my young adult years and I had her life as a model of what I didn’t want to become. I’m grateful that observing the consequences of her self-neglect inspired me to make self-care a priority. I imagine my mom is delighted that I’ve chosen the path I have. And for that, I am also grateful.

A Daily Choice

To choose a different path than those we grow up experiencing takes courage, determination and support. If your models for self-care were less than optimal, let them become inspiration for choosing a more loving way for yourself.

Find new role models. Surround yourself with people who take care of themselves and you’re more likely to do so yourself. And beware of spending too much time with those stuck in cycles of self-neglect or destructive patterns. Behaviors are contagious.

Enlist your friends, family, co-workers to support you in better self-care. One of my coaching clients gathered a group of her co-workers for a lunchtime health coaching group that I’m facilitating. Another client joined a workout studio that builds community support for fitness by creating a family atmosphere among the members.

Self-care or self-neglect. Which will you choose today?

I’m delighted to introduce a new member of my “sheros” group–Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Her memoir, My Beloved World, tells of growing up in a supportive Puerto Rican immigrant family in the Bronx and the unplanned but inspired path that eventually lead to her appointment to the Supreme Court.

Diagnosed with juvenile diabetes at seven years old, Sonia’s strength of character and commitment to community service were forged through early adversity–including her illness, the death of her alcoholic father and childhood encounters with racism and social inequity. She faced her challenges with realism, empathy and intuitive common sense. In my lingo, she lived from within, listened to her inner wisdom and respectfully considered other people’s views but didn’t let them define her.

Among the many bits of wisdom gleaned thus far, this statement about the importance of mentors strikes home. She writes,

When a young person, even a gifted one, grows up without proximate living examples of what she may aspire to become–whether lawyer, scientist, artist, or leader in any realm–her goal remains abstract. Such models as appear in books or on the news, however inspiring or revered, are ultimately too remote to be real, let alone influential. But a role model in the flesh provides more than an inspiration; his or her very existence is confirmation of possibilities one may have have every reason to doubt, saying “Yes, someone like me can do this.” (My Beloved World, p. 178)

But their presence alone is not enough. Sonia also learned from an early age to ask for help. Having been a good, but not outstanding student, Sonia determined as a fifth grader that she wanted to be at the top of the class. She asked one of the top students, not a close friend but someone she admired, to help her learn how to study. That tenacious pursuit of learning from others would follow her throughout her academic career and pave the way for her professional success.

Joan Borysenko became a mentor to me long before I ever met her in person. The author of a NY Times bestseller and 13 other books, Joan is a pioneer in mind-body medicine. I discovered her work on female psycho-social-spiritual development, A Women’s Book of Life, while perusing the shelves of a used book store.  That lead me to A Women’s Journey to God and many other books. By the time I met Joan in person at a book signing, I was an avid follower and student of her work. She was a living inspiration of my commitment to integrate a bio-psycho-social-spiritual understanding of female development within a Christ-centered perspective.

A year later I enrolled in her spiritual mentor training program, pursuing that more direct influence that Sonia writes about.  As the program drew to a close I asked Joan if she would continue to mentor me in some informal way. I didn’t know what that meant or what it would look like, but I knew I wanted an on-going relationship. I faced my fear of rejection and asked. She said she didn’t know what it might look like either, but that one way or another, we’d be in each other’s lives and she’d be delighted to see what unfolded as we moved forward.

Five years of shared meals, phone calls, walks in the dessert and getting lost wandering around various convention centers, Joan’s presence as friend, mentor and soul sister has been an important “Yes” to my vocation, especially when things don’t materialize the way I expect.

Jesus’ teaching about prayer conveys perennial wisdom applicable to mentoring: “Ask and you will receive. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened.” Not everyone I’ve sought out for support has been as responsive as Joan. But perhaps if some of those connections had solidified, I wouldn’t have kept searching, and never connected with Joan. Like prayer itself, we ask not knowing the outcome, but trusting that in the care of a providential God, our needs will be met one way or another.

Who are your sheros, either remote or proximate?

Who are your mentors? Who have you extended yourself to as a mentor?

Is there someone you want to be mentored by but are afraid to ask?

What will you do today to open your heart and be the remarkable woman or man you are?