With adapting and planning, we start to feel more positive. Once that train gets fired up, it picks up speed and we begin to feel more positive in all ways. I realize full well that there are many who are struggling, who are ill, who have lost loved ones, but trying to find positive moments each day, and then making positivity a habit, is beginning to lift the burden. Retooled television ads are doing a good job of illustrating that. Many of them feature the outpouring of love for those on the frontline and those who are holding our society together
As a part of my series about the things we can do to remain hopeful and support each other during anxious times, I had the pleasure of interviewing Judy Pearson.
Judy Pearson is an award-winning author and public speaker. A cancer diagnosis led her to found A 2nd Act, an organization of survivors helping survivors take back their lives after cancer. A resident of Phoenix, Judy was featured for her work in survivorship in the annual American Association of Cancer Research Progress Report, named one of Chicago’s most inspirational women, and was a Phoenix Healthcare Hero finalist.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
In 2011, I was a successful author and public speaker and had just married the love of my life (third time’s a charm!) Two months after a clean mammogram, I found a lump in my cleavage. I asked my new husband to feel it (men will touch your boobs if you ask them to!) and he agreed it was something new. After scans and a biopsy, I was diagnosed with Triple Negative breast cancer. It’s aggressive and rare — typically striking women who are young, of color, or of Ashkenazi Jewish decent. I am none of those. But … my maternal aunt had died nine years earlier of the same type. Why had I survived when she didn’t? Then more questions arose.
After my mastectomy and 18 grueling rounds of chemo, I expected I would be exactly the person I had been prior to cancer. I now know, all survivors think that. And all survivors are surprised to find nothing could be further from the truth. There is much collateral damage the accompanies a cancer diagnosis: physical and psychosocial issues, financial toxicity from the treatment and loss of income, relationship and self image challenges, and fear of recurrence. While my wonderful husband never left my side, I experienced variations of those issues. I wasn’t who I had been, so who was I now? Bottom line, cancer doesn’t end when treatment does. But that’s not the end of the story.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
While I love to read — I’m an author after all — it was a quote in a book about the sinking of the Lusitania that I read shortly after treatment ended. Artist Mary Cassatt told Theodore Pope, a survivor of the doomed ship, “If you were saved it is because you have something else to do in this world.”
Prior to cancer, I had been working on a book about women’s courage, and had come across some amazing research being done about volunteering. It lowers stress, it helps manage chronic disease (which cancer survivorship is), it can even extend life. At the same time, I began meeting other women survivors who were doing amazing things with their lives. Whether they had no evidence of disease, or had been told they must live with their cancer, by helping others, they were healing themselves. And the nonprofit A 2nd Act was born. We support and celebrate women survivors of all cancers who are using their gifts of life and experience to give back to the world around them.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
The “tunnel” can be interpreted in a couple of ways. There’s the obvious when you get to the end, there’s light! But sometimes even though the tunnel doesn’t end, we are able to become less anxious while being in it. And that’s not a bad thing. Rather, it’s the opportunity for MORE.
1. MORE adapting: While being separated was initially a shock to our national system, a lot of adaptation has gone on. I’m hearing more and more about in all industries and all walks of life — from work environments to educational environments to social environments. Adaptation is something modern man isn’t forced to do very often, so this is a good.
2. MORE planning: Making plans and having something to look forward to is hugely important psychologically. People are talking about future events they’re hoping to attend, even if slightly altered. They’re talking about where they’ll go and who they’ll see. And even if we have to push dates out further still, we’re still planning for a future rather than accepting defeat.
3. MORE positivity: With adapting and planning, we start to feel more positive. Once that train gets fired up, it picks up speed and we begin to feel more positive in all ways. I realize full well that there are many who are struggling, who are ill, who have lost loved ones, but trying to find positive moments each day, and then making positivity a habit, is beginning to lift the burden. Retooled television ads are doing a good job of illustrating that. Many of them feature the outpouring of love for those on the frontline and those who are holding our society together.
4. MORE giving: As we gain more information about where resources are needed — whether for front line medical staffs, first responders or the medically fragile — more organizations and corporations are showing their generosity. They’re also inspiring those of us who don’t have millions to find ways to give to the greater good as well.
5. MORE benefits: Like cancer survivors, pandemic survivors are beginning to see that while life may not ever return to what it was, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Maybe more telecommuting will make the country more profitable, while keeping costs down and helping the environment. Maybe making more meals at home will create a healthier America, as we do a better job controlling what we eat. Maybe buying local will not only support our local communities in big ways, it will allow us get to know more of our neighbors.
From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
While the pandemic has been, as you said earlier, a “dramatic jolt” for 95% of the population, we cancer survivors (who make up the other 5%) also faced a little understood disease, with dire symptoms, a difficult treatment and no end in sight. We were anxious, uncertain, isolated and terrified! But we also learned survival skills that are incredibly applicable today. I asked my survivor tribe to send me survival tips that helped them during their treatments. Every day, we’ve posted a tip on Facebook. They’ve traveled the world and I’ve listed some below that I hope will help your readers as well.
1. When you face a challenge (like a life-threatening illness or our current quarantine), you are often required to slow down. Your tightly scheduled life suddenly opens up. And while that feels strange, it’s packed with opportunity. Make a personal “honey-do” list of things you’ve wanted to tackle (scanning photos, sorting books, organizing cook books and recipe files). Then revel in the satisfaction of completely them. Satisfaction is one of those emotions that releases the feel good hormones, and they in turn reduce stress and improve immunity.
2. Continuing with the list theme, some survivors recommend making gratitude or blessings lists. No matter who you are or where you are on the ladder of life, there are always going to be those above you and those below. Recognizing that there are those struggling more than you are will help with the gratitude/ blessings lists.
There are two other helpful lists. On the first, consider what things you enjoy doing. In other words, what do you look forward to? What makes you smile? The second is a list of the skills you possess, both professionally and personally. Compare those lists to what your life was pre-pandemic. Were you living your best life? Granted, you probably can’t ditch an income producing job, but can it be adapted? We survivors have learned to live every day as fully as we can, as tomorrow arrives without promises.
3. As I explained above in speaking about our nonprofit, A 2nd Act, there’s healing in helping. Each of us has faced life challenges before now, just as each of us has experienced this strange new world. What skills do you have that would allow you to help the world around you? Think of that both in terms of today, helping neighbors, friends and family during the pandemic, as well as down the road.
4. There is nothing like the great outdoors. I realize that since the pandemic began, a great deal of the country has been locked inside watching the rain and snow fall. Others live in cities where even outdoors is crowded. Here in Arizona, our temperatures will soon climb to very unpleasant levels, and we’ll be locked inside. But that doesn’t mean we can’t travel virtually. Read about places you’d like to visit or return to. Watch videos of places you’ll never go, but that you find interesting. Bottom line, get out of the dark space in your head and into the light!
5. Finally, if we focus on how long an unpleasant experience might last — like how many total chemo treatments or how many weeks of quarantine — it can feel stifling and overwhelming. Hello anxiety! But if we focus just on today, or even just on this moment, with the confidence it’s not forever, it’s just for now, then long, frightening and uncertain experiences are much more manageable. Remember, you can even eat an elephant a bite at a time.
What are the best resources you would suggest to a person who is feeling anxious?
In a shameless act of self promotion, I suggest our website, A2ndAct.org Our annual fundraiser is a live storytelling event. We video the performances and then post each woman’s story on our site. After seven performances, we now have more than 50 amazing stories. The inspiration and motivation are incredible, guaranteed to lift spirits and renew gratitude.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
My current most favorite quote was what launched my new career after cancer (although I still write and speak around the country). But there is another from Eleanor Roosevelt that has guided me in life as well: “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.” We are often afraid of things we don’t understand. But when we “look it in the face,” and become familiar with what it is, often it’s not nearly as bad as we once thought.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Well, thank you for that! I guess I have started a movement: the 2nd Act movement. It is common for cancer survivors to have a sense of wanting to give back in someone, almost as a thank you for the gift of our lives, no matter how long. But a payback to the world helps us make sense of all life challenges, health-related or not. And when we focus our energies on someone or something needing our help, we take the focus off our own problems. It’s truly a win-win for all concerned, a giant pay-it-forward love fest!
What is the best way our readers can follow you online?
Our organization’s website is A2ndAct.org, and you can also find us on Facebook.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!