Find Your Tribe

Find your Tribe.

It’s a matter of great import and I’ve got some thoughts to share on this under-addressed, yet oh so critical aspect of the lived experience of cancer from diagnosis [and] treatment to the end of active treatment, the living out of the cure and the encountering of late effects of cancer treatment.

Cancer is a chronic process whether we are living with cancer, have lost a loved one to the disease, are living out the cure while facing late effects of our treatment regimens.

Chronic processes can make people weary, thus it takes a tribe.

Now, some may say if a person gets weary, then who needs them; I would submit to you that I, for one, need them. In my life, two are better than one. It’s a matter of mutual encouragement and ongoing loving support.

These individuals are tribal for a reason, so let me back to that reason.

Observations, personal and professional, spanning 4 decades now have led me to categories of tribal members: sprinters, the drop-ins, the marathoners, and the dropouts.

Sprinters are AWESOME!

Their gift set is the rallying and motivating individuals, securing and mobilizing resources, and ensuring that immediate needs are met. They are fueled by great zeal, a great love for the affected person and his/her family.

We can count on them to organize web-based community calendars for meals, to run errands, and to provide childcare support whether carpool support or rides to ballet or football practice.  They will even go with you as an extra set of eyes and ears to medical appointments.

The downside, however, is that they do get tired and burn out somewhat quickly which is why I recommend a Sprinter group of 5-7 people. Please know this is not a criticism, simply a fact. We all have families, jobs, obligations that must be met. Many hands make for light work, thus the 5-7 par level so the responsibility can be rotated among them.

When our sprinters burn out, they will need time to rest and recuperate before entering the arena again whether in the same capacity or perhaps one that allows them to better pace themselves for the long term.

Drop-Ins are ESSENTIAL!

The ‘drop-ins’ pop in when you least expect it and surprise you with joy; these are the tribe members who though they care deeply about us, they don’t get involved in the minutiae of our diagnosis or treatment.

They keep us actively engaged in LIFE by reminding us that we are ALIVE!

They tend to remind us that spontaneity is a good thing dropping by with popcorn and a movie for a Friday night visit with their dear friend, YOU! You may or may not watch the movie. You may opt instead to throw caution to the wind and give your bald head a facial!

The drop-in reminds you that you are you. Yes, you have cancer, but you remain you. Cancer will change you, yes; however, you are still you. So cry, giggle, be goofy, belly laugh at the ridiculous, binge watch Friends on Netflix, get all hot and bothered with fifty shades of whatever. EnJOY those moments that are untainted by cancer; allow yourself, give yourself permission to take a night off from cancer.

The marathoner is a rare gem!

The marathoners go the distance with you from the very beginning. You’ve likely know each other for years, if not decades. The marathoner is gifted with endurance and s/he ‘does life’ alongside you. The marathoner is the one who likely makes you feel the most normal. The marathoner loves and supports you AND gives you a swift kick when needed. The marathoner listens but also speaks truth into your heart because they’ve earned that right across time.

I am blessed to have a few marathoners in my life. We ‘do the daily’ and love each other fiercely. I can’t imagine life after heart failure and transplant without them. Truly, I can’t imagine my life without them period!

Again, a marathoner is a rare gem. If you have one, you are blessed; 3, blessed beyond measure.

Find your Tribe.

I’ve found that I need a mix. It is rare that I need sprinters at this point, but I have friends who are wonderful sprinters that I can call if I am hospitalized unexpectedly. I have drop-ins when I am sick at home,  and my marathoners who go the distance.

I am protective of my tribe/squad; I am there for them fully engaging in the concerns of their hearts, loving them when life hurts, and reminding them of their awesomeness!

IMHO, what we need during times of compromised health is also what we need during times of wellness.

PS I think it’s important to acknowledge that you will lose members of your tribe across time and that’s okay. As I look back on periods of intense need, I wonder how friends stuck with me, us and the reality is some didn’t; some jumped ship.

Now, I could tell you it didn’t hurt like hell at the time and I didn’t take it personally, but that would make me a liar. I could also be angry and bitter, but my lived experience has shown me that life is WAY too short.

Instead, I choose to believe that each person was uniquely designed to meet specific needs; they fulfilled their purpose and have gone to minister to someone else.

I am thankful.



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