Forget the bubble baths and that glass of wine. We embrace a proactive lifestyle of self-care here at The Inspiration Lab. I don’t believe self-care is selfish; I believe it is strategic.
And since many of you know about my son Oliver’s story, you’ll appreciate how critical self-care has become for me as the mom of a medically fragile child. In fact, in light of the events of 2020, I think it’s become critical for everyone.
On a busy Monday morning at the office in the fall of 2018, I was getting settled in for the day when my phone rang and displayed the cell phone number of Oliver’s pediatrician. I immediately took the call. I’d been waiting for this since Oliver’s kidney biopsy was completed the Thursday before. It was a weekend filled with anxiety, wondering if he did or didn’t have cancer.
The doctor asked if it was a “good time” and I said it was. Then he said, “I wouldn’t usually tell a parent this over the phone, but I know you would want to know as soon as possible… it is renal cell carcinoma.”
This diagnosis didn’t blindside me. We had known it was a possibility for a while. Interestingly enough, Oliver’s medical team in Wilmington, at UNC, and at Mass General in Boston, all held out hope it wouldn’t be cancer. Many kids have had the biopsy and it reveals a fat-poor AML… but we didn’t get that result.
Here is where the self-care comes in.
I should have hung up the call, got in my car or went to the bathroom or just sat right there, and cried... but I didn’t. I pushed through the Monday morning meeting. You might think that was a crazy thing to do, but I learned in childhood that when things hurt, immediately compartmentalizing would take the sting away. This is a little bit like putting a Band-Aid on a nasty, deep wound that needs to be cleaned out with peroxide, have an ointment applied, padded with gauze, and then topped with a bandage. When you just slap an ill-fitting Band-Aid on a gaping wound, it still hurts. And it is likely to get infected. When we don’t heal properly, emotionally or physically, we pay a price. Healing takes time, care, and attention.
The challenge with having a medically fragile child is the wounds constantly reopen. You conquer the seizures and then the cancer pops up. You get a break from mitochondrial disease, so you convince yourself your child doesn’t have it, until it comes back with a vengeance. Just when the scab is forming, it’s ripped off. Maybe you can relate to something like this in your life: an emotional pain that isn’t fixable or a kind of grieving that goes on and on.
I think the secret to thriving in ongoing loss and hardship is to do the work of cleaning out the wound Every. Single. Time. You do this knowing full well that some will heal for good, but others just won’t.
Said another way, a lack of consistent self-care — emotionally and/or physically — leaves you vulnerable to burnout. With so many people counting on me, the last thing I want to do is burn out. I assume you feel the same way.
Due to Oliver’s renal cell carcinoma diagnosis, we had to meet with a pediatric oncologist. I never dreamed we’d need an oncologist.
When we walked into the clinic, there was a photo shoot for past and current pediatric patients. Seeing the toll cancer had taken on their bodies, their hair, and their frames made my heart feel like it was being pulled into pieces. Inside my chest, I felt my heart physically ache.
When we went back to the exam room to meet Dr. Blatt, the nurse showed us the parent refreshment area. I knew from the looks of that little room that difficult things must happen there. Arranged on the countertop, we saw a super-nice coffee machine, every soda imaginable, and every juice under the sun. A parent lounge that nice can only mean one thing: parents are also in pain here. These refreshments were a small comfort, a dollop of balm on an open wound.
In addition to my heart feeling pulled apart, as if it was the rope in a tug-of-war game, I noticed a lump in my throat was growing. It felt like it was the size of a golf ball. Even as I write this, I want to put my hand over my heart. I can still feel the fear, the worry, the heartbreak, and the heaviness.
When Dr. Blatt walked into the room, I immediately noticed the hope that seemed to shine out of her face. It was a welcome relief from the internal struggle I was having. Right away she said, “It appears they got clean margins on the cancer. It was stage I, and at this time Oliver doesn’t need chemo or radiation.” I felt relief wash over me. The lump in my throat slowly dissolved. I wouldn’t have to see Oliver without his hair, at least for now.
But within seconds of telling us the good news, she asked us, “How are you doing?” as she gestured toward my husband Andrew and I. We looked at each other and mumbled something… like, “Okay, relieved, still a bit worried, just a bundle of emotions.” And she followed up with a question I haven’t been asked by a doctor. At least not this point-blank. She leaned in and asked, “How do you two plan to take care of yourselves? Even without chemo or radiation, you have some really hard days ahead.”
The pediatric oncologist knows self-care isn’t selfish; it’s strategic.
She went on to explain that us being healthy, grounded, and calm would help Oliver heal from his surgery and the myriad of other concurrent health issues.
Kids heal faster if they have healthy parents.
Self-care is strategic and necessary — so much so that someone’s life could depend on it.
Dr. Blatt was pleased to hear we already had a counselor and that we both took our mental health seriously. We told her about the massive support system we’d built over the years through our church, our small group, our Lanier Property Group team, and the Wilmington community. We told her we were already all about self-care. She said we were so much further along than most parents she met, but that is also because we came into the cancer world with eight years of medical experience already.
I don’t want you to miss the point. Making time for self-care was the first thing she wanted to tell us, right after the good news. There was an urgency in her asking, a sincerity, that has always stuck with us.
With Oliver, we are never out of the woods due to all his medical issues, but we are incredibly grateful we caught his cancer early! I know so many families who weren’t that lucky.
For all of us, when we are taking care of ourselves, so many other things fall into place. We have to get the foundation right before we can start building.
If you need a self-care strategy, we’re here for you. If you want to know the principles and practices of self-care, then you are in the right place. We even made a COVID-19 edition of our guide to practicing self-care.
Be as strategic about your self-care as you are about your marketing plans. Spend as much time on self-care practices as you do on Instagram promoting your products. Be as methodical with your self-care as you are in your hiring.
Practicing self-care feels a lot like this quote. It may take you fifty times to really find sustainable practices, but it is worth it. Freedom to grow and move in your life is on the other side of being a self-care pro.