After learning a few days ago that I’d managed to break a bone in my right foot, I decided to do something that’s relatively new to me in regard to personal health. I asked for help.
You’d think that someone who’d had brain cancer would realize the value of asking for assistance and not be shy in doing it. After all, I didn’t perform my surgery, or turn on the radiation machine, or design my chemotherapy protocol. But somewhere inside me has been this nagging resistance to reaching out to others, the source of which is a hydra with many heads. One of them tells me not to trouble people. Another is simply distrustful: only I will be sufficiently thorough, so it’s best I do everything myself. Yet another says that telling people I have a health problem will create a negative image of me in their minds. For years, that hydra was successful in convincing me to keep my mouth shut about a bunch of health issues. I’m convinced now that opening up to others would have been a much better policy.
When word came back from the doc on Orcas Island that one of the two sesamoids on my right foot was split in half, I decided to try on a new hat. I plopped myself in front of my computer and a telephone and started firing off emails and making calls to people who I thought could help me. First, I needed a skilled orthopedist. My normal approach would have been to spend hours online researching specialists, reading reviews by their patients, and seeing if they’d published anything. This time, I emailed a friend and fellow cancer survivor who works in a hospital and knows tons of good people, and separately I called the office of my doctor at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and left a message asking for a referral. Responses came in less than a half-hour, and both pointed me to doctors at the same medical facility in Manhattan. Second, I needed to figure out how I could continue exercising without causing any further injury to my foot. I wrote Jon Quinn, head of the Captain Quinn Boot Camp program I’ve been attending, to see if he could give me some ideas for how I might continue my fitness training. Within an hour Jon responded with a comprehensive set of recommendations for ongoing training that I could discuss with my orthopedist. (They’re really helpful, and I’m going to post them shortly on Ciao, Cancer!). Third, I felt the need for a little emotional support. After all, here I had made this commitment to fitness, and now I was going to have to put everything on hold, or at least change up my program. So I called a friend of mine and told him I was really frustrated. He listened as I got everything off my chest, and then proceeded with a pretty decent joke that managed to put a smile on my face.
It’s taken me a long time to realize that I’m not alone. Support has always been there, from family, friends, medical professionals, and survivors, but I’ve often kept it at arm’s length. I’m not sure what cracked that barrier for me. Memorial Sloan-Kettering’s exceptional social workers and the survivors who participated in their programs have played a part. I felt at home with the wonderful folks who came to the 2010 cancer summit organized by I’m Too Young For This. And the week I spent learning how to take on the rapids with fellow survivors at First Descents helped me understand the power of community.
Support, I can now see, is all around us. It’s our job to ask for it when we need it, and accept it when it’s offered.