– By Maggie Kirkpatrick, LIVESTRONG Emotional Support Counselor
When I meet someone for the first time and they ask me what I do for a living, the conversation often comes to an awkward halt once I tell them I am a social worker. If that doesn’t do the trick, my elaboration that I specialize in working with individuals affected by cancer does it.
I don’t often tell people why I have chosen the work that I do. The emotional well-being of people affected by cancer is near to my heart. My amazing mother is a 16-year breast cancer survivor. Although the days of her mastectomy, recovery and treatment are far behind us, one memory I have of that time will always stay with me. In the midst of chemotherapy, my mother would set aside time almost every day to dance around her room, listening to any song that would energize her, but specifically “I’ve Got to Use My Imagination” by Gladys Knight and the Pips. I can still see her, bald headed, kicking up her legs, flailing her arms in the air and belting out the lyrics:
My mom, never being at a loss for words (she is also famous for knowing a song for every occasion, but that’s for a different blog), called this ritual “The Endo-March” as she believed it would increase the flow of endorphins in her brain, thus improving her mood during such an uncertain time.
The emotional side of cancer is often overlooked. Patients and loved ones become thrown into a situation in which they have no control. Keeping track of appointments, medications and finances is so overwhelming that one’s emotional health gets pushed to the side. At LIVESTRONG, I have an opportunity to present our clients with a safe space to focus on their emotional health. Through the resource-locating and short-term counseling services we provide, we help our clients learn new coping skills, get them connected with other survivors in their community and give them a chance to process the changes that are occurring on a seemingly daily basis. Reaching out for support is a difficult first step, but the ear on the other end of the phone line is there to listen.
Cancer is scary to talk about. Emotions are scary to talk about. I get it. And that’s why I am never offended by the responses I get when I tell people what I do. But that’s also why I am consistently blown away by the courage and strength of our clients. I look at the work my clients and I do together as our own personal “Endo-March,” gently encouraging each other to “keep on keepin’ on.”