By Jane O. Smith at Stage Your Comeback
If you were an executive human resources professional at a prestigious bank, newly diagnosed with breast and rectal cancer at the same time, how would your priorities change? What would take the place of your 20-year focus on customer service excellence and productivity? Added to the mix is a 24×7 role as a single mom with two teenage boys and oral and IV chemotherapy combined, for a full year of treatment. Can you imagine?
Kelly Mehler. a dedicated employee and loyal mother faced these realities a year ago. The pressures of her pre-cancer life shifted and her new normal ways of coping are indeed, remarkable. The gregarious red-headed woman is delighted to have hair again – although it’s dark and curly – a different version of the woman inside and perhaps much bolder, too.
There is value in knowing what’s working for her.
Because she works in a high stress job with Type A clients, it is natural for her to put them first. Now, after cancer, her children are front and center. “My top priority is to help them become happy and independent young adults.”
The next in line is her (which was rarely the case in the past). And the last in line is her job. “I am blessed to have work that is interesting and colleagues that care about my well-being. But what used to be most important, namely all of that, is now something that I give my best to when I feel up to it. They are understanding and I appreciate that, but I also believe that as I get stronger I will keep my boundaries intact and know what comes first and second, before my job.”
Kelly uses guided imagery to help her calm down. She uses breathing as a way to settle herself. She imagines how the oxygen she brings into her lungs clears the pathways to healing and renewal in every cell in her body.
She also practices gratitude when she’s feeling anxious. Instead of giving into uncertainty and overwhelm she focuses on her pleasures. The southern California sun, her garden of hummingbirds and butterflies, her faithful dog and healthy children are gifts that are right there for the taking and that bring her great joy.
Kelly’s weekly routine includes a visit with a trusted therapist. Aside from serving as a sounding board and someone with valuable insights, her therapist coaches her to reach farther in new and different ways that speak to her values and her energy levels.
Her devotion and empathy for her boys’ feelings and concerns drove her to find trauma therapists to help them, too. A journey with cancer involves the entire family and Kelly sees the power of getting help for children as soon as possible, because moms – especially when they’re patients – do not have all the answers!
Connecting with Other Patients
Women who are facing similar issues at the same time, can be each other’s best friends due to their honesty, i.e. “Yes, today really sucks.” Sometimes those who are nearest and dearest to us are preoccupied with our survival and their chiming in about “You will be okay” or “You are very strong and you will get through this” doesn’t help at the time.
“Those in the trenches, in the know because they’re going through it, too, are really clever, too,” Kelly says. People who she didn’t know before, often had the best common sense tips because they are in the same boat, struggling to solve the same kinds of issues.
Using Color and Sparkle
Kelly admits that she was never into high fashion, and that her work clothes, although professional, were never very bright. When cancer entered her vocabulary, she decided to seek out things that were festive and colorful. “It doesn’t matter to me anymore how people see me. If something gives me energy and sparkle, I’m in!”
Because she had a double mastectomy and more, she feels somewhat genderless. “I want to feel cute. I dress in ways that delight me!”
Good Things are Coming Down the Road
Kelly has many decisions ahead of her. She is resourceful, rational and reliable. She still has many restless nights and bouts of anxiety and grief, but every day opens doors to more walks with her dog and new adventures with her boys. “They won’t be young forever. And I am getting older, too. I really trust myself to do what needs to be done, for the most part.”
Every day Kelly puts one foot in front of the other, and steps out into the world. Sometimes it still takes huge effort and the gains aren’t always easy to see. Her kind and caring essence tell us that she will change many lives for the better, beginning with her children and herself.
“Whoever said the small things don’t matter has never seen a match start a wildfire.” (Beau Taplin) Through follow up appointments and a body that is healing, Kelly greets the day and cherishes simple pleasures. She lights the way for all of us.