CANCER, FEAR & CHOOSING TO SKIP THE SMALL TALK
By Sarah Lehberger
It was four years ago now, when I heard the words that I needed to hear. The words that no one ever longs to hear, and yet they were the beginning of my recent awakening and transformation. He said, “you have a small tumor in your breast and a nodule on your thyroid that we want to get a biopsy from”.
They took the biopsy, and I left soon after to pick up my daughter from school. Once I arrived, I saw my old neighbor, Jenn, at the playground area and we chatted quickly before the bell rang and they dismissed our kids from the school doors. I was worried that Jenn would see the (totally obvious) band-aid on my neck and ask what happened, but she didn’t. Looking back, I was grateful that I had dodged that conversation. I wasn’t really ready for that kind of vulnerability back then and discussing the “what-ifs” was something I wasn’t prepared for as a mom in my late 30’s.
Now, if I could go back in time, I’d skip the small talk with Jenn, and just dive right in and tell her about that stupid band-aid and my tests. Because maybe if I shared what was making me feel vulnerable or scared, it would have opened the door for Jenn to share what was going on in her life? Maybe she would have told me that she had breast cancer and I could have supported her or been there for her? Maybe neither of us would have felt so alone on that day or on our journey perhaps, and we could have comforted each other or shared our knowledge?
It got me thinking a LOT about small talk, and these polite or relatively unimportant discussions that we engage in. Why do we even do this? Why do we struggle with sharing more intimate, important or somewhat controversial topics? Is it because we are so afraid of being judged? Why do we think that people don’t want to hear what matters?
At this stage of my life, I couldn't care less about small talk. I don’t want to waste my time with pointless chatter. I want to have meaningful conversations that are often hard. I crave connections with people who aren’t afraid to be real, raw and vulnerable, because that’s how I’ll truly get to know you. I believe that who we are on the outside is far less interesting than who we are on the inside.
I reflect on that moment with Jenn often. I think it’s because it was the last time I saw her before I moved and before she passed away in her 40's (from what turned out to be a very aggressive form of breast cancer). I decided to write about Jenn and this experience, because I think we all have a “Jenn”. A neighbor, co-worker, colleague or acquaintance with whom we could be more open or vulnerable with. If we think about it, it’s an act of love and appreciation… for yourself and also for them. It’s hard to let our guard down sometimes, and yet by keeping that wall (or guard) up... we also ward off possible relationships and the opportunity for real connection on a deeper level (not just the surface level). By protecting ourselves (from feeling vulnerable or the fear of being judged) we also isolate and then prevent ourselves from being affected by others. And it goes even further than that. When we are so closed off, we miss out on the chance to know real love, support and understanding from the people who get us and accept us as we are. And aren’t we all worthy of this kind of love and acceptance in our lives?
Instead of having regrets or fearing the judgement of others, I decided to start choosing love and acceptance for myself. It hasn’t been easy, and it meant learning to love myself though all of my faults and imperfections. I intentionally shifted my perspective and now I approach life (and decisions) with this loving courage instead of fear. I think this is something that we are all capable of if we are willing to do the work (at home, in the office, or wherever we show up).
After Jenn passed away, I decided that I would start sharing more of my health journey with others. It wasn’t the same as hers (I didn’t have cancer after all) and yet I had so many other areas of my life that still felt vulnerable, painful and scary. I was so very fortunate to learn that my tumor and nodule were benign back then (although not without their complications). I had a choice to make and moving forward I could choose to hide and continue the small talk, or I could use what I’ve learned and continue to have these bold, meaningful and hard conversations that might serve someone else - no matter what the topic is.
We can all use these harsh life lessons and turn them into opportunities to become the person that we’ve always dreamed of being. Our growth and transformation doesn’t have to stop at 20, 40, 60 and so on. I’m taking this opportunity to educate myself and to explore my health, history, and future well-being. I made the choice to share what I’ve learned so that I can help empower others to thrive (in-person and also through the conversations on this website and all that we will be offering). A part of me feels like I owe this to Jenn and every other loved one who's life has been cut short, and I'm grateful that I have the time and opportunity to use my voice when they cannot.
Is there a harsh life lesson that you’ve learned and can share with our community? What gifts have you received from the lesson? How are you choosing to move forward and to help others on your journey? I look forward to hearing from you, and I hope you’ll stick around to learn more about my awakening to living a more holistic life (and all that it entails). I plan on sharing my resources and experiences with alternative healing, work-life experts, and more in the weeks ahead.
Sarah Lehberger is a co-founder of She Will Thrive, the movement to empower women to thrive. She's a wife and mother of two kids, one rescue pup and 8 chickens, who lives on the East Coast. Sarah specializes in photography that celebrates unstoppable women and their families. She believes in the impossible, and life has taught her that you should never say never.