Coming out of the Closet…

So, when I went to school a gazillion years ago, we were trained to be the “tabla rasa” or “the blank slate”.  The idea is that clients should know little to nothing about their therapists.   The reasoning behind this, at least to the best of my understanding, is that we don’t want the clients to know things about us that would change how they feel about us or interfere with our ability to work with one another.  We keep our private lives separate and hidden so as to maintain the “power differential” which is part of why the therapeutic process works.  I tell you the SAME STUFF that your friends and family likely tell you, but because it’s coming from me, you listen a little bit differently.  So we as therapists are expected to maintain this weird veil of secrecy about who we really are.  

It’s so pervasive that one time I was even told by a supervisor that was co-leading groups with me that I “give too much” to my clients.  My response was that they are telling me their innermost secrets and that I feel like giving some of myself back to them is the right thing to do.  He said, “You give them your time.  That’s enough.”  And while I adore this supervisor to pieces, that never really sat well with me.  

Now, the one place that this lack of transparency is not expected is in substance use.  In substance use, it is widely accepted and maybe even encouraged that clinicians share their own stories of recovery, whether it was themselves or a loved one.  It is believed that people on a recovery journey tend to join better with the therapist when the therapist “has been there.”

So I’ve been a therapist for a pretty long time.  And I’ve kept most of my personal life private.  I even refuse to go to restaurants or stores that I know my clients work at.  And I live in RI, which is super tiny, so it can actually feel kind of limiting.

Ok, so now you’re probably wondering what my point is here, as it may seem like I’m rambling.  But I promise the point of all of this is coming.

I’ve worked with many of you in person for quite some time.  You’ve seen me change offices.  Many of you know what kind of car I drive.  You know about my dogs (because…duh, they’re DOGS).  And some even know very high-level details about my children, especially since you’ve been with me during a number of my pregnancies.

But in 2019, there were some different changes.  I stopped coloring my hair which might have started to look a bit thinner than it used to.  I lost a bunch of weight.  And I started keeping more unusual office hours.  I then quickly gained a ton of weight.  And I probably looked a little more tired and run down than you were used to seeing me.  My energy may have even felt off a bit.  Then I started being out of work for extended periods of time…WEEKS to “care for a sick family member”.  And if you know me, missing work is just not me.  But I just kept playing it off like it wasn’t a big deal and most certainly wasn’t about me.

I would of course tell you that I was fine when you asked and that I was just a little tired because I didn’t want you to worry.  This was YOUR time and I was YOUR person and the last thing I wanted to do was to create excess anxiety, stress, concern, or doubt about my capacity to do my job effectively.

So I stayed in the closet…from June of 2019 until now.  And today I’m coming out.

On Mon June 3, 2019 I had my first colonoscopy after experiencing some suspicious symptoms for a number of weeks. I was told, that day, in the recovery room FILLED with patients only separated by hanging curtains, that I had rectal cancer. I was contacted by the surgeon the next day and was in his office the day after that. The pathology confirmed the preliminary diagnosis and I was officially diagnosed with Stage III Rectal Cancer on June 7, 2019. And so my family’s journey through rectal cancer began…

I was told that I had the “most straightforward rectal cancer” possible, and I had a nationally recognized team of treatment providers.  I was in very, very competent and compassionate hands.  I was very young for this type of cancer, I was otherwise healthy, and so everyone had nothing but confidence moving into my treatment.

The treatment protocol for my type of cancer consists of eight cycles of chemotherapy, followed by radiation, followed by surgery.

I started chemo in the middle of July 2019 and ended in the middle of October.  I then had radiation right before Thanksgiving and then surgery at the end of January 2020.  And while my case was “straight forward” my sensitivity to medications and other things necessary for treatment was not, which resulted in weeks and weeks of problems.  But I’ll get into all of that later.

Now, I had LOTS of people tell me I should take it easy, maybe stop working.  But I’m kind of goal oriented (this is probably pretty funny if you know me…) and the idea of having to shut down my practice, the practice I worked so hard to build, the practice full of clients that, I’m just gonna say it, that I love dearly was simply something that I was NOT going to do.  Along with my family, you guys, my clients, my people, are what kept me going and kept me motivated.  You guys allowed me to feel normal, to feel like me, and to feel like I was living my mission of service.  I simply can’t imagine not having each and every one of you in my life.  And as I said to one client, “you all are doing me as much good as I’m hopefully doing for you.”

But it’s been close to two years of being in this closet.  And I’m tired.  It’s hot.  It’s stuffy.  And it smells like the chemo floor.  And I have decided that the best way for me to be of the most service to you, the best way for me to teach everyone that will listen how to mine their light and live in a place of positivity and love is to start sharing my story.  And while it will begin with my story of cancer, it won’t stop there.  Because I’ve had a bunch of weird and unusual circumstances that many of you might actually find helpful.  

See, all of these personal stories, all of these things that are supposed to be a secret from my clients, are what shaped me.  And, to be frank, they are what make me a good therapist.  Because I get it.  Well, I get at least most of what I’ve encountered on the paths I walk with you guys.

So today, in the final days of February 2021, in honor of ColoRectal Cancer Awareness month (which is March), I step out of the cancer closet, waving my blue ribbon high, high, high above my head.  Yes, I had ass cancer.  And yes, poop emojis were totally a thing and probably always will be.  

Over the next 15 weeks, I am going to share with you my cancer journey, piece by piece.  You’ll hear about getting diagnosed.  You’ll hear about my work with a shaman using native American medicines to help correct the problem.  You’ll hear about all of my treatment.  You’ll learn why I was out of work for weeks and weeks throughout 2020.  You’ll learn what that “abscess” was really all about.  And I will answer any cancer questions that you have.

Then, after this chronicle has been completed, I will dive into the next fun adventure.  I have a number to pick from but will keep you hanging as to what they are.

So that’s my story for today.  I hope that it will help some of you in some way.  And if nothing else, it will encourage you to get your colonoscopy as early as you possibly can.  Because, that my friends, is the best way to detect a problem like this.

So keep mining your light and keep moving through the world on the wave of love that lives inside of each of us.