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How Can I Help You? (Your Advice Needed!)

givingflowerBefore I get started with this week’s topic, I want to share a quick note about my last two posts.

Cancer has been one hell of a forced life-lesson, both as I witness my own progression through an unexpected and unwanted detour and as I pay attention to the reactions others have to me. While I know the comments and emails I get are only a fraction of the responses people have to my writing (my writing, of course, presenting only a sliver of my experience), it seems like most people are along for the ride.

I can’t help but notice that each time the tone of my writing shifts, though — reflecting, honestly, the changes in my well-being and perspective, while most appreciate the sincerity, there are those few who don’t want to let go.

When I expressed excitement at having gone into remission so quickly, a few felt compelled to tell me I shouldn’t be so happy because I could still die (Really? Thanks, buddy). When, after my remission, the shitty reality of having years more of chemotherapy caught up with me, people were there to tell me to “stay positive,” “buck up,” and “stop being a downer” (one person said I should “be more like Kris Carr,” a writer and cancer celebrity I admire, but one who has a slow-growing cancer and whose version of treatment involves vegan eating and juice cleanses).

When, in my last few posts, sass replaced sadness and submissive gratitude, I was prepared to get at least some criticism for it, although I figured if I gave a voice to others who’ve had similar experiences and communicated honestly my observations about people and human nature, I’d at least be putting something important into the world. (Plus, what a waste to try to please everyone? Whatever you do, especially if it’s public, there will always be people saying you’re wrong).

I was surprised and encouraged, though, to see almost no one seemed to misunderstand what I was saying (and only one felt compelled to tell me, in a rambling, 1000+ word email, that I’m a self-absorbed asshole), and instead of responding critically or defensively, so many people reflected thoughtfully if they could perhaps learn to be more supportive of others in crisis.

I would be crushed to think, though, that people who so kindly reached out to me might be sitting in front of their computers, worried I’m implying they said the wrong things or didn’t do enough. It’s important you know I’ve been far, far more heartened by the generosity and selflessness I’ve witnessed than I have been disappointed by the few who’ve let me down. Even when I’m feelin’ sassy, the good intentions of others carry much more weight in my mind than any missteps in execution do.

There is no absolute “right” or “wrong” way to go about these sorts of things, and the best we can do is try to be as aware and evolved as we can, matching good intentions with right actions.

Let’s put it this way — if you’re the type of person considerate enough to worry if you did something wrong, you probably didn’t. And even if you did, you’re human just like the rest of us. We become wise from experience, and nothing promotes consciousness more than making mistakes, especially when your heart is open enough to learn from them. All is forgiven.

Enough of that. Onto new things…

Before I was diagnosed with cancer, I had big plans for turning this blog not only into a helpful resource for promoting a more holistic and integrative view of psychiatry, but for using it to transform my private practice into a productive business that would allow me to reach an ever greater number of people (through writing books, offering telepsychiatry and coaching services, ebooks and courses, etc.). When I got sick, these projects were sidelined, along with the rest of my career.

One of the numerous things cancer has stolen from me has been the meaning and purpose I get from my work. Realistically, it’s going to be almost a year or more before I’ll be able to return to working with patients full-time.

As I’ve started feeling better in the last few weeks, though, I’ve thought about using my training and experience to create some sort of resource that gives more in-depth information and teachings than my more narrative-style blog posts do.

Some faithful readers have offered to give me monetary donations, which I so appreciate, but I would much prefer providing something of value in exchange for any money I get. As I’ve drawn in more amazing readers, the costs of maintaining the blog, between hosting and the email service I use to send my newsletter, have become much more expensive.

To help offset these costs, and, more importantly, to give me a chance to reclaim some of my identity by creating something valuable and meaningful, I’m thinking of building a simple product to offer. Think an ebook, webinar, serious of videos, etc.

My questions to you:

  1. Were I to create such a thing, might you be interested?
  2. If so, is there a particular topic you’d like me to cover? Perhaps more details about my experience with cancer, or the tools I’ve used in coping with my diagnosis, or teachings on integrating mindfulness or meditation into your daily life (including weekly exercises and guided meditations — I’ve been told by my Uber drivers I have a very soothing voice, at least when it comes to giving directions), or more in-depth information on any of the topics I’ve written about within the realm or psychiatry or integrative psychiatry…?
  3. Do you have a medium for receiving this information you’d prefer? PDF ebook? Video or audio? Email course that drips out new lessons weekly? Live webinar were you could interact with me and ask questions?

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments! I will read through all the responses and then, next week, consolidate them into a brief survey and use the results to finalize the project I’ll start working on. My goal would be to have a final product available in about a month (before I start my five-day-a-week chemo cycle and likely descend back into being a pathetic couch slug, at least for the time being).

I want to emphasize that no one should, at any time, feel obligated to purchase anything I offer for sale. I plan to continue writing blog posts as often as possible, as they have been as cathartic for me to share as I hope helpful for you to read.

If you enjoy what I say and would like to hear more of it, though, this would be a great way to fulfill your appetite and support me at the same time.

Now get those typing fingers ready and give me some feedback — hit “reply” if reading in email, go to my contact page, or let me know your thoughts in the comments!

***

Photo by Alan L 

Comments

  1. 1. Interested? Let’s explore, your blog posts almost describe every emotion I felt and still experience after my own cancer journey that changed everything about my entire life/world/being….um, yeah, I would have to say I would be interested ;)

    2. This is a bit of a difficult one to answer…perhaps you could somehow incorporate how a person who has experienced a life altering illness, such as cancer…which btw forces upon an individual to contemplate their own mortality and I think sometimes cancer survivors go through this stage of exploration and searching for some type of reason or purpose in their lives…sometimes change is a good thing!

    3. Personally speaking the live webinar sounds like a good platform, but so does having weekly meetings/homework…

    Hope this was helpful somewhat…
    Your blogs really inspire me and when I read ur words I feel like someone finally gets it from where I stand! <3 :)

  2. Hi Elana,
    First, since I ‘met’ you online – Twitter, (can’t remember how), each night as I say a prayer to my God, I have said your name out loud, along with the others on my list. I love your name and I do think God must also seeing as your days have been more interactive lately.

    To answer your question, here are my thoughts, coming from my own experiences as a cancer survivor, a retired former Critical Care RN and holistic minded individual who puts great value on my mental, physical and spiritual health.

    In Canada, over the past few years, there has been a lot of increasing awareness about the stigma of mental illness. (I’m considering your eventual speciality in medicine here) Our Canadian Mental Health Association, the TEMA Trust Association for PTSD among military & front line professionals are both doing much to educate and support both someone diagnosed and the family, co-workers and friends. Where I live there is a newly formed group for veterans with PTSD called British Columbia Peer Support which has already developed a 10 wk program and on-going support. It’s really marvellous to see how with the increasing awareness, the stigma against those with any mental illness can be decreased in our society.

    What you propose to do is fantastic if: you can include the concept of the stigma against various aspect of a mental illness. What Psychiatrists often don’t see are the hours, days, months & years which can pass before someone comes forward to ask for help, or the family intervene, or the person who is ill ends up in hospital or attempts to end their life. This struggle to be able to accept the reality of an illness of the brain is part of the stigma which in some societies, cultures can be a very detrimental factor.

    Your eventual intervention is after that struggle takes place, but perhaps you can offer the concept of this true paradox of a person really needing help, hiding their illness and thus actually becoming more debilitated in some cases. If there was true acceptance of brain illness, (I wish this term was used instead of the word ‘mental’ as often mental is equated with intelligence. We know folks with BiPolar or Schizophrenia, or even Multiple Personality Disorder can often be highly intelligent and with good management continue to live productive, high functioning lives contributing in various ways in their area of expertise. Try watching the new TV show, Perception, to fully see this as an example even though this show is fiction drama.

    The other concept which is worth considering is the one where someone is very ‘open’ about having a ‘brain’ disorder, having treatment and yet will often find others treat them as soon as they are aware of this situation, as never being the ‘same’ person or being ‘less than’ in their lives. Often the person will lose family members, friends, even spouse and sometimes their job. It’s tragic after an individual spend the emotional energy in counselling, being compliant with medication if required, doing their own life style adjustments and trying to live their best life, they find the stigma continues even if they are well again.

    I find this concept, which so often is true, very much the norm rather than where there is total acceptance and confidence that the person who was diagnosed with ‘brain’ disorder can be perhaps even ‘more’ than they were previously. What a paradox.

    I speak up often about this subject if the opportunity arises. Recently, TEMA Trust has carried out a Cross Canada Tour from coast to coast and are almost finished a four month traverse across the country. I attended the 2 hour event in Vancouver four weeks ago, listening to two individuals who were front line responders speak frankly about their experience with PTSD, finally realizing the problem (the Executive Director wasn’t diagnosed for 12 years after trauma as a probationary para-medic) and getting the right treatment. Two Psychologists spoke also with many very important facts. The audience was comprised of veterans, police, paramedics, fire-fighters, nurses, occupational therapist, corrections officers, doctors, physiotherapists. Such a long list of interested individuals, some of whom may have PTSD also. No one was asked to identify self in the auditorium other than by profession. It was so very interesting to be a part of this event. I came away with so many new thoughts about the entire topic.

    If your new project could/would consider my comments and could incorporate them into your own purpose, perhaps you’d be able to indirectly be encouraging for any individual who is thinking they may need treatment but are reluctant to come forward, or have had treatment and are not expecting any stigma one well again.

    It’s all very multi-tiered and complex. I hope my comments are helpful.

    You will continue to be on my ‘God’s list’ at near midnight each night. My thoughts are for your well being to be wherever you are at now, but also for your spiritual being to be your inner strength. I think of you most fondly when I pray and perhaps it means angels surround you as you sleep. It’s a comforting image, don’t you think?

    Well, it’s just near midnight, almost time for my prayers.

    Bless you for your presence in my life, in other’s lives. Your journey, your path is going to be more meaningful as the months pass.

    I send you blessings and love,

    And a gentle hug also.

    Wendy (@perfectrose2011 – the orange cat on Twitter)
    Vancouver, B.C.
    PS I worked for 34 years happily as a nurse, always felt so privileged to be able to care for my patients.

  3. Hi Elana & I would like an e-book or e-mail type book or newsletter, as I live on a farm in the middle of nowhere Missouri & have no downloading speed or streaming , but a webinar sounds interesting, I wish you were taking new patients tho , cuz we have no psychiatrist with in 200 mikes or so…I feel like I could use some help w/ my PTSD from when my son had A.L.L. years ago, he is fine now…Thank G-D. <3 Sending U Love & Big Warm ((((HUGS))))

  4. Elana-no real answers, just a note to say i will continue to follow you on this journey, because people like you lead revolutions. Just keep keeping on. Lots of love and peace to you. JW

  5. Dear Survivor, as a caregiver to an Esophageal Cancer Patient I greatly appreciated your posts. My husband is not only fighting for his life, but he’s suffering from Clincial Anxiety and Depression. We have seen Psychologists, Psychiatrists and Social Workers. He’s on not only taking the chemo meds, he takes sleep aids, anti depressants, anti anxiety, anti nauseous meds and the list goes on (as I’m sure you can relate too). I would love for you to set up a one on one Skype session with my husband. I personally feel your energies and know he would benefit from your good vibes. Is this something you may consider? I am depersate for him to accept his cancer and live and love whatever life he has remaining.
    Ruth

    • Ruth,

      I can’t help but be moved by your comment and irrespective of what Elena might be able to offer, did want to mention that it might be worth seeing if there’s a Palliative Care service at the center your husband is receiving treatments – - they may be offer some thoughts on ways to address and relieve what sounds to me like great suffering. It does NOT mean he would have to chose less aggressive medical treatments – it simply adds a team of specialists that focus on a wide range of symptoms alongside his oncology team’s plan — they (palliative care team) have special training in symptom management, spiritual exploration, advanced care planning with his and your values clarified, addressing existential suffering he might be experiencing (ie: opportunities for dignity/legacy therapy), etc. Just an idea and meant only to “put it out there” – - as I know about the situation only what you posted. I just heard your “desperation” and wanted to make sure you knew of the resource. Even if your husband wasn’t interested, the team can work with you. (Palliative Care is not the same thing as hospice, just to reiterate).

  6. HI again Elana & Here is a get rich quick scheme…sell advertising on your webpage, & get like 10 cents a click & you would be in $ no tyme with as many hits as you get daily…:-)

  7. Marlene B. says:

    Hi Elana~

    First, I’m a “visual” person, so videos and webinars would be an amazing resource.

    Second, I’d like to comment on your post “How to Help Someone With Cancer”.

    Both of my parents passed much too young from cancer. Two out of three of my siblings have fought a cancer battle, and I was diagnosed last Fall with cancer. For all that I have dealt with, personally, in this cancer journey, and for all that I have learned in the process, I was still able to gain something important from your honest words.

    I have a dear friend fighting a stage 4 cancer who, just recently, poured her heart to me in an email- all the ugly, sad, difficult moments of her day. Despite all that I have been through, I still felt a need to say something profound to her. She sounded so desperate that I wanted to tell her it was all going to be ok- she was going to get through it- I’d do anything for her. Then I reread your post and I was able to reaffirm that I needn’t make her promises I couldn’t keep. I didn’t have to jump through hoops for her. I just simply needed to let her know I am here. So, I said “cancer’s a bitch, it sucks and I love you”.

    Thank you. Even an old, seasoned cancer fighter and survivor needs to hear honest emotion every so often to keep it real!

    Please, whatever you decide to do, just keep putting it out there. It’s important and it matters.

  8. Elana, I’m very interested in a simple product from you, and all the content ideas you mention are appealing. One topic that I’m especially interested in is that of cancer, cancer treatment, and body image. At age 64, I write about aging and caregiving, and I want to discover ways to talk about the changes in my body as I grow older that convey something of the sensory vividness of the experience, while at the same time maintaining a feeling of respect, love, and tenderness for myself as an embodied person. I’d be happy with any medium you care to use.

  9. Christina says:

    Hi Elana,

    I have not been personally affected by cancer but I just wanted to say that I love your writing, honesty, and passion for mental health and well being!

    I would love to see more blog posts on your experience with cancer. In addition, how about something on resiliency?

  10. Rosemary Zimmerman, DC, DACBSP says:

    Hi Elana, You are a very gifted writer and I feel grateful for the opportunity to share your intimate personal and very honest experiences confronting you on a day to day basis, Your posts have been very helpful to me in exploring my own truth. They have also helped me affirm the positive in my life and to let go of the negative. I am less tolerant of people who lack integrity and manipulate others often through verbal abuse, banishing them from my life. By making healthier choices rather than accepting what is familiar and very dysfunctional I am leading a happier and more fulfilled life. You have been a role model and guide. I would encourage more dialog addressing these specific topics. The webinar format would expand the opportunity for more in depth interaction through another mode of communication. I welcome that experience.

  11. Hi, yes I would be interested. I have followed your posts faithfully and will continue to do so. I like the idea of an ebook, the video and audio. I also like your meditation ideas. I do subscribe, email wise, to another woman, Danielle LaPorte, and she bombards me with emails. Emails everyday drive me a little crazy. Just a suggestion. Anyway, I am so happy you are doing a bit better! I am interested in one topic which is why are so many people mentally ill in this country that they have to go shoot young people in colleges. I realize it may not be what you want to write about. It’s been on my mind a lot lately. Whatever you decide to do I’m interested. With gratitude,

    EMark

  12. Hi Elana,

    It’s exciting to hear your wheels turning!

    1) I absolutely would be interested.

    2) Topics: Overcoming fear and anxiety. Just yesterday I asked my oncologist, who has had cancer before, what I’m supposed to do now that it looks like my treatment is about to draw to a close. It’s as if I’m looking back on the last seven months and saying “What the hell was THAT, and what do I do now?” She said that for her the hardest part was after her treatment was finished. For years, every time she would get a weird little pain in her body, she would panic with “Oh no! It’s back!” I’d love a toolbox of fear and anxiety fighters. If I could chant all the time, that would probably work and unfortunately, as far as I can tell, the more difficult parts of life require my whole attention, which often raises my anxiety and results in my running from the room screaming so I don’t have to deal with it. Certainly Cancer has been one wicked classroom.

    3) Any mode of delivery. Releasing your wisdom in multiple formats makes sense in order to allow accessibility to more people, maybe even consider a by donation- based fee (you could suggest a dollar amount), so a dollar amount won’t stop someone who doesn’t think they can afford it from benefitting. For me, I tend to glean more value from information when I have to DO something or respond to something, so, guided audio and video practices, a weekly assignment challenging/supporting people to a particular way of being, thinking or doing for the week.

    My Husband and I are musicians and we lead Sanskrit chanting and write our own chants ( I’d love for that to be my full-time job!). If you start to consider music for intros and outros to audio and video or musical support (with fitting themes) to use behind meditations, etc, I’d like to volunteer that to you. I have a lot of time on my hands right now so it would be easy to make that happen quickly if you choose. I will get to do something I love, while getting to serve your mission in the process. It doesn’t get much better than that and it’s a great path to service!

  13. Jennifer says:

    Hi Elana, You are amazing! I definitely wasn’t able to think about others’ needs while I was in the throes of chemo. I would love to hear more about your day-to-day experience with cancer and chemo, and any mindfulness techniques you use. I’ve had lymphoma for 12 years now, and I am exhausted. I think the live webinar would be great if you’re up for it. Email would also be great. I just hope that you also take the time that you need to rest, recover, and heal. Sending lots of love and healing wishes. Jen

  14. Marianne G. says:

    While reading your last two posts, I was wishing I would have had them to read when my friend was going through cancer. I never would have thought that in that short period of time, my husband would receive a cancer diagnosis. While this is terrifyingly new for us, I am grateful to have found your blog to garner some insight from. Thank you.

  15. Whatever you decide to do, I will advertise it on my website so our readers can know about this resource that you are creating. Over-all our website gets about half a million visits a month.

  16. Hi there! Geeze I guess when you open yourself up to so many people you are bound to get some negatives. I am so glad you are feeling well enough to do more even though you are not able to get back into your practice. Although not one of your options, I really enjoy listening to podcasts when I run or work outside. I am not sure how profitable this ends up being and will be honest and say I have a few favorites but have not donated monetarily yet although many have web sites links where if you order through Amazon and such a portion of that goes to the podcast host and I have tried to help out through end. I do quite a bit of reading online (try to use all the social media/technology for my betterment) but i know Elephant Journal ( May have found you there, who knows?http://www.elephantjournal.com/write/) offers opportunities to write and get paid depending on the number of read posts) I also read article on http://themanifeststation.net/ but again not sure if I found you there and I don’t think they pay for content but a great way to get yourself out there for the type of genre I guess you are planning. Not sure if any of this feed back helps but I wish you happiness and continued health!

  17. Linda Kinnaman says:

    Hi Elana, I have been following your blog post since right before you were diagnosed with cancer. There were times I couldn’t read your posts due to it being too close to home for me. See, I’ve had Stage 4 metastatic malignant melanoma and am just now coming out of the post treatment haze I’ve been in since January 21, 2013, the day of my last treatment. I am generally a very calm person, level headed, think things through and often was complimented on my ability to stay calm in a crisis. However, since I’ve had cancer, I have also had debilitating anxiety. I have started to do a type of water Chi gong, with slow movements and meditative properties with deep breathing. This has changed my life completely! The anxiety has lessened to the point that I can now get out of the house, care for my young children and resume friendships, the ones that stuck around, anyway.

    I would love to see a series of videos or audios on anxiety, PTSD, and/or depression. This may seem selfish, but I have found that many people suffer from anxiety, panic disorders, PTSD and depression. Thank you!

  18. Hi Elana,
    My name is Amitha. I have been following your blog since January. I am also from Los Angeles and am a pediatrics resident but will be switching to psychiatry in two short days!! I would love to know how you think your training in psychiatry has helped you cope with your illness and vice versa…how your illness has changed your view of the field and the work that you intend to do. I cannot say that I can totally understand what you are going through but I did work with a lot of leukemia patients prior to medical school and in my pediatrics training and would love/purchase a product that discusses such important ideas.

  19. Hi Elena,
    Simply put I would support anything you choose to do because I feel you have much to offer in many areas. I have read through your blog posts before you were diagnosed with cancer and I have gained a lot of insight from them. Notably your posts on relationships, break ups etc. In fact I read one of your posts to my 22 yr. old son who was going through his first break up and we both found it really helpful. In fact he recently said to me “hey mom, you know that blog post you read to me from that young psychiatrist? Well everything she said turned out to be true.” And many of your other posts and observations were so dead on or very funny or both!!! So whether you choose to write or speak about your cancer journey or about other subjects which speak to you, I for one will be more than willing to support you.
    k

  20. Yes. Count me in. You inspire me. You inspire many others. If what you create provides a way to support yourself, I say do it!! A lot of us out here love you.

  21. I have been here since day one and would choose podcast as a way to be even more connected.
    love you.
    jaye

  22. Barbara Snow says:

    Hi Elana,
    Your writing is wonderful so an eBook is certainly a possibility. But you are so photogenic (even in the midst of your chemo treatments) I think webinar or video is a perfect medium for you. One area that seems as though it could benefit from the reflections of a medically trained person experiencing cancer would be corporations and big businesses. I think you could offer human resource policy makers insight into the experiences of a working person trying to cope with cancer and fearing that they may lose their job (and probably their health care). Are there some things that companies could/should be aware of and sensitive to? Are there little things that could make a difference in the lives of the employee experiencing cancer? Little things are more likely to be implemented faster. Just some thoughts. Whatever you decide, it’s been a privilege and incredible learning experience to read about your journey. Thank you again for sharing.
    Barb in Minnesota

  23. I would be interested.

    I think something that anyone could relate to:
    - how to handle life stresses and unexpected issues (could be illness, death etc)
    - anxiety treatments
    - meditation

  24. As a person generally feeling a scarcity of time, and fear secondary to that – ie angst/existential strain (or fear of finances for taking care of myself and my family should we get more time than savings account accounted for) i would LOVE a CD that I could listen to which would concentrate on, not rose coloured glasses optimism, but some of the touchstones and truths you so eloquently state in your blog (the last paragraph of this blog before you wrote of the project, for example) that i could have at the ready in the car to help center me when i can’t quite get there on my own – or to use to take me further than i can get on my own, alone. Especially knowing some of your journey, the value and connection i would feel with the sentiment would be even greater.

    But only if the project is fun for you – and not a burden.
    (and I would hope a ukalele song would be on there)

    • sorry for misspelling ukulele. as my mom said about me to my teacher in 3rd grade, “she’s very creative, especially in spelling”.

      I still think of that resident who never returned your pen and hope that there’s some universal karmic thing happening about that. Just to share – We had a manager send the whole clinic an email about how doctors were hoarding the pens and I have to say it wasn’t taken very well, however, huge numbers of pens did find their way back up to the central desk. The irony was this all occurred AFTER electronic medical records were instituted and our entire visit/charting was all paperless. Hahaha. The docs, passive aggressively for sure, started forwarding the email with original Haikus about pens. It went on for some time. I memorialized my Bic 4-color clicker pen in mine. :-)

  25. I stopped in to check on you. I was worried about you after your May post, with the very true devastating, despair picture which i stand in solidarity with you, and wept with you at the sight of it.

    I am happy to read you have energy and you are preparing to educate and connect with people.

    Good job, xo.

  26. PDFs and videos. Skype w patients also sounds like a good idea.

  27. Alexandra says:

    I found myself very reactive as I read there are people out there actually getting angry at you for how you are dealing with your health challenges, and actually telling you to be more like Kris Carr? Really? She has a TOTAL different set of cancer circumstances, first and foremost, and does this person so freely dispensing cancer advice actually have cancer??? Do they have any idea what you are going through? Noone knows how they will respond to something until they are in it, and noone can be in another’s shoes. The lack of empathy is so disturbing and startling to me. Kris Carr is wonderful, but so are you. Do whatever feels right and true to you right now, and I wish you reprieve and sanctuary from your suffering whenever it is at all possible. Saying prayers for you.

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