Ditch New Year's Resolutions. Set Intentions Instead.

Source: Pixabay

Source: Pixabay

The hype with new beginnings

A new year marks a new beginning, a new you, a new future. Or so you hope. This is especially the case when last year was a disappointment. You make excuses for why things didn’t happen, both within and outside of your control. Now that 2017 is behind you, you dig your heels in and you vow that this year would be different.

Be disappointed, again

So, what did you promise yourself at the beginning of the year? Chances are, you would’ve already broken it. According to research out of the University of Scranton, only 8% of people achieve their New Year’s goals. The U.S. News also noted that approximately 80% of resolutions fail by the second week of February.  No worries, if you’re reading this blog when it was first posted, you have about another week.

Same old, same old

The thing is, why keep beating your head against the wall but in slightly different spots? This year you wanted to eat healthier. Last year you vowed to exercise more. The year before that you wanted to save more money to pay off debt. They are all noteworthy goals, but they are hard to sustain beyond the middle of February.

What to do instead

Set intentions. I don’t mean this in a wishy-washy kind of way. Oh, I intend to cut down on time spent on Pinterest, but there goes another three hours! Oh well… What I do mean is putting your best foot forward and being serious about why you’re wanting to achieve this goal. If you’re not responding to every notification, then what would you be doing instead? How would your life be different? Why would you want that life instead of the one you're currently living?

When you’ve figured out “why” you want to do something, then plan for “how” you’re going to get there.

Caution: The “how” could take 500 steps.

Change takes investment

We don’t tend to think about how much is at stake when we’re trying to make a new change in our lives. Going with our previous example, in order to spend less time on social media, your devices need to be less accessible. You’ll likely need replacement activities for those three hours. You’ll need to notice the urge to pick up your devices and redirect your attention. It’ll help to notice when you’re most vulnerable to doing your old habit and addressing those deeper issues:

“When I get tired or bored, I use social media to wake or pick me up.”

“I just got into an argument with my partner and I went online to get some validation.”

“I felt lonely and Facebook provided some sense of community. Well, kinda, sorta.”

If the above were true, you’ll probably need to catch some snooze, fill your life with other meaningful activities, work things out with your partner and be in good company. Unless those things happen, your devices will be an easy go-to.

Ditch New Year’s resolutions

Given the complexities involved in setting and meeting a goal, it helps to ditch the expectation-filled New Year’s resolutions and set intentions instead. After all, if you haven’t gotten around to meeting and sustaining gains last year, what makes a new year any different? And, New Year’s resolutions sound like they can only happen at the beginning of the year. If you’ve lost momentum by now, does that mean you have to wait until 2019 to make new goals because the rest of the year is a lost cause? That hardly sounds rational. Finally, New Year’s resolutions sound like you have either kept them or failed them, which can feel very rigid.

Setting intentions, on the other hand, is quite the opposite.

What intentions do for us

Setting intentions is about putting forth your best for that moment, that day, and choosing to be one step closer to living the life you want. It implies that you’re a fluid individual with good days and not-so-good days and your best can really vary depending on what happened. However, you’re kinder to yourself when you deviated from your goal and you’re cognizant of what detoured you. The next moment you have, be it on February 6th or September 17th, you get back on track and you keep going.

Setting intentions is not about succeeding or failing. It’s about separating your last moment from the moment you’re about to have. What would you want to do with the things you can control?

May your year be filled with intentions that become nourishing habits over time.


People Bloom Counseling Redmond Couples Cancer Ada Pang.png

Ada Pang is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice in WA. She helps unhappy couples find safety and connection in their relationship. She also helps cancer thrivers and their caregivers integrate cancer into their life stories. One of her intentions for 2018 is to be early or on time to things. Tracing her 500 steps, this goal involves engaging in meaningful activities during the day and getting enough sleep. She succeeds some moments and not others and will keep at it again and again.

The Recipe for Keeping Love Alive in 2018 – Part II

Brigitte Tohm/unsplash.com

Brigitte Tohm/unsplash.com

No one is perfect

In my last post, I wrote about recognizing your humanity being important for a close and vibrant relationship. You don’t have to be a perfect partner; rather, when (not if) moments of disconnection happen, come back and make up. You will strengthen your relationship when you speak to the impact you had on each other and how things could be different next time.

Today, I want to disclose another secret sauce for keeping your love alive. But before I do, let’s do an exercise together.

Memories of a safe person 

Close your eyes. Go on. I’m not going anywhere. Close your eyes and take in a couple of deep, cleansing breaths, in through the nose, out through the mouth. One more inhale; one more exhale.

Now imagine for a sec a very safe and comforting person in your life. This could be your granddad, an aunt, your mom, your dad, a friend, a coach, your partner, your child. This could be anybody. Bring up an image of this person in your mind. What is the warmest memory you have of this person? It’s okay if you need a moment to think through your interactions with this person.

How is this person being, or what are they doing or saying that makes you feel so safe and secure when you’re around them?

Once you have that memory, savor it for just a little longer. It’s okay to hang out there for moment; we’re in no hurry… Know that you can always come back to this place to capture this moment. Now take one more slow, cleansing breath through your nose and breath out through your mouth. When you feel ready, open your eyes.

I’m still here.

The average response

Often when I do this exercise, these are examples of responses I’d get back:

“I remember my mom tucking me in.”

“My cousin washed my car on our wedding day.”

“To this day, my granddad would walk all the way across the room to give me a hug.”

“My sister dropped off a latté at my work.”

“My wife left the porch light on when I was coming home late.”

“My son decorated my office with, “I love my mom.’’’

“My friend left me balloons at my door.”

“My dad cracked jokes when he dropped me off at school.”

“My nanna picked me up and we’d go for ice cream.”

“My husband and I would rub each others’ backs and hold hands until we fall asleep.”

And the list goes on.

Say, if I were to ask kids the same question, they might tell me stories of Christmas presents, a Disneyland vacation or a birthday party. From the mouths of adults, however, very seldom do I hear about the exotic getaways, the proposal, or the helicopter ride. No extravagance, no fanfare.

When I say the average response, I do mean you’re more likely to remember what happens on an average day. Another type of response is when someone shows you an incredible act of kindness during a rough patch in your life. Either way, these are small things, and thoughtful nonetheless.

Go ahead, be ordinary 

Love is in the mundane of everyday life. When you create small moments in your relationship, you give your partner a love bank to draw from. To further illustrate my point, consider the drawings by Pascal Campion, a French-American artist in Burbank, California. In his series, he invites us to take pleasure in the small things.

My invitation to you

Think of something sweet that has happened in your relationship, a memory that brings a slight smile to your face. Now, text your partner, letting them know how much that still means to you. Then, in the days ahead, pause to notice and delight in these small things. These memories will go a long way in keeping your love alive for years to come.


People Bloom Counseling Redmond Couples Cancer Ada Pang.png

Ada Pang is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice in WA. She helps unhappy couples find safety and connection in their relationship. She also helps cancer thrivers and their caregivers integrate cancer into their life stories. A memorable moment during furniture shopping today was when her husband unexpectedly attacked her with tickles to help stop her hiccups. Sure, she could’ve stopped them on her own if she’d tried hard enough, but it wouldn’t be as fun.

The Recipe for Keeping Love Alive in 2018 – Part I

Brigitte Tohm/unsplash.com

Brigitte Tohm/unsplash.com

It’s the New Year’s!

Resolutions or not, the beginning of the year often has us looking ahead. Whatever we did not get to last year, we vow to invest our time and energy into this year. While I’m a firm believer in setting goals and striving to meet them, there is nothing magical in the New Year’s that isn’t also there the other times of the year. That said, any tips I share are relevant to all times, the rest of life.

Moving on, let’s get something else straight: This post will NOT turn you into the perfect lover. I won’t be writing about what gift to get, the best sex positions to take or how often to do the dishes. Nor will I mention anything about showing appreciation for your partner, planning activities together or looking for the positives in your relationship.

I believe a BIG part of keeping love alive is being human in your relationship. Here’s what I mean.

Acknowledging your humanity

When you think about being a “good partner,” what qualities come to mind? Meeting a need before it’s made known? Remembering special occasions? Showing empathy after a crappy day? And in your busyness, how often can you live up to these qualities? Realistically, 80% of the time? 70% of the time? 50% of the time?

Sorry to disappoint you, but here are the stats.

Percentages to remember in relationships

40%

While these percentages were initially applied to parenting, they are relevant to intimate relationships as well. Some of the best partners attune to their relationships 40% of the time. Which means 40% of the time, you and your partner share moments and you feel connected to each other. You giggle when you text emojis️️ back and forth. You finish each other’s sentences. You laugh together and you lock eyes. You’re in synchrony. The two of you got this.

As wonderful as this might be, it’s not possible to stay here all the time because life happens.

30%

Another 30% of the time, couples feel disconnected from each other and out of sync. Say, you look to your partner for comfort and you got the cold shoulder instead. A response was interpreted as criticism or you did lash out in anger. Your partner was physically there but emotionally absent. You were hoping your partner could guess what you were needing but they guessed wrong. Truth be told, the day wore you down and neither of you have the bandwidth to reach out...

Normal day stuff. It’s a part of being human. And there’s hope.

The other 30%

The best couples spend the remaining 30% of the time repairing that disconnection. You come back and you talk about what just happened. What got triggered? Sure, it wasn’t as much about your partner as it was about the kids, but your partner’s nonchalant attitude made you feel alone. You share your interpretations, your intentions and what was really going on inside. You can see your impact on the other and a repair was made. You and your partner got through this difficult conversation and your connection deepened.

A repair is often a very beautiful thing. If anything, it makes your relationship stronger.

Here’s a visual:

Percentages in relationship success Ada Pang People Bloom Counseling Redmond.png

Staying connected and finding ways to come back together when disconnected are the things that will make your relationship this year and every year going forward. After all, if attunement and repair make up 70% of your relationship, that’s pretty darn good for two humans with busy lives trying to keep their love alive.

Lighten up

Don’t be so hard on yourself when you feel out of sync with your partner. The more important thing is to come back to connecting and making up, connecting and making up…

Stay tune for Part II where I walk you through an exercise to challenge what REALLY matters in relationships.


People Bloom Counseling Redmond Couples Cancer Ada Pang.png

Ada Pang is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice in WA. She helps unhappy couples find safety and connection in their relationship. She also helps cancer thrivers and their caregivers integrate cancer into their life stories. When she doesn’t see her husband much because they’re both busy, she loves connecting with him with short hello’s and goodbye’s. When they feel disconnected, a first step to bridging that gap is to share the couch together. Rocket science, I know.

3 Healthy Eating Tips to Savor the Holidays

Brooke Lark/unsplash.com

Brooke Lark/unsplash.com

Bye Bye Thanksgiving

We’re in between two major holidays right now. Thanksgiving has come and gone. It’s amazing how quickly time passes! For our Fakesgiving two weeks prior, my Mother-in-law managed to pre-order a turkey. We also had salad, chips and dips, carrots, asparagus and mushroom stir-fry, Korean noodles, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, stuffings, rolls, jello, and two pumpkin pies and a berry pie! That was an enormous amount of food!

When there’re that much goodies on the table, it’s hard to resist. I wore pants with elastic bands and I went back for seconds and thirds. Most everyone left the table and came back with more food. On a normal day, we would’ve stopped eating sooner, but we just kept on grazing.

Now that’s just the beginning...

Hello Christmas (and everything else)

There’s holiday edition craft beer and baked goods and sweets, company and non-company holiday parties, year end get-togethers, Christmas and finally New Year’s! That can translate to A LOT of eating. Now that I think about it, it can seem like eating at The Capitol in The Hunger Games.

When there are so many meals to savor, it’s easy to remember the first bite and not the rest. Or, remember that it was good food and not what it tasted like. With the hustle and bustle of the holidays, how would you like to take a moment with your food, like really savor it and see how it sits with your body?

Take it easy

Before I introduce three healthy eating tips that can be generalized to all meals, let me say that you don’t have to do this at every meal for the duration of the meal. That will take you forever to eat and you will miss out on great company! Rather, implement this in the first 5-10 minutes of every meal and your body might just thank you.

Healthy eating tips

1. Eat with your non-dominant hand

We’re creatures of habit. When we habitually eat with our usual hand, we don’t pay attention to the gesture of lifting a fork, aiming and poking at food, raising the food to our mouths, the opening of our mouths, our mouths salivating, our mouths closing, our hand lowering the fork, our teeth chumping down the food, our tongue pushing the food around, the food breaking into smaller pieces, and finally our swallowing.

Okay, perhaps that’s a lot to ask but imagine if you paid attention, what would you notice? A hidden ingredient? The color? A crunch? Could that help you appreciate and savor your food more?

2. One bite at a time

I don’t know about you but I tend to reach for my next bite of food while I’m still chewing. I seldom put down my fork because I’m still eating! Similar idea, if you took your time with each bite, you’re more likely to notice your food, pace your eating and feel the food in your body more. That peanut butter chocolate cookie did not sit well with you? You had WAY too much meat? Eating slower can help you know that sooner and change your course of action, if you want.

It’s okay to notice your tendency to pick up the fork while you’re still chewing. You can always put it down again. The fork is not going anywhere.

3. Feed and be fed

Yes, you heard me. It’s not just for babies or during wedding cake cutting. It’s also not the same as getting pied in the face. Here I’m encouraging you to intentionally feed each other with care. If you consider feeding to be a very nurturing gesture, what if you took a few moments to feed your partner, your family member, a friend? It takes care and attention to know how much food to scoop up per bite and where to aim the forkful so nobody gets hurt.

Since eating is a basic survival need and we do this independently, it also takes a lot of vulnerability to be fed. In feeding and being fed, what might show up for you and how might you notice the food differently?! You can always start with just a cookie.

Okay it’s not easy

“Can we go back to eating normally now?!” says my husband. We’ve fed each other twice now and while I’m having a lot of fun, he was feeling frustrated. Yes, this is strange and foreign and that’s exactly the point. Rather than breezing through your next holiday meal, let’s make what is familiar unfamiliar. Take the time to savor the deliciousness. Allow your body to take in everything this bite of food has to offer you: nutrition, energy, even love.

This is not easy. If anything, it’ll be hard. And, “Yes husband, we can stop.” The rest of our meal was still amazing but something else about it was memorable, for me.


Ada Pang is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice in WA. She helps unhappy couples find safety and connection in their relationship. She also helps cancer thrivers and their caregivers integrate cancer into their life stories.  Her favorite food across seasons is sushi and if attempting to eat that with her left hand, she’d need to trade in her chopsticks for a fork. As 2017 comes to an end, may you and yours savor much goodness this holiday season.

Sadness: a Normal Part of Life

Jordan Whitt/unsplash.com

Jordan Whitt/unsplash.com

In my last post, I wrote about managing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Sitting at a cafe by the window, the mood lighting inside is definitely brighter than the grey skies outside. The drizzle is constant and the puddles invaded by rain droplets. You can interpret this as being nice and cozy or a real dread. The thing is, if you’re affected by the rainy Seattle weather, chances are, looking outside will not give you the energy boost. It might do the opposite of inducing sadness and low energy.

We don’t like to feel sad, do we?

Ever wonder what good is sadness? Like, why bother? After all, we all want to feel good. We chase after and try to create happy moments like eat at our favorite restaurants, go on vacations and hang out with people who matter to us. On the flip side, we stay away from negative experiences like heart breaks, bad news and surgeries. We’re good at celebrating wins but as a society, we don’t do as well being with sadness.

If you look at a baby who came into the world happy all the time, it’s hard to imagine that we’re not meant to be happy, like all the time.

Sadness is a normal part of life

The thing is, with time, we become acquainted with the pains of life. From abuse to social isolation, job loss to still births, accidents to illness, could sadness and other unpleasant feelings be, sadly, a normal part of the human condition? What if we’re not meant to be happy all the time; rather, it’s about living a full and meaningful life despite our circumstances?! If sh*t will hit the fan and it’s just a matter of when, could a feeling like sadness help us navigate through life’s complexities?

You might beg to differ but Inside Out has something to say about that:

Being with sadness

Here, Joy is trying to cheer up Bing Bong, the imaginary friend who is grieving the changing relationship with coming-of-age Riley. Joy tries hard to get Bing Bong out of his sadness with quick reassurances, tickles, jokes and distractions. She doesn’t get it and thinks if Bing Bong were to feel his grief, things will only get worse.

Sadness, on the other hand, understands his loss. She sits next to Bing Bong, tells him it makes sense for him to feel this way and lets him cry on her shoulder. While in real life, the turn around is often less drastic, Bing Bong feels better after balling candies and was more ready to move on with their journey. For the first time, Joy saw that Sadness made something better.

Sadness has a place in our hearts

Sadness helps us know when something isn’t right. It validates that it’s hard to be where we are but that it also makes sense to feel what we feel where we are. Our situation may stay the same, but we can feel our way through it. And because we’ve been there or can imagine what it’s like to be there, we can empathize with others and share in their pain. We don’t have to be alone in our sorrows.

The next time you feel any degree of sadness, know that it makes sense. You don’t have to hurry up and get over it; nor do you have to be paralyzed by it. Cry your eyes out if you need to. Surround yourself with people who understand. Then still ask yourself, “What would make this moment full and meaningful?” and go do that.


Ada Pang is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice in WA. She helps unhappy couples find safety and connection in their relationship. She also helps cancer thrivers and their caregivers integrate cancer into their life stories. Here at the cafe, it went from raining to pouring outside and the puddles have turned into little streams. She must go now, knowing that hiking 1.5 blocks back to the car is a part of getting back to the car.

5 Tips for Managing Seasonal Affective Disorder

Alisa Anton/unsplash.com

Alisa Anton/unsplash.com

'Tis the season to be sad

While I don’t wish this upon you, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a thing around here. Especially with the end of daylight saving time, we’re feeling the effects of brighter mornings and less evening light. Given how much we love our Seattle summers, the shift into chilly, rainy weather, bare trees and gloomy skies is enough to make many of us want to crawl into bed and stay there.

If you are already struggling with depression, you might feel the effects of it more. If your mood is often weather-dependent or you’re a transplant from a sunnier climate, chances are it’ll affect you too. While winter solstice is less than seven weeks away, let’s help you figure out how to get through this long stretch of fall and winter months.

Before we talk about what to do, let’s address the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

SAD defined

SAD mirrors symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder, also commonly known as Depression. You might have SAD if you:

  • feel depressed
  • don’t want to do the things you used to enjoy
  • have low energy
  • have trouble sleeping, often times oversleeping
  • experience changes in your appetite, often times crave unhealthy comfort foods and experience subsequent weight gain
  • feel agitated or sluggish
  • have difficulty concentrating
  • feel hopeless, worthless or guilty
  • have frequent thoughts of death or suicide

If you have thoughts of wanting to hurt or kill yourself, you need to stop reading this and call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at (800) 273­-TALK (8255). If you have a milder form of SAD but you’re feeling down, struggling to get out of bed, overeating, gaining weight and saying no to social engagements, then here are some recommendations for you.

5 ways to move through SAD

1. Light therapy

You know that it’s a common purchase when they sell it at Costco. Therapy lamps provide bright, artificial white light during months of diminished sunshine. Keep it in a well-trafficked area and follow instructions for use between 20-60 min. Depending on your circadian rhythm, you might find the light exposure helpful in the morning or the evening. Remember to choose a light box that emits 10,000 lux, which is equivalent to 20x that of usual indoor lighting. With lesser lux units, you might need to use the lamp for longer to get the same effect.

2. Physical activities

I don’t mean exercise. The gym is not for everybody. Rather, there are a lot of fall and winter activities that can get your heart pumping and your brain releasing happy hormones. It can be indoor climbing, yoga, laps in the pool, racquet ball, even housework. Outdoors you have a walk around your office or neighborhood, winter hikes, and snow sports.

Now I understand the fact that you feel SAD means you don’t want to move very much. However, if you wait until you want to do something before you do it, you might never do it! Instead, act the way you want to feel. That said…

3. Positive activities

What activities used to bring you alive? What did you use to enjoy? Or, what is something new you’d like to try? It can be a physical activity listed above or it can be art walks, concerts, a meetup, a good novel, a weekend away. You can be with strangers, close friends or be by yourself. Given the tendency to socially withdraw, I’d recommend doing some activities with others and developing accountability to increase follow-throughs. While there’s no guarantee that you’d feel better afterwards, it’d help you in the long run to stay active and engaged in life.

4. Medication

I don’t know how you feel about taking meds, but sometimes an anti-depressant is necessary to get you past this hump. It doesn’t mean you have to stay on this medication forever; only until you have more tools under your belt to be without it. Also, if you’re currently on an anti-depressant and you’re questioning whether it’s working properly, it’s probably time to visit your prescriber again. Remember that it can take up to 6-8 weeks for the medication’s benefits to kick in, while you might feel the side effects more immediately.

5. Take it in

While this is not the most exciting time of the year for you, can there be any beauty in taking in the vibrant colors of the leaves, the rustling of leaves against the wind, or the crunching of leaves under your feet? What about the beating of rain on pavement, the dancing flame from a crackling fireplace, and the warmth of peppermint tea against your lips?

This will pass

This season is here and it will pass. Since there’s no ushering it away, I hope there’s a part of you that can find it a friend, rather than a foe.


People Bloom Counseling Redmond Couples Cancer Ada Pang.png

Ada Pang is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice in WA. She helps unhappy couples find safety and connection in their relationship. She also helps cancer thrivers and their caregivers integrate cancer into their life stories. This fall, she noticed the changing colors of the leaves more. Her favorite food group this season is all things squash and her favorite activity is baking.

“Will my Cancer come back?” 9 Triggers to Fear of Recurrence

Unsplash/canva.com

Unsplash/canva.com

The bad news and the good news, in that order

As a cancer thriver myself, the bad news is that these thoughts, “Will my cancer come back?” will always there. Whether I’m thinking about cancer or not, these thoughts are easily triggered. More on this in just a bit. Now the good news is, just because I think these thoughts does not make them happen. Ever tried thinking and willing really hard about winning the Powerball? Did you get rich just from thinking it?! If you did, we need to talk. 

A metaphor

The thing is, the thoughts of cancer coming back will be a part of your life. It’s what you do with those thoughts that matter. One cancer patient gave this metaphor, paraphrased: “Cancer used to take up a lot of room in my house (aka life). It was in every room. Everywhere I looked, it was there. Over time, as life continues, it takes up less and less space, until it only occupies one room. 

Sure, the fear of cancer coming back grows bigger around doctor appointments or when I have symptoms I don’t recognize. But the truth is, that fear is never gone. However, it doesn’t have to take over my life.”

Couldn’t have said it better. This wise woman has already given examples of common triggers to the fear of cancer recurrence. Let’s look at others. 

Know your triggers 

  1. Your Cancerversary – it’s the anniversary of an important moment in your cancer journey, be it the day of your mastectomy or your last day of treatment. While it’s a cause for celebration to have that behind you, it’s common for your mind to wander to the possibility of recurrence

  2. The news of someone else’s diagnosis – it doesn’t even have to be you. It can be a dear friend, a family member, a co-worker, a neighbor or even someone you don’t have a relationship with, a celebrity, a friend of a friend’s. Someone else’s diagnosis or recurrence is enough to have you question your own

  3. Someone you know passed away from cancer 

  4. Follow-up care – you’re scheduled for your follow-up examination, mammogram, MRI or blood test. While everything came back normal previous years, could this be the year that they found cancer?

  5. Your body feels “off”– you feel fatigue, a lump or pain. Or, you have a lingering headache or cough. Your body is going through something. Whereas before you’d attribute it to muscle tension, sleep deprivation or dehydration, you now think cancer metastasis or brain tumor

  6. A history of cancer recurrence – as can be imagined, if this is not your first rodeo, then it makes sense to wonder, “If it happened once and it happened twice, will it happen a third?”

  7. Future medical procedures – whether it’s your reconstruction surgery or something unrelated to cancer, if you’re going under the knife again, it’s hard to not associate that with the last time you’ve received significant medical treatment 

  8. Advances in cancer care – it can even be a good thing. Fred Hutch received a grant to advance cancer research. The immunotherapy clinic at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance is lengthening survival rates for certain types of cancers. Even the mentioning of these wonderful advances can trigger the thought, “I don’t ever want to have to go through that again!” 

  9. Everything else – when visiting a friend at the hospital, the smell reminds you of your daily radiation visits. A woman is wearing breast cancer pink. A song that frequented your mind during treatment comes through the radio. You’re eating food that made you want to throw up during chemo. The truth is, sometimes it doesn’t take much. 

“Will my cancer come back?” 

The short answer is: we don’t know. Your oncologist might have given you percentages for how likely your type of cancer will recur or a new bout of cancer will develop. Let’s just say the number is 25%. That still leaves 75% of you not receiving a diagnosis of cancer ever again in your lifetime. How about living in that 75%? Better yet, since we really don’t know, why not go all out and just live in the 100%?

If you need help living fully in the face of these triggers, I’ll be here.


Ada Pang is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice in WA. She helps unhappy couples find safety and connection in their relationship. She also helps cancer thrivers and their caregivers integrate cancer into their life stories.  She recently gave a talk through Cancer Lifeline about Living with the Fear of Cancer Recurrence. Helping people live full and meaningful lives in the face of adversity is her bread and butter. Well, more like sushi and wasabi.

Happy Cancerversary to You!

Ruth Black/canva.com

Ruth Black/canva.com

So I don’t actually know when your Cancerversary is. I only know that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. However, I’m guessing you’ve identified your Cancerversary, perhaps without knowing it. Do you remember the day, or even the moment you were diagnosed with cancer? The difficult conversation you had with your family? Your first core needle biopsy procedure? You surgery? Your introduction to the radiation machine? Your last day of chemo?

If you can lock down that date, that memory, then you have a Cancerversary. 

Cancerversary defined 

A Cancerversary is a significant day along your cancer journey. No doubt, cancer is a difficult ordeal; I can imagine there being multiple dates that define your cancer experience and not just one. Ultimately, a Cancerversary is what you make of it. While you didn’t choose cancer, you can choose what to do with these milestones. 

Though I do have a bias...

Celebrate often

I have a friend in his 40’s who celebrates his birthday by the months. Not kidding you. At 44, he was 528 months old, and so forth. Sometimes, we don’t even need to wait until the year mark to hear how many months old he is. After all, if babies go by months, why did we stop? Perhaps it’s because we’re not very good at math. 

Sure, anniversaries are often joyous occasions. They are also moments where we remember loved ones who have gone before us. While the initial diagnosis of cancer reminds us of death, the fact that you’re reading this means you’re alive.

No right or wrong way to celebrate 

Ask ten women how they’d like to celebrate their Cancerversaries and you’ll get at least 11 answers. Some treat it like any other day. Some set up a special date with their partner. Others attend a cancer support group. Still others make a trip out of it with their gal friends. 

It might involve a journal. Being outside. Some art piece. The color pink. Being inside. Special treats. Your favorite movie. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. It’s your day. 

Today matters

If you’re alive today, could today be worth something? After all, it has been 39 months and 14 days since your hair started falling off. Or 76 months and 3 days since treatment ended. Whatever your numbers are, today is about you breathing and living your new normal. Today can be a full day. What would you want it to be about? 

If you’re having trouble living fully in face of cancer, it doesn’t have to be that way! You don’t have to be triggered by your Cancerversary or struggle to live meaningfully other days of the year. Let me know how I can help! 

 


Ada Pang is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice in WA. She helps unhappy couples find safety and connection in their relationship. She also helps cancer thrivers and their caregivers integrate cancer into their life stories. Now 22 months and 15 days since her cancer diagnosis, she celebrates each day. More recently, she has been delighting in the changing colors of the fall season. Her favorite leaf color is orange.

 

What 9-11 has to Teach us about Human Connection

Tim Marshall/unsplash.com

Tim Marshall/unsplash.com

We all remember

I venture to guess that we all remember where we were on Sept 11, 2011. I had recently moved to Seattle and I was living with my aunt. I got up to get ready for work and turned on the radio for background noise. Then I heard the news. It was surreal. While we were still sleeping in Seattle time, all four planes have crashed and the twin towers have collapsed. I quickly woke up my aunt and we raced downstairs to watch the news. Our hearts sank. As a Chinese Canadian new to living on American soil, “Is this what happens in America?” It was unbelievable.

I have another aunt who lives in Long Island, NY and her husband works in Manhattan. We promptly made calls to all their numbers. Busy tone. We might have made other calls to family members; I no longer remember. Seeing that there was little we could do, I was late, but headed into work. My aunt left work early that day. We got in touch with Aunt Noelle later on that night. The rest was a blur.

What people did that day

It made sense that the phone lines were busy. The cell phone network was overloaded as most people called somebody they knew in NYC. Family, friends, colleagues, past nanny. Somebody.

And the interesting thing is, we did not just call people in NYC. We also called and spoke with others who didn’t live there. I spoke with my parents that night and they live in Vancouver, BC, Canada. We called my Aunt Lisa who lives in town. Where they resided was irrelevant. When we sense fear, and a terrorist attack would do that to us, we reach for connection with the people closest to us. We reach for them because they matter to us and they bring us comfort. If people we know are not around, we reach for strangers because any human connection is better than no human connection.

A culture of self-reliance

But, aren’t we an individualistic society? We’re often self-sufficient and capable and many of us go about our everyday lives with little help from others. Even if we have a need, we might hesitate to speak it. If we ask and don’t get a response, we might decide to do without the help. We pride ourselves in being independent.

Could it be that we need each other more than we’re willing to admit? Could it be that our desire for closeness and connection in times of threat speaks to that need?

Coming together

16 years ago, we sought comfort and connection from each other following one of the worse terrorist attacks in American history. Similar stories follow when we go through other crises: an increase in political unrests bans us together against the many “isms” in our society; the wake of Hurricane Harvey prompted Houston and nearby residents in rescue efforts using boats, stand up paddle boards, or just wading through chest deep water.

And it’s not over yet. Hurricanes Irma and Jose are happening as I type this. There will be many more natural and man-made disasters to come. But, we will have each other. Coming together and seeing the value in being with each other will help buffer us through the storms of life.


People Bloom Counseling Redmond Couples Cancer Ada Pang.png

Ada Pang is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice in WA. She helps unhappy couples find safety and connection in their relationship. She also helps cancer thrivers and their caregivers integrate cancer into their life stories. She can be reached at ada@peoplebloomcounseling.com.

A Common Pitfall in Relationships and What to Do about it

Rawpixel/canva.com

Rawpixel/canva.com

It could’ve been us

My husband is a software engineer and he can be very practical and to-the-point. When I present him with a problem, he would try to walk me through a solution. If something is broken, then it must be fixed, except that’s not always the case. Sometimes I just want to be heard without him playing devil’s advocate; I just want to be acknowledged and to know that he has my back.

Thankfully, long before we got married, our pastor/therapist friend taught us how to be supportive of each other. Amidst a difficult situation, Ed would often say, “Tell me more.” If there’s another viewpoint we need to hear, he would first validate, “Yeah, that sucks!” before presenting his argument. While this doesn’t solve the world’s problems, it sure makes us feel accepted and heard. When we’re more calm and collected, we’re in a better place to tackle life's challenges.

This doesn't mean we're perfect.

Back into our pattern

This doesn’t happen often but I remember a discussion where I presented my fears before leaving on a trip and my husband came up with counter-arguments from the get-go. He wanted me to consider this and that. He heard me but I didn’t feel heard. When I’m in an emotional state, it’s hard for me to formulate my thoughts. I finally had to tell him, “What I need most is validation...”

Being the great guy that he is, he realized what had happened and came and comforted me. He helped me down-regulate and we were able to move forward with our trip planning with greater ease.

Could this be you?

Consider this video:

So, it’s meant to be a little tongue in cheek. If there really is a nail growing out of your head and it’s causing headaches and snagged sweaters, I hope you’d find a way to get it out. Your partner is just trying to help. There is a very practical issue to be solved and to not address it can seem ludicrous. However, there’s a better way to go about it.

Begin by sitting with

Suppose the following are common scenarios and their quick-fixes:

“It’ll be hard for us to get away.”

“Just find a sitter!”

“I’m stressed about work!”

“I told you to work part-time!”

“I’m worried about Sarah...”

“She’s a big girl. She can handle things.”

“I feel uncomfortable going to the party.”

“Don’t worry. It’ll be fine.”

Perhaps finding a sitter or being reminded that your daughter is capable are great solutions, but given the same scenarios, what if your partner began with this:

“It’ll be hard for us to get away.”

“The schedule is kinda tight, isn’t it?”

“I’m stressed about work!”

“What happened today babe?… That does sound frustrating!”

“I’m worried about Sarah...”

“Yeah, she’s growing up and becoming her own person...”

“I feel uncomfortable going to the party.”

“You’re right, there will be a lot of strangers there. That is tough.”

Would you feel any different? Would you feel like your partner “gets you” rather than just trying to “fix you?” If you feel heard, would you feel closer to your partner?

Proceed with offering help

When you feel like your partner understands where you’re coming from, you’re more open to consider what they have to offer. Your partner is meeting you where you’re at and while staying with you for a while, is also helping you get out of that place where neither of you want to stay.

When you’ve had some air time and you feel supported, how would you like to hear this, “How can I help?” Hearing you out is half the battle. That perhaps is already plenty helpful. If there is a problem to be solved, the rest of it is arriving at a solution, together. After all, having your partner be with you in this puts you in great company. You don't have to go about life's challenges alone. 


People Bloom Counseling Redmond Couples Cancer Ada Pang(1).png

Ada Pang is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice in WA. She helps unhappy couples find safety and connection in their relationship. She also helps cancer thrivers and their caregivers integrate cancer into their life stories. When she’s not working or thinking about work, she loves hanging out with her husband. Back from the solar eclipse, they look forward to more stand up paddle boarding before the summer is over.