“Will my Cancer come back?” Nine 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. Overtime, 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 paster/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.

Is your Relationship More Important than Game of Thrones?

Source: Jacob Lund/canva.com

Source: Jacob Lund/canva.com

So I have this bad habit of rolling into the garage, turning off the engine, closing the garage door and just sitting there, looking at my phone. Eventually, the car’s reading lights turn off, the garage light follows and it’s pitch dark. Usually after 15-min or so, if my husband is home, I’ll hear a lot of commotion as he races down the stairs to look for me. Today, that did not happen.

I scrambled up the stairs carrying five different bags, all the while I could hear the TV. Well, we don’t have a TV, more like HBO NOW. Must be an important show, I thought. Upon seeing me, husband realized that I’m back, paused his show, and came to help me unload. He then gave me a quick hug and a kiss and promptly went back to the couch. Probably Game of Thrones. Important stuff. And his greeting made me feel loved.

It’s possible to have both.

Your coming

Did you know that how you come and go matters in relationships? Suppose you’ve been apart from your partner for the day, how do you come back together again? What would it be like if you and your partner greeted each other with a simple, “Welcome home!”? Maybe it’s a peek on the cheek, a squeeze, a “Hi Hon!” or whatever else. This brief moment of connection can be grounding as you go about your evening, knowing that you’re wanted and welcomed by your VIP.

Your going

The same is true when you leave the house in the morning. You’re rushing, getting the kids ready, barely have time to eat and your partner says goodbye and blows you a kiss. Or, your partner stands by that familiar window and sends you off. No time for long drawn-out hugs, but you know you’re loved nonetheless. How would that change the way you go about the world?!

Do you have 30-seconds?

These brief moments of hello’s and goodbye’s can be very anchoring for your relationship. Rituals that you and your partner develop overtime to help you stay connected are buffers against the more challenging times. You may NOT feel like pausing the TV, taking a break from the stovetop, or interrupting a conversation to offer that quick wink or side hug, but trust me, it does make a difference. It reminds you that you matter to each other and of the good that is in your relationship.

From that place, go back to Game of Thrones, dinner, Skype call or launch into conversations about your day, finances and kids’ schedules. Unknowingly, you’re strengthening your relationship one hello and goodbye at a time.


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. While her husband has offered for them to watch the first six seasons of Game of Thrones together so she can be all caught up, she had to decline when she couldn’t even finish the movie Logan. She appreciates her husband’s thoughtfulness though.

When Misery Rejects Company

Warning: this post is mostly pictures

A late start

Last month, husband and I were able to take two weeks off and do a road trip to UT. We stayed up past midnight packing and we even loaded our camping gear into the trunk. In the middle of the night, I woke up briefly with a sore throat. By the morning, I’ve developed a fever. Things were not going as planned.

I told my husband we could leave after a day when really, I wasn’t well. We ended up staying home for an additional two days. In the meantime, husband rerouted our whole trip given less time on the road and varying weather. He also wanted to make sure we put more difficult hikes at the end to give me time to recover. By the time we hit the road, I was fever-less but sick nonetheless.

As you can imagine, I didn’t want to burden my husband with my illness, let alone shorten our trip any further. Not wanting him to join me in my misery, I was fighting to get better.

It doesn’t end here.

Rocks everywhere!

Bryce

Bryce

I’ve never been to UT and the geology was ah-mazing! My friend from Seattle warned me that it would be jaw-dropping for the first few days, then we’d crave Washington’s greenery. This was NOT the case. We loved every moment of it!

Capitol Reef

Capitol Reef

Our first stop was Bryce Canyon National Park and it was unbelievable! The crimson-colored hoodoos are magnificent! My iPhone doesn’t do it justice.

Capitol Reef was a beautiful surprise. We didn’t know what to expect. The ranger talk was most memorable as we learned about the rock formations.

 

At The Arches, it was SO windy I thought I was going to get blown over the cliff! It was of course gorgeous and we saw much of the park.

By now, I’ve suffered some coughing episodes in high elevation but am otherwise 85% well. Zion was our last stop and we had dinner at Oscar’s Cafe. There, I noticed an interesting phenomenon.

Limping patrons

Over the course of my portobello avocado salad, I saw two patrons who were limping in and out of the restaurant at different times. I told my husband my observations and he found it hard to believe. Little did we know we’d talk about this the next day.

The Narrows

We hiked the famous Narrows, a slot canyon which involved wading through water up to waist deep. It was magnificent! From the “bottom up,” we took a detour to the Veiled Falls and went a little past the Floating Rock.

We fell into the water a few times and took a ton of pictures. I said to my husband, “Why can’t all hikes be like this?!” By the time we were done, and we spent a whole day there, we were, no pun intended, spent. As we got off the shuttle, I noticed something.

Limping husband

“Husband, what’s going on? Are you okay?!”

“I think I might have sprained my foot!”

Then we were reminded of the limping patrons outside of Oscar’s and we laughed our way back to the car. For the rest of the trip, husband didn’t want to hold my hand when we were walking, which was unusual. He was uncomfortable holding onto me when he was struggling. When I did have his hand, I could feel his limp more and I felt bad that he wasn’t well.

We were glad to end our trip with this last hike.

Are you “limping”?

Sometimes we go through life limping along, thinking we need to will ourselves to be well. Or, we push our partners away as to not burden them. Could it be that your partner WANTS to be there for you, but it’s hard to let them feel your pain? In a close relationship, your partner WILL feel your pain and you theirs.

What if you can go through an illness, a sprained foot and other stressors TOGETHER, rather than alone? Your partner is already affected and wants in. Will you let them hold your hand?!

If you need help navigating through life stressors as a couple, 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. Today, no kidding, she happens to be limping because she’s breaking into some new dress shoes. She bought those shoes with her husband. She wonders what he has to say about that and whether he’ll hold her hand.

When Couples Counseling isn’t Right for you

WavebreakMediaMicro/stock.adobe.com

WavebreakMediaMicro/stock.adobe.com

When I think about how it might be inappropriate to offer you something, I have your best interest at heart. While it seems mean to say, “No Couples Counseling for you!” (and I would never say it in that way), those words come to mind based on the Soup Nazi espisode in Seinfeld. Stressed but determined, George almost didn’t get his delectable soup the second time around:

Now enough about soup. When is it inappropriate to offer you couples therapy? Borrowing from the traditions of Emotionally Focused Therapy, here are four situations when couples counseling wouldn’t be right for you. If you find yourself in one or more of these situations, don’t lose heart. I’m including resources for you to get help.

Domestic violence

Couples therapy, no matter what form it takes, requires both partners to feel safe and vulnerable with each other. In an abusive relationship where there’s power and control over the intimate partner, it would be inappropriate and risky to ask the abused partner to open up. It is important to note that abuse does not always translate to bruises; rather a partner can feel threatened, degraded and intimated by the other. It’s one thing to dread the next fight because it means you won’t be talking for days; it’s another to be afraid of your partner.

If you’re in an abusive relationship, please consider getting help at LifeWire, New Beginnings, King County Sexual Assault Resource Center, and DAWN.

Substance abuse

If there’s a problematic drug or alcohol use and one or both partners come to sessions high or inebriated, then we need to first of all address the substance abuse. If the addicted partners acknowledge the problem and are willing to get the kind of treatment necessary for their level of use, then couples work can be reconsidered. Together, we can get a sense of how the substance use is impacting the relationship and how relationship dynamics are feeding into the use.

If you need help staying clean and sober, Dafna Chen, MA, LMHC, CDP and Caitlin Vincent, MS, LMFT, CDP are trained Chemical Dependency Professionals and can steer you in the right direction. Dafna provides substance use counseling while Caitlin provides mental health counseling with knowledge and experience in chemical dependency.

Extramarital affairs

As you can imagine, the basic premise of couples counseling is about helping partners feel close again. If there’s an active threat of a 3rd party outside of the relationship, that makes it difficult to build trust and connection. It’s like doing couples therapy when the fire alarm is going off: it just doesn’t work. If there’s an acknowledgement of the affair and a willingness to put an end to it, then we can talk about reestablishing that bond between you and your partner.

And because I don’t keep secrets, I also cannot proceed with couples counseling if your partner asks and you adamantly deny a fling in the history of your relationship. How can either of you trust me if I side with one and keep secrets from the other? In this case, a one-off individual session is often necessary to help determine what you really want happen in your relationship.

On a slightly different note, if you find it difficult to end an affair or feel a lot of shame around compulsive sexual behaviors, Sam Louie, MA, LMHC, CDPT, S-PSB can help. Sam is a specialist in problematic sexual behaviors and he can bring you out of this secret life and onto the path of recovery. 

Separating couples

It goes without saying that if one of you is no longer invested in the relationship and want out, then couples counseling is not right for you. However, if you want couples therapy to help you get along better as you plan on separating, Emotionally Focused Therapy is very appropriate. I can help you notice what went wrong in your relationship and how to relate more healthfully as ex-partners.

If you’re not sure whether you’d want to stay together, discernment counseling might be more suitable for you. Discernment counseling is short-term counseling designed to help you and your partner decide whether to save or move on from your marriage. Some local discernment counselors include Mary Kelleher, MS, LMFT, PhD, Liz Hunter, MA, LMFTA, and Brittany Steffen, MS, LMFT. Mary, Liz and Brittany can help you and your partner understand what contributed to your problems and find clarity on how to proceed.

When couples counseling is appropriate

For couples who are committed but struggling to make their relationship work, Emotionally Focused Therapy can help you become more available, responsive and engaged with your partner. I sometimes consider couples who do life with each other day in and day out and how much more enjoyable life would be if their interactions were not colored by anxiety and anger, criticism and defensiveness. Let me know if you’d want life to be different.


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 connecting with her husband over sushi, movies and upcoming, a road trip to UT! Stay tune for more tales about their relationship on the road! (Husband is embarrassed and hides).

 

Relationship Drama - Part II

klublu/stock.adobe.com

klublu/stock.adobe.com

It takes two

In my last post, I wrote about the relationship drama from the lens of a pursuer. It takes two to dance; two to make a relationship work. Often times, couples come into my office and they see their partner as the problem. “She’s always nagging me!” “He’s like a brick wall; I can’t get through to him!” Both look to me to change their partner so that things can be better. And even if each of them can see their part in it, there’s always the push of, “You change first!” “No, you first!”

To see that pursuers are not the only one in the relationship dynamic, consider this Lacoste ad:

Dramatic, but it’s true.

When a desire for closeness looks different

Here, Paul Hamy portrays a young man reaching for his first kiss. On the outside, he looks hesitant and shy. On the inside, we see this reach as synonymous as leaping out of a tall building. SO much vulnerability. SO much risk in moving towards his partner and wondering if she’ll take him in; if she’ll catch him and reach back.

“What’s the big deal?” you might think, until you recall what it was like to move towards your partner. To your partner, you try to look cool and collected. Internally, you know the risk and you’re already protecting yourself, “If it doesn’t work out, it’s not that big of a deal!”

Introducing withdrawers

For every pursuer in a relationship, there’s a withdrawer. While sometimes it’s not so clear cut, withdrawers tend to be the quieter ones in the relationship. They might be analytical, quick to problem solve, and when that doesn’t work, they withdraw.

You might be a withdrawer if you respond to your partner by:

  • offering solutions
  • talking rationally
  • becoming defensive
  • avoiding conflict or shutting down

On the surface you feel:

  • overwhelmed
  • judged or criticized
  • angry
  • shame

While this is not easily accessible, underneath you feel:

  • inadequate
  • unsafe
  • rejected or unimportant
  • fear of losing your partner

What you really want is:

  • acceptance
  • significance
  • peace in the relationship

If that’s you, what you’re experiencing is very normal.

Your experience makes sense to me

Some of the closest people in my life tend towards withdrawing and I get you. You feel like, “I can’t do anything right!” and it’s hard to let your partner down. Your retreating might be a way to protect yourself from criticism and your relationship from getting worse. You don’t want to rock the boat and you’re afraid that reengagement might start the fight, “All over again.” On the outside you seem unaffected, but really, you’re not having the time of your life either. Perhaps you haven’t learned what it’s like to come close and be totally accepted. Or perhaps it felt okay as a kid and then life happened and it no longer feels safe to do so.

If that’s you, you don’t have to stay that way.

Healing from your partner

What we know from Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) literature is that challenges from the distant or recent past can be met with healing in your most intimate relationship now. You don’t have to hold onto the hurt of feeling inadequate or insignificant. You don’t have to do this and that in order to be loved. In a committed relationship, I can help you learn to BE and find your partner here with you, reaching back.

Let me know if I can help!


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’s not working or thinking about work, she loves connecting with her husband over sushi, movies and more recently, walks around Seattle. One of their longest stroll was along the Kirkland Corridor all the way to Bellevue and back. Not used to walking that distance, they slept really well that night.

Relationship Drama – Part I

Wavebreakmedia/stock.adobe.com

Wavebreakmedia/stock.adobe.com

Pop culture

I’m not the most caught up when it comes to pop culture but was recently directed to this music video, “Say Something.” It’s a piece re-recorded by Christina Aguilera in 2013. Yes, that’s exactly how not caught up I am. But the thing is, the message of love doesn’t grow old. With Ian Axel on the piano (all of this information courtesy of Google search), we sense the push and pull that’s a part of relationship drama:  

Our need for closeness in relationships

One way to interpret this piece of music is our longing for connection and engagement with a significant other. We’re desperate for our partner to say something, to let us know they’re still here for us. We DON’T want to quit, we DON’T want to leave or say goodbye, but it hurts TOO much to stay and NOT get a response. When we can’t get to our partner, we feel small. We feel pain, a sense of loss and loneliness in the relationship. It may come out as agitation, criticism and overtime, resignation, but really, it’s about feeling deprived, unloved and uncared for. 

Sounds dramatic? It is. To feel safe and close in our intimate relationships is a basic human need. I tear up when I consider well-meaning couples who miss each other in how they communicate love and closeness. It’s sad to see couples continue in an old pattern of relating until it’s too late and they do have to say goodbye. 

If this song speaks to you, I wonder if this could be you? 

Introducing pursuers

While there are different ways to be in relationships, a common relationship pattern is one of pursuer-withdrawer. We all yearn for connection in our relationships and pursuers try to meet that need, you guessed it, by pursuing their partner. 

You might be a pursuer if you try to get your partner’s attention and it comes out as: 

  • criticizing or complaining
  • demanding or accusing
  • controlling or close monitoring

On the surface, you feel:

  • frustrated, angry or critical
  • confused
  • desperate
  • anxious

Underneath all that “protest,” you feel: 

  • unloved, undesired or uncared for 
  • unimportant, not valued, not special 
  • alone and abandoned
  • disconnected

What you really want is: 

  • emotional connection
  • to be seen and heard 
  • to be appreciated and loved

If you look at these pointers and you say to yourself, “That sounds about right!” what are you to do?

Your responses are understandable

Know that this is NOT about what you should or shouldn’t do. Rather, your responses make a LOT of sense given the circumstances. You’re trying SO hard to reach your partner and when you don’t get the response you want, you try harder. You do more of the same because that’s all you know how. Overtime, you’re exhausted and you give up. Like the music video, you’re just too burnt out to continue and you don’t know what else to do.

If that's you, I get you. 

Speaking to your underlying fears and needs

If you’re in a safe and secure relationship, you can more easily speak to how an interaction made you feel and what it brings up for you. However, even in the absence of domestic violence, couples still feel that it’s not safe to show a more vulnerable side of themselves. That’s like me asking you to go out on a limb, and after years of practice, you’ve learned to cope and get by in your relationship without taking such risks. 

But, there’s hope. You don’t have to go at it alone. 

I help build that sense of safety

I can help you and your partner feel more safe in the relationship so you can talk about the difficult stuff. You can learn to more effectively reach for your partner in a way that doesn’t push them away. You can find closeness and connection in your relationship; it’s not too late. 

Let me know when you’re ready for the ride. And stay tune for a post about your partner, the withdrawer. 


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 connecting with her husband over sushi, movies and more recently, walks around Seattle. Their last stroll was in the Quad admiring full bloom cherry blossoms. They were definitely not alone.

When Depression & Anxiety Come with Cancer

pixelheadsphoto/stock.adobe.com

pixelheadsphoto/stock.adobe.com

Let's face it. It's enough to go through cancer diagnosis and treatment, let alone the emotional ups and downs that often come with it.

Questions that might trouble you

As a result of your cancer, sometimes you have questions about the past: "Did I do something wrong to cause this cancer? Could I have prevented it?" "What if I had __________________ before it got to be too stressful? Would that have made a difference?"

Other times you might have questions about the future: "My neck hurts. Is that cancer?" Will I be able to see my granddaughter graduate from 2nd grade?" "How will my family be without me?"

While it's normal to ask these questions, often times there really isn't a way to answer them. These questions might linger if you struggle with depression and anxiety. 

Depression and anxiety post cancer

What we know from cancer research is that depression and anxiety are common symptoms during and post cancer treatment. While depression might dissipate with time, anxiety lingers as you're reminded of your cancer everyday. 

Some of these symptoms might be treatment related, but could this be you? 

You might be struggling with depression if you experience the following: 

  • feeling down, depressed or hopeless
  • having little interests in things you used to enjoy
  • sleeping too much or too little or have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
  • having low energy 
  • having little appetite or want to empty the fridge
  • feeling irritable 
  • experiencing mood swings 
  • having trouble concentrating 
  • withdrawing from friends and family 
  • feeling hopeless, guilty and/or angry
  • having thoughts about being better off dead or hurting yourself 

You might be struggling with anxiety if you experience the following: 

  • feeling nervous, anxious or on edge
  • feeling like you cannot stop or control your worries
  • finding yourself worrying too much about different things
  • having trouble relaxing
  • feeling restless and it's difficult to sit still
  • feeling easily annoyed or irritable 
  • anticipating worse case scenarios

Sometimes anxiety is felt in your body. You might be struggling with panic symptoms if you experience the following: 

  • pounding heart 
  • sweating 
  • trembling or shaking
  • shortness of breath 
  • feelings of choking
  • chest pain or discomfort
  • nausea or abdominal distress
  • dizziness/light headed
  • chills or heat sensations
  • muscle tension 
  • feel out of control 
  • fear of going crazy
  • fear of dying

Life after cancer

If you identify with these symptoms that go beyond an occasional sad day or feeling stressed out about something, there is hope! You don't have to settle and let cancer drag your down. Rather than cancer driving your life, you can make meaning choices in the face of cancer. That way, depression and anxiety symptoms, even when they arise, won't bother you as much. 

If you need help putting cancer in the passenger seat, I'll be here


People Bloom Counseling Redmond Ada Pang

Ada Pang, MS, LMFT is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice in WA. She helps unhappy couples and cancer patients. That can also mean couples distressed by a partner’s cancer diagnosis, or couples wishing to use their marriage as a resource during their cancer journey. When she’s not thinking about couples and cancer, she is cognizant about choices that make for a meaningful life. This often involves food.