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Coping after a breast cancer diagnosis: What makes YOU resilient?

By Eileen Dahl

My husband can spend hours washing and polishing his car. Hours. Seriously. A Sunday afternoon can go by, and he is outside working away. I used to feel resentful and irritated. Not anymore. Now, instead of viewing the time my husband spends on his car as an annoyance, I see it as him seeking balance and self-care. I have learned that washing the car is an activity that calms him, brings order to the chaos, that helps him cope and be resilient. He needs to cope and be resilient. I need him to cope and be resilient because we both live with my metastatic breast cancer. 

For me, getting outside and going for a walk serves the same purpose. It lifts my mood. Fresh air, sunshine, and nature, combined with moving my body, help me feel better. I frequently stop to look closely at things, soak in the ordinary beauty, and snap photos with my phone. My husband knows what walking means for my physical and emotional health and wellbeing, and he helps facilitate time for my resilience activities, too. 

Together, my husband, myself, and our family, we live with my metastatic breast cancer in my bones. We live the implications and challenges as a unit. It affects all of us. The better we communicate, the better we cope. The more aware we are of our unique individual and collective coping strategies, the better we can facilitate resilience in each other and our children. 

The Patient and Family Resilience Inventory is a reflection and discussion tool to help individuals, couples, and families cope while facing challenges. It came out of my survey, Fostering Personal and Family Resilience in the Midst of Life-Threatening Illness. 

Take a few minutes and reflect on the things that help you cope and thrive. Add to the list whatever works for you. Highlight, circle or put a star by those things that are most important to you now. 

As life circumstances change, your resilience factors may change too, so come back to the inventory periodically and update it. 

Discuss it with family members - young and old. Talk about the things you can do on your own and together that help you feel connected and better able to cope and thrive as you face the challenges you live with. 

Resilience Inventory for Patients / Family Caregivers 

Check EVERYTHING that helps you cope and thrive when you are struggling, feeling stressed or facing challenges. Add anything else that you find helpful. 

Circle the 5 MOST important things that you cope and thrive NOW. 

Pause. Reflect. Discuss with your family, health care team, or support people. Post this where you will see it and revisit as necessary.

  • Remembering how I coped in the past 
  • Exercise 

  • My strong will and determination 

  • Hobbies 

  • Stress management techniques 

  • A health care team I trust and respect 

  • The support of my family 

  • My faith 

  • People I can discuss my hopes, fears and anxieties with 

  • Intimacy with my partner 

  • Eating well 

  • Opportunities to help others 

  • Faith in the treatment plan 

  • Spirituality 

  • Participating in decision making 

  • My pet 

  • Strong friendships 

  • Understand the diagnosis and treatment options 

  • Caring for my children or family 

  • Belonging to a community 

  • Social media 

  • Having a sense of control in my life 

  • Visits with family and friends 

  • Prayer 

  • Feeling safe and supported 

  • Access to medications/treatment  

  • A support group  
  • A strong identity 
  • Time spent playing

  • Having a job 
  • People/things to distract me 

  • A healthcare team I can discuss anything and everything with 

  • Financial security 

  • Solitude 

  • Enjoying nature 

  • My sense of humour 

  • Art, dance or music 

  • Writing 

  • Getting enough rest/sleep 

  • A sense of life purpose 

  • Health insurance 

  • Walking 

  • Knowing how to get help/resources 

  • Maintaining a positive attitude 

  • Natural remedies/alternative medicine 

  • TV/movies 

  • Peer support 

  • Mindfulness/meditation 

  • Hope 

  • Volunteer work 

  • Getting out of the house 

  • Structure and daily routine 

  • Feeling needed 

  • Sports 

  • My religious community 

  • A therapist/counsellor 

  • My cultural and family heritage 

  • Others: 

Copyright: Eileen Dahl, 2017 

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  • Mar 6, 2018, 12:00 AM

    “Go UP the stairs.  Slide DOWN the slide.  No, Sweetie.  Go UP the STAIRS.”  She could barely walk, but she was climbing up the slide.  Then, and now.  Spend ten minutes at a playground, and the appeal of climbing up the face of the slide is undeniable.  I am acutely aware of the dangers of falling off the slide, the risks of children bumping into each other. I vaguely remember falling off a slide, decades ago--one of the old, tall ones—before playgrounds had soft surfaces.  I like to see everyone going in the same direction.  Up the stairs.  Down the slide.  Nice, orderly, predictable, and safe.