My Little Bs Have the Big C

A Breast Cancer Blog For Young Women

My Name is, No


noBreast cancer took so much from me; my breast, my self-confidence, my health, my comfort, my feeling of safety and more.  But one thing I decided I wasn’t going to let it take from me is my professional credibility.  I pushed through the terrors of side effects from chemo and radiation and continued working throughout.  I wrote periodic emails to employers letting them know how well I was doing and that I would happily accept any work that they through my way (with some restrictions, of course).  I didn’t want people to see me as sick or incapable.  I had worked so hard to make a good name for myself, I didn’t want all of that work to go to waste because of cancer.

For the last two years, I said yes to as much work as possible.  In a way, I hid from my cancer at work.  At work, I was so focused on my participants and students that I forgot about cancer.  At a time when I cried every day for fear of recurrence or because I was mourning my past pre-cancer life, work was a respite from my emotions and fears.  It worked for a while but by the end of June this year, I started to burn out.  I started procrastinating (more than usual) and didn’t want to do my lesson plans or prep work.  I dreaded going in each day if I wasn’t fully prepared.  I tried to find short cuts.

This is not me.  I am an over-achiever.  An A+ students.  I don’t do things half way.  I knew something had to change.

This summer, I planned on all of the things I was going to do for myself; see shows, movies, go to museums, take up the cello again…  But work took up more time than I anticipated.  The time I was going to take for myself was spent in preparation for working with very new immigrants.  The work was great, fulfilling.  I am proud of the work that I did with them.  I made a difference in their lives and learning.  But, I didn’t do the things that I said I’d do for myself.  There was no self-care.

As soon as I finished this job, the offers for fall work started coming in and it seemed that they wanted answers fast.  My heart started racing.  I felt panicked.  I chose to take some time for myself, go on vacation with my family, turn on my away message and meditate on what it was that I really wanted for myself.

Ah, there’s the problem.  What I really want for myself.

You see, I’m a people pleaser.  I want people to be my best friend, to see me as important, invaluable, easy to work with.  If it will make someone else happy or make their life or job easier, I will say yes even if it doesn’t bring me joy.  That’s how I roll.  That’s my mojo.

But as I approach 40 and after having endured cancer and raising a child, I’m starting to look at my life and wonder, what have I done for me lately?  What am I doing that feeds me, that challenges me, that makes me happy, that teaches me?  And the answer is, not a whole lot.

I love my work.  I mean, I LOVE MY WORK!  I don’t want to start hating it but if I keep saying yes to the kinds of work that don’t bring me joy just to get the paycheck, to make my employer happy, to work with a difficult group that no one else will work with even if it makes me miserable…that’s it.  I’ll burn out completely.  And then what?

So, I’ve made a big decision.  This really is huge for me.  I have decided that this year is going to be the year of “no.”  It makes me anxious just to write it hear but I feel like I need to learn how to start saying it.

Already this year, I’ve said, “no” to going back to a school where I was undervalued.  I’ve said no to work that was too far away from home.  I’ve said no to working with new organizations so I wouldn’t spread myself too thin (this was a hard one for me).  These “no’s” have been terrifying for me but I always hear about people saying no to things that don’t fulfill them and then, suddenly, they leave room for all of the opportunities that bring them joy.  That’s what I want for myself.

So, when I say that this is the year of “no,” what I’m trying to say is that I want to say yes to myself.  I want to leave room in my life for new experiences, to master a new skill, to take in some art, to make my health a priority, to be home to give my son dinner every night, to have some time for myself and to start serious work on my passion project (have you seen the post below and filled out the survey?).

Saying no to others will never be easy for me.  It just won’t.  I’m always afraid I will burn a bridge.  But I need to start doing it.  I need to grow.  I need to shape this “new normal.”  I hate thinking about that but I’m done fighting for the person I used to be.  She’s gone.  And as I shape my new self and my new life, I want it filled with joy.

I read this great article about the power of no.  Have you read it?

I found a bunch of memes and quotes and I couldn’t choose just one.  Sorry.  No, I’m not.  I love them!


13 thoughts on “My Name is, No

  1. I had to learn the word no too…. It does not come easily but it can make a huge difference to quality of life ..

  2. Love this post, it is amazing how “The Cancer” can make you rethink lots of things that you just did by instinct, including living your life with not enough self care. Good luck with your year of YES for you!

  3. Pingback: Weekly Round Up | Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer

  4. Thank you for writing this. I needed a reminder and I am sure many others do as well. I am experiencing a situation at work (since April) with a new structure that keeps me in the office past work hours (after 7 PM!) and this has been affecting my health (hormonal changes). Like you, I am a perfectionist (less so than before because I’ve allowed myself to break sometimes in order to heal). I don’t want to lose my job so I commit to doing all this work. By doing so, it enables dysfunction and affects my quality of life. Have not been able to cook a dinner for myself and it’s unacceptable. I may need to address this week. This is unsustainable. Wish me luck!

    It has become much easier for me to say “NO” to people and I think most of them have understood where I come from. They have become more flexible in letting me be because they know my health situation. We should all pay more attention to ourselves, even if we’re healthy.

    Good luck with your new plans, Carrie. And good for you! xx

    • Thanks, Rebecca! You need to be able to cook your own dinners for goodness sake!!!! It seems like you’re working really hard. And saying no when you need a job is super hard. I hope you too find a way to say yes to yourself. Thanks for reading!

  5. So love this! Thank you for modeling good self care. Best wishes on taking time to be clear on what works for you. I am really working on this too.
    Wanted to add another inspirational bit, Derek Sivers “Hell Yeah or No” short thing on YouTube :

    Xo Iris.

  6. “I’m done fighting for the person I used to be. She’s gone. And as I shape my new self and my new life, I want it filled with joy.” Good for you! It’s taken me a long time to acknowledge this myself, but I’m finally decluttering my space to remove stuff that kept me stuck in old beliefs about who I should be, and it’s very cathartic. 🙂

  7. What hopeful, uplifting post. Thanks for writing it. It reminds all of us how important it is to take care of ourselves. Cancer taught me to say no more often, but I still need to work on it. I wish you the best of luck in your endeavors. Your heart’s in it. I’m sure you’ll do great.

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