I’ve been at the office more often recently, and I’ve been bumping into friends and colleagues whose only exposure to me has been via this group / blog.
“How are you??,” they ask excitedly.
Each time this happens, I smile and open my mouth to respond, intending to say that I feel healthy.
But my mouth catches on the “h” …and so instead, I find myself saying, “I feel happy.”
And once it’s out there, I can’t take it back—because a surprised smile has already started to form on the face of the person opposite me, and as it grows, I feel my own widen in response.
I AM happy, I realize again and again—each time jolting me just a little more into the consciousness that, healthy or not, I feel healed, authentic, ready to step into my purpose.
I’ve spent 27 years building marketing muscle; and the last four engaged in the brutal reality of stripping back the person I once tried to be, revealing at last only who I am.
I recall how hard I fought to stay the person I thought I should be: taking my laptop with me (camera off) into the bathroom, alternately napping and setting alarms to get myself through meetings, using any energy I had for work, and not much else. The first time my therapist encouraged me to find value in BEING versus DOING, the concept was so foreign to me that I left the session without really understanding what she was talking about. I answered every question she asked about who I was with what I did; and I almost always started with the words, “I drive value by…”
It wasn’t until I was physically robbed of my ability to drive value by doing anything at all that I started to understand what she meant.
Maybe it’s similar for most oldest-born children, who start out trying to please their parents; then extend those energies to teachers, coaches, bosses, and friends. Just a few months ago, I saw a quote from Brene Brown that hit me at my core: "When perfectionism is driving, shame is always riding shotgun—and fear is the annoying back seat driver."
After four years with cancer, I have learned how significant a role fear and shame have played in my own life—and how important it is to finally name them in hopes of letting them go.
Perhaps they had always been there in the background, but cancer magnified their presence and made clear how they worked their tentacles into literally every facet of my life, particularly the parts of me that felt the most irritating, embarrassing, and ugly.
Many cancer patients feel shame, even if they rarely articulate it. I joke that the outward anthem of a cancer patient is the Pet Shop Boys’ “What Have I Done to Deserve This?”—and its shadow anthem is the one a patient sings to themselves in the darkest of night: Everything I’ve Done to Deserve This.
It starts with having gotten cancer at all—certainly at the least convenient time—and moves directly into needing help from friends and strangers; vomiting up your supplements; having no appetite when you know you’re supposed to eat; not drinking your daily green spinach-and-kale smoothie because all you can stomach is a McDonald’s cheeseburger; nodding as the cabbie tells you about his friend of a friend who cured themselves on an alkaline diet; and smiling weakly when someone tells you you’re so brave or such a warrior and you think to yourself, honestly, what fucking choice did you have??
But cancer patients do deserve a choice—to take a path that is not (necessarily) Warrior or Withdraw; to make the decisions they want or need to make without feeling shame; and to recognize and name fear in hopes of being better able to navigate it.
In just two weeks, on September 11, I’ll hit the four-year anniversary of my diagnosis—and I’ll be within striking distance of a five-year survival rate, a goal which should have seemed impossible back when we started this journey.
On that date, I’ll be launching a year-long content series called Strive for Five where I share an accelerated and authentic look back on my four-year journey.
It will consist of two primary components:
On Substack, I’ll share a regular emailed newsletter which pairs old posts with new commentary, sharing the behind the scenes we didn’t share back then, when we were literally scared out of our minds but taking to social media to pretend everything was OK.
On TikTok, the focus will be less internal and more external, and I’ll share the dark humor of cancer and all its indignities in video form—what I expected versus what it was; the euphemisms of oncologists and surgeons; how to make the java smoothie I could eat when I couldn’t eat anything else; how to use a maxi-pad on your chest when your drains are leaky; ways to play your C card.
If I’m honest, the idea of video content freaked me right the F out; but my wisest advisor insisted it was critical, telling me that it was the intimacy I provided that kept people reading; and that seeing me in sight, sound, and motion was required if I wanted to scale my message.
I procrastinated for weeks, writing scripts that didn’t feel quite right, then tweaking them as people I trusted probed and asked the right questions. Finally, I felt ready to ask my husband Per, who is an art director by trade and creative genius by birth, to start looking for pictures to accompany what I thought I might create.
Then, on Friday, I was in the elevator at Northwestern after seeing my oncologist when he sent the start to a very first video. It looked absolutely nothing like I had in mind—right on brief, but the last thing I would have expected—and it made me laugh so immediately and so hard that everyone else turned to stare.
Suddenly, for the first time I wasn’t worried about video; because I realize that I am married to just the right partner to make this all happen, and that it will be amazing.
If you’re interested in taking this journey back with me, I hope you’ll subscribe on Substack – and encourage anyone you know who might be early in their own journey to check it out as well. (If you’re already signed up on this blog, I’m going to take the liberty to port you over—it’s easy to unsubscribe, and I promise I won’t feel bad if you do.)
You can also find me on Tik Tok as ginabjacobson or Instagram at ginabjac. There’s nothing there yet, but we’ll start posting in two weeks’ time.
I do hope you decide to join me—because everything is starting to fall into place, and I have a feeling it’s going to be amazing!