My life has been a whirlwind of tough stuff the past month.

There have been lots of normal everyday crisis-ridden moments for me this spring, but the biggest blow of all was finding out several weeks ago that my once fierce mother has stage 3 ovarian cancer.

Whoa…big time, tough stuff.

My mom was one of the original, grassroots feminists. She wasn’t a big-time Gloria Steinem. No, she was more powerful than that in my eyes…

My mom was a feminist in the trenches, preaching over coffee with friends or in the home at the dinner table with her five kids. She fought fiercely to raise sensitive boys and for her girls to have courage to think outside the box and do something besides being housewives. She succeeded on all counts.

Since her retirement as a professor more than 10 years ago my mother has lived largely – scurrying up mountains with her hiking group, volunteering in Nicaragua, running large committees in her church.

So it was humbling to see this woman of strength brought to her knees with this cancer diagnosis. Just one week before she had been bird-watching in Borneo. Several days later she was fighting for her life.

None of it made sense.

So what have I done to get thru this without laying on the floor in the fetal position?

I have self-coached.  (And some days I laid on the floor and wept…it’s all part of the process.)

I spend my days teaching clients the tools I learned under the tutelage of various amazing coaches. This situation has allowed me to use those tools on myself. What’s cool is I can vouch for their effectiveness.

Here are some of the tools that I continue to use to get me through this crisis. These are tools that can help you too.


I get to choose what I think.  My family is stuck in the middle of a shitty circumstance. But the circumstance does not dictate my thoughts about this crisis. I can choose crappy thoughts about the situation or I can choose better feeling thoughts…thoughts that bring me relief and help me feel hope. Every time I think a crappy thought about this circumstance I recognize that is my choice. Crappy thoughts generate crappy behavior. I don’t want to think, feel or behave like crap. So when I catch myself thinking cruddy thoughts I work on finding thoughts that are still true to me but feel better.

Clean Pain vs. Dirty Pain

This situation with my mom is all about clean pain. Clean pain is a response to an acute, catalytic crisis. Dirty pain is the pain that most of us live with – painful stories we tell ourselves about the past, yucky opinions or beliefs that do not serve us. Clean pain warrants grieving and processing. Dirty pain requires making the choice to drop the stories, beliefs and opinions that only serve to hurt us. In this situation I understood that I was experiencing clean pain. I needed and continue to need time to grieve the pain I felt over seeing my beloved mother suffer. I give myself time to cry and scream and yell at the world because that’s part of the grieving process. I let myself truly feel the pain so that I can move through it rather than stuff it down. And I have been careful to recognize when I am in the middle of dirty pain – stories that I create that only make the situation worse. When I catch myself with dirty pain thoughts I let them go.

What’s Perfect About the Situation

This is a tough one. In the coaching world we believe that everything happens as it should. We often ask clients to tell us one thing that is perfect about a difficult situation so that we can reframe our perception of reality and perhaps feel better. I yelled at this concept several times in the past few weeks. How on earth could anything be perfect about my mom finding out she had advanced cancer?! Here is what I came up with:

She has access to some of the best medical care in the world.

The cancer was found before Stage 4.

She has a husband who loves her.

She has children who adore her.

She has grandchildren who love and ask about her everyday.

She survived the surgery.

She survived complications from the surgery.

The sun has been shining for her in Seattle.

She emerged from the hospital on one of the most glorious spring days in Seattle. She saw mountains and wild flowers with new eyes on the drive home.

She has enough money to get the care she needs at home.

She has a warm bed and bedroom windows that look out onto a great body of water.

She has comfy pajamas and soft socks to wear as she heals.

 As you can see – I can go on and on…

 The next time you face a crisis – try these tools…and feel better.


  1. Beautiful and I’ll add to the list: She has a beautiful daughter who has the tools to help herself and her family to get through this and to be present for her during this. Peace to you Abbe and to your family. Sarah

  2. Ross

    Your strength is truly an inspiration. I have yet to experience such difficulties with a close family relative as my family are very distant. When the time comes I will remember this and focus on taking each thing as it comes to pass, one day at a time, minute by minute.

    With all my heart thank you so very much in advance.

    I hope all is well. Xx


  3. Kathy Bravard

    Abbe – Good thoughts coming to you from Australia! Please convey to your mom and family my best wishes for her recovery. Kathy Bravard

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