I’m Worried to Death About...

She was called Agony Annie. Don’t worry, my sister Ann knows this was her nickname when she was a little girl. We called her that with love and a bit of teasing. Our mom told us that Ann would constantly agonize over a number of things, and to this day we need to keep this in mind with her various worries. “I’m Worried to Death!” That’s what she would say. Chee, my other sister, would ask Ann what exactly she was worried about. In most cases, it was not something that worried the rest of us at all.

I’m sure the leukemia exacerbated the situation, and is obviously cause for an awful lot of concern. But I’m talking about something a little different. One example is that Ann would worry about the fields not being mowed at our farm that we manage as a family in Cattaraugus, NY. It’s a four-hundred-twenty-five-acre farm and has been in the family for over one hundred sixty years, so it is a lot to handle; but we work together on it. Ann would perseverate about the fields in July, through August, then September, stating that they would turn into forests if we didn’t take care of them. Usually the weather prohibited the mowing or other farming issues, like planting and managing crops, and other small details. Often it wouldn’t get done until September. We rent our property to an ex-service man who is raising Kobi beef. He’s the one who takes care of things. He is very busy, but manages to keep everything under control, and always gets the job done. So Chee, Paul (our brother) and I don’t worry.

Ann also worries about Paul’s health, her son Oliver’s health, the farm after we’re all dead, why our dad and neighbor got brain tumors, why another neighbor got MS, and why Ann got leukemia. These are just a few of her many concerns. But it’s the severity of her worrying that had me asking myself this question: How do you manage this sort of mental anguish? One technique we’ve discovered that seems to help has been to encourage Ann to go to her counseling sessions, Tai Chi and relaxation Yoga at WeSpark (a cancer support group in Los Angeles), things like that. She’s going back to NY for the summer and fall, so we’re also looking into what is offered at Roswell Park Cancer Institute. We find it’s important that families look into any assistance they can find, because it is usually too difficult to take care of everything on your own. And I encourage everyone to find a good support group in their neighborhood and go with your loved ones. At first, Ann did not want to go, so my husband and I signed up as her support system, which is helpful since we can use the services as well. WeSpark was founded by Wendie Jo Sperber, an actress who was on “Bosom Buddies” with Tom Hanks. She started the non-profit because she had cancer and wanted a comfortable place where she could relax, talk, and have family and friends gather in an environment other than that of a sterile hospital atmosphere. Nancy Allen is the Executive Director. It’s a wonderful place for the whole family to maintain the healing process.

But back to Ann’s worrying. She also worries about her taxes. Of course, that has been a major problem since she’s been sick, and no one could help her. She really didn’t want help either, which can be a problem too. Your financial situation is definitely something to think about and plan with your family. You need to alleviate as much stress as possible, and money can be a major source of stress. Ann has several properties, stocks, TRAA Creff retirement, and who knows what else. Chee and I didn’t know what we were going to do regarding her properties if she didn’t survive. We convinced her to sell one of her condos because no one could maintain it, but that triggered an increase in income and somehow we think her accountant wasn’t informed. So of course, the IRS started looking into her business, which did not help in terms of her concerns.

Ann is just coming out of her fog now and I’m sure those who’ve had cancer can commiserate. Things become more difficult, to say the least. Everyday things. One major issue for her was that she couldn’t organize her paper work, which forced me to recognize that there are things that should be taken care of earlier in life. What is the best way to manage your finances? Find someone you trust and talk to them about your options. It can be a lawyer, an accountant, a family member — but pick someone. Take care of business when you’re healthy. It’s really not a good idea or even fair that your family has to make difficult, personal decisions that should’ve been made by you. Be kind and give it great thought. It’s an important gift you can give your family, even if it’s a delicate topic to approach.

Ann’s recovery is a work in progress and we’re seeing her improvement every day. She’s coming up on five years free of cancer this October. We’re seeing that it actually takes this long to come back, even if the patient thinks they can go through the process faster. October is her new birthday from her Bone Marrow Transplant, where the doctors brought her to the brink of death and back again. I think it’s only fair that she celebrates her birthday twice a year! Don’t you?

What I’ve taken away from all of this is that worrying does not serve to assist anything. Taking action does. Not only does taking action help to alleviate the mental stress, but it also has the “added benefit” of actually altering the situation itself, which if done correctly can improve that which one is worrying about in the first place. Every family has issues unique to their situation, and it’s often necessary to make difficult decisions that affect not only yourself but also those around you. When it comes to family, you ultimately want to enjoy yourself and each other, which is difficult when worrying gets in the way. So take a breath, clear your brain, plan ahead, have fun, travel, play music, dance, talk, and laugh. Find a support group to lift your spirits and help you solve the problems that are immobilizing you. The worry may have even contributed to your getting you sick, or may be hindering your recovery. So do what you can to remove or reduce wherever possible this potentially detrimental element of life. As Michelangelo said, “I saw an angel in the stone and carved to set it free.” Set your mind free. Let your soul fly. And release the worry that is holding you captive.