How to Thrive When Crisis Strikes: Realigning Priorities and Creating a Safety Net

August 31st, 2012

An Open Letter to My Community

By Maria Gamb

Anyone who knows me well knows that the deepest, most personal parts of my life I keep shielded from my public persona. I am actually a very private person.

However, what I have come to learn is that the journey we are all asked to undergo, is something Joseph Campbell calls “The Hero’s Journey”.  That is not to be heralded as a “hero” like Batman or our troops who serve this country.  Instead it is to share the journey you’ve been on.

Once you’ve come to the end of that sequence of challenge, breakdown and transcending the experience then you are “obligated” to share it with others in the sincere hope of providing inspiration to others who may be in the midst of the same or similar experiences. So I’m going public with something deeply personal .

On January 14th, 2012 the love of my life, Valen, got down on bended knee and proposed to me.  Weboth laughed and cried. I was tongue-tied yet he insisted on “a verbal” to confirm I’d accepted. We never thought we’d ever actually find the enormous love we felt for  one another in our lifetime. But here we were. I finally found my word “Yes!”

All the aches and pains that Valen had been feeling in his joints and limbs for months made that “on bended knee” moment even more poignant.  Nine days later, after I urged him to go to the doctor, he came home and sat me on the sofa quietly.  His brown eyes were heavy and full of deep sadness. I knew it was important.

He told me the doctor thought he had an acute case of leukemia, however, additional testing would need to be done. I looked at him stunned and quickly said I didn’t believe the doctor.

“They took a bone marrow draw Maria, it’s serious stuff”.

“Well, I believe that God will work this out Val, no matter what, we are always taken care of. So let’s not worry about this right now.”

Over the next week we spent a lot of time talking about the miracle of finding one another in this lifetime.  We could not and would not believe that we would be separated so quickly. After all, it had only been 2 years since we met. “I refuse to believe this could be the end for us” he kept saying. It would have been easy to be angry with God. Instead, I responded “Even if this was it, I would be grateful for this time.  It has changed my life. I love you with all of my heart.” The tears flowed freely for both of us.

Shortly after, he was diagnosed with B-cell Lymphoma. “Well, Dr. H said that if I was going to get any form of cancer this was the one to have!” Val bounced up and down. “It’s completely curable but it may not be the best 7 months of our lives”. He smiled and laughed.  That’s what he does.  He’s a terminally optimistic man, even when he’s facing 7 months of chemotherapy.

There is much to be learned from this crisis that I’d like to share with you.  Whatever crisis or challenge you may be experiencing, my sincere hope and wish is that this helps you in transcending the difficulty. 

1)    Faith – I truly believe that our faith that this would work out, made it so.  Your unshakeable faith will help you rise above whatever crisis is staring you in the face. Laugh at that crisis, spit at it if you need to, but laugh, telling it (and reminding yourself) that you are always taken care of by the Divine.

2)    Gratitude – I cannot express strongly enough how   critical the ingredient of “gratitude” is, especially when faced with a challenge.  Gratitude and Faith go hand in hand.  The second truth I know, without a shadow of a doubt and in every fiber of my being, is that when I said I’d be grateful even if it was our last days together, it changed everything.  I didn’t curse or damn anything or anyone.  I will be honest – I don’t know where the words came from. Except perhaps all those days and hours of practicing gratitude made it a completely subconscious, and therefore most automatic of things for me (and Val) to do.

3)    Operate on a ‘need to know basis’ until you’re solid – Share your situation with others who are safe and trusted. You will need others to support you as you go through your process.  But be mindful of not engaging with people who will be negative or worry warts.  During this time, you don’t need to be taking care of anyone else’s fears. When you feel more solid in your grounding then share with more people.

4)    Don’t be angry because they don’t understand – Other people may not understand what you’re going through. They may not be compassionate.  They may not be comfortable watching you experience pain or your loved one experiencing pain.  Just remember, often you may be reflecting to them the very thing that terrifies them the most.  In our case, a potentially life threatening disease that could take away a loved one. Everyone has limitations.

5)    Get your priorities in order – You and your spouse/partner are your priority.  Period! Not any business, networking group, mastermind or guru. Yes, I’m being BLUNT! One of the worst pieces of advice I was given was to be making sales calls in the parking lot while Val was undergoing chemotherapy. Yes, I was afraid of what would happen financially to us.  I didn’t want him to worry about money at all during this process. But never underestimate the need to be 100% present in situations such as this for yourself and for your loved one. I never made sales calls while he was in treatment. And I’m having a great year!  I choose to revert back to point 4 in regards to the advice I was given – Don’t be angry because they don’t understand.

6)    Don’t forget to take care of YOU – Sleep. Rest. Remove as many obligations and responsibilities as possible from your plate.  It’s time to not only practice prioritization, delegation and extreme self care, but  be sure to take time for yourself to go for a walk, take a yoga class, go to the gym or do whatever works for you.  You have to keep your own health and energy at peak levels. I personally ran off the Water Lounge at the Great Jones Spa in Soho as often as possible to decompress.

Val is about to have his last chemotherapy treatment. He is in full remission and going strong He’s got a great chrome dome as his badge of honor and passage through this experience.  I think he looks adorable.

We look at today as the first day of the rest of our lives together.  It is a new beginning for us.  One we welcome with great joy, appreciation, deep, soulful and undeniable gratitude.  There’s that word again, Gratitude.

  • What this journey has taught us is that gratitude is TRULY the activating ingredient in making any profound change in your life.
  • What we found is that we thought we’d only be able to tell a few people about the cancer because we only wanted those who would be positive to know.  However, in reality we could tell everyone we knew,  which is a testament to the quality of people in our lives.
  • When we asked for people to pray for us, they did. All the time. Every time. Anytime.
  • When we needed shoulders to cry on, we found many.
  • When we wanted to celebrate, there were dozens showing up at our door.
  • And when we needed laughter, our friends and this insanely wonderful NYC NEVER disappointed!
  • Finally, what we have gained is PEACE. And the reassurance that our Faith can and will carry us through to the other side of whatever comes at us.

Val and I will be married on January 12, 2013 at a small ceremony with a gathering of our families and a handful of friends.

If you’ve experienced a major challenge recently please feel free to share what you learned from it. You never know, it just may help someone you’ve never met too!


13 Responses to “How to Thrive When Crisis Strikes: Realigning Priorities and Creating a Safety Net”

  1. Thank you for sharing your experience, Maria. I completely understand your aversion to broadcasting your private life to the world. Some people are okay with doing that and others, like us, are not. Either way is okay. The thing is, as you discovered, when you you do ask for help, support, prayers, you get it. And you can’t get it if you don’t ask. So clearly sometimes it helps to get over the feeling that it’s not anyone else’s business or to fear the negativity of others.

    You are such a bright light in the world, of course you will radiate faith, gratitude and love out and attract the same back to you. Just think, now you have another awesome story to use when sharing these lessons and connecting with others who need to hear it. Love and blessings to you and Valen.

    • mariagamb says:

      Lori thank you for your kind and warm words! I believe it’s important to balance vulnerability with real lessons. During the process, I couldn’t see clearly what they were. So it takes time for the richness of the experience to be revealed. It’s all part of Campbell’s explanation.

  2. What a beautiful article Maria. Thank you for sharing and reminding us that the only way to survive and thrive is with FAITH and GRATITUDE by your side.. always, always and always.

    • mariagamb says:

      Thanks Rosie! It’s hard to be grateful when you’re in the midst of a big challenge. Sometimes it just helps to remind others of this.

  3. Thank you Maria for sharing your very moving and inspiring journey with us! To make that choice of surrender and gratitude when the chips are so down and you’re in the unknown is so powerful. A great reminder for us all that we can’t micromanage the universe, there is an intelligence and force operating out there we can partner with instead of battle with continuously.

    There is such love and light in the beautiful photo of you two – it’s clear that the power of your hearts and love helped to guide you through this challenging time. I’m delighted for both you and Val and wish you both love, happiness and great health!

    Thank you for sharing your very personal story with us all!

    Love and light, Carolyn

    • mariagamb says:

      You said it! Gratitude is so very powerful!
      It can be hard to muster at times, but hopefully a life long practice becomes subconscious actions that carry one over the speed bumps of life.

  4. Laurie says:

    Because I know you personally, Maria, and know what a gorgeous beam of light you are, I am truly grateful you shared your and Val’s experience with your community so we can all continue to pray and offer our heartfelt support. I am soooo thrilled Val’s doing well and that you are, too. It was wonderful to see his little “chrome dome” and your smiley face! Your article on Crisis couldn’t have come at a more perfect time. You asked us to share our own personal experience on Crisis and so here goes mine for us all to learn from:

    As you know Maria, from our last phone conversation, I met the man of my dreams while living overseas here in the Middle East. In June, he flew all the way over on a dime’s notice to meet my ENTIRE family as we were both prepping them (and ourselves) for him to become part of the family as we were planning to marry in Puerto Rico in March 2013. Everybody loved him and I was so excited as he seemed to be a perfect addition to the family. To try and bottom-line, we were geographically separated for nearly 60 days as he waited for a new contract over here with me in Kuwait; while waiting for the new contract, he stayed with his mom in Florida but we maintained a beautiful relationship over Skype, text and email in the interim. On August 6, we had a conversation first thing in the morning as he was setting off to visit his teenaged daughter for 2 days prior to coming and visit with me in Kuwait until he received his next contract. When August 7 happened and never called me, which was so out of character, I immediately feared the worst. Had he died on the plane? Did the plane crash? Did something out of the ordinary happen and he was arrested on the flight? For 3 days, there was no contact. I literally did not sleep at all for 3 days. I called my parents in the States waking them up sobbing worrying for his safety and confused over what happened. Finally, my father got clever and told me to look up his mother since I had her name and the town and the State she lived. To make it short, I discovered he’s married and has been since 1997. Shock is not a strong enough word to describe the numbness I felt. I had NO idea I was the other woman and was devastated. I was stunned that he went as far as meeting my whole family and childhood friends. What I’ve been working on to process this entire experience as much as possible is to: 1. celebrate the connection 2. practice forgiveness 3. trust the learning and take-away messages 4. ask for help: i rarely turn to friends or family to discuss private matters but i have during all of this! 5. receive the help 6. accept the love and know i am loved 7. feel the feelings

    I hope this helps your readers and thanks for the opportunity to share these crisis moments we all go through. My love to you, Valen and your community. Hugs and smooches, Laurie

    • mariagamb says:

      Laurie –
      Thank you for being willing to share such a personal story with others.
      And thank you for your 7 lessons. That’s terrific!
      I especially appreciate #4 & 5. Often we don’t ask for what we need or allow that help to come into our lives. It’s very powerful when we do.

  5. Carole says:

    Maria & Val
    Thank you for taking the time to care, share and love us- your community with an inspiring chapter of your life. Your faith walk and what you learned are lessons that are near and dear coupled with the reminder of one can choose to live life and embrace it, or let it crush you. I’ve always thought embracing was the better road.

    Congratulations on a VERY Bright future filled with love and happiness.


  6. Stephanie says:

    You brought such tears to my eyes reading this. I just love you.

  7. Jodi says:

    Through the tears, I wanted to write and thank you for sharing your meaningful words. It’s hard to say which of the 6 points resonated the most with me…all are so incredibly powerful and important. I will admit that I did chuckle for a minute at the thought of you making sales calls from the parking lot. Oh, the things an entrepreneur will do! I keep scrolling up to your words as I comment here, because I feel like there is so much you shared and each and every word is worth holding onto.

    I think I’ll say that #5 and #6 hold the most power for me, because I see them as the foundation for the other points. How critical is getting our priorities in order??? And #6, Taking Care of You…that’s everything.

    You are such a bright, brilliant, generous lady. I know that you sharing this very personal story has helped so many.

  8. frune says:

    I’m very happy to read this good news.
    You have been in my thoughts.
    All the best to you and Val.

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