Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 37
 
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
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Using Personal Adversity to Help Others, Local Author Celebrates Resilience

Matthew Hersh

Remember Alice from the Brady Bunch?

Alice was the ultimate sitcom prototype. The kind of person you could turn to when you had trouble with your annoying, more popular sibling, when you were suffering from marital strife, or just when you needed a hot meal. Alice had it all, and rarely showed fatigue, unless, of course, for comic relief, evoking reaction from a laugh track.

Most people probably know that life does not follow the neat storylines of the sitcom world, but Teena Cahill, a Princeton author and psychologist who has dealt with her share of adversity, says that while people are largely cognizant of that fact, they have a tendency to look for "Alice."

When Dr. Cahill's husband, Brooks Dyer, a former Marine Corps fighter pilot and a captain with a commercial airliner, was stricken with a cerebral brain hemorrhage, a stroke, and later a spinal cord injury in 1992, she used her experience to improve upon her and her family's life, taking cognitive behavior psychology "to the kitchen table."

In her new book, The Cahill Factor: Turning Adversity into Advantage (Sterling House Books; $18.95), Dr. Cahill, who is now traveling on a book tour, frames her story around that traditional family unit, luring the reader into the sitcom world of suburban family life, only to tell the reader that things can change, and change quickly. To stick with the analogy, Dr. Cahill's life resembled the Brady's in that she and Mr. Dyer both had children from a previous marriage who came to live under one roof. That's really where the sitcom ends and real life kicks in.

"Brook's cerebral hemorrhage happened in the darkness of an extraordinary morning just before Christmas. It was sudden, unexpected, and mind-numbing," Dr. Cahill writes. From there, however, her account shows, almost step-by-step, how she, her husband (who has lasting physical impediments from his bout but is doing well), and her family built a solid structure atop a potentially shaky foundation.

"Everybody's story is different: my life is nowhere near as tough as some other people, but we all know that tough times can dampen our resilience, if there's no support, but there are also skills and strategies we can use to enhance resilience," Dr. Cahill, 61, said in an interview.

Without those strategies, "I would have never been able to support and stabilize my family over the last 15 years," Dr. Cahill said, pointing to six children, now fully grown, educated, and living successful lives. "It took us about 10 years to stabilize everything." The director of Wisdom and Beyond, LLC, Dr. Cahill offers educational programs on topics ranging from workplace to home to education. She also takes a cue from the working class struggles of her grandmother in overcoming obstacles. Her grandmother was widowed twice by the age of 34 and had virtually no professional training. "We're not so much defined by what happens to us, but by the choices we make," she said.

Dr. Cahill will appear at the Princeton Public Library next Wednesday, September 19, at 7:30 p.m. to discuss her new book, which will be sold at the event, and is for sale at Chicklet Books at the Princeton Shopping Center.

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