Where do we go from here?
By Karen Robson
I had often thought how disheartening it must be to have your medical professional tell you that you have cancer. It was something I hoped I would never hear. Totally unexpectedly, I was told they found a lump in my breast on a routine mammogram. Then all the medical procedures start and you are now part of the “cancer” world. You wonder how did this happen, what can I do, what can I read to learn more, who can I talk to? Then you are informed of the treatment options and instead of having answers, you have more questions. You think to yourself, “I am not a medical professional. I do not really understand the implications of what they are telling me.” You are overwhelmed by the fact you have been told you have cancer and then if that is not enough you have to deal with the information regarding treatment options and all they will involve and their possible side effects.
You feel panic.
Stop. You can’t fix this. You can’t stop this. You must take a deep breath. You must accept.
The best advice I was given was. (1) Take one day at a time. Thinking beyond that will just cause you to be overwhelmed. (2) Don’t fight the treatments, and it will make it that much easier to get through them.
As well, my GP recommended I go on anti-depressants to help alleviate the feelings of hopelessness and anxiety. I thought I could handle it without them but I was sadly mistaken. The bouts of negative thoughts, crying, and anger were very hard on me. I finally conceded and started to take the recommended anti-depressants, and it made all the difference in the world. I believe they gave me the emotional fortitude to go forward with a more positive outlook and cope with my treatments. So much of our healing starts in our thoughts.
Treatments were hard on my body, but I got very good at focusing on what I needed. I found the challenge was in getting those around me to recognize what I needed was not necessarily what they thought I needed. It was often challenging to get them to listen to what I was saying. Cancer has a way of shining a spotlight on your life and those in your life. Unfortunately, some personality traits both in yourself and those around you may be further amplified to the point where what worked or what was acceptable pre-cancer no longer works.
When undergoing cancer treatments, you may need to be more selfish than you are used to. You may want to cut down on contact with those people in your life who cannot understand or support your needs. You need people around you who bring kindness, empathy, unconditional support and love into your life. Those who judge you, are critical of you or who generally only support you if it is in line with their agenda, can really bring you down. You may need to put your needs first when you are trying to cope with cancer. It is very important to reduce stress when you have cancer and if people around you are adding to your stress, you may need to make some hard choices. It can wait until your treatment is complete, but if you have the strength and courage, cut down on time spent in those toxic relationships during treatment as you will find you are happier in the end. I think cancer redefines what you will and will not accept. I believe listening to those needs is like getting a tap on the shoulder and it is your intuition whispering in your ear. Listen to your intuition or gut feeling as it is usually right.
I did it and I wish I had done it sooner, so I speak from experience. I have read stories of people who have their families rallying around them. Not everyone has a lot of people helping them and those people might be experiencing their own issues which in turn cause discord that you will be exposed to. So although the rosy stories of love and support are there for some, you may be like me and find that is/was not the case in your support group. It is not your fault. Don’t own something that is not yours to own.
Independence was always very important to me, so it was very difficult for me to need to become more dependent. I cried when they gave me a treatment plan as my first thought was now I won’t be able to do things myself. I have my own home to manage and my life as I am single. I made it my personal goal during my treatment to try to do as much as I could in the second week of my recovery period and into the third. That helped me to cope instead of feeling like an invalid. It was bad enough I had to be away from the job I loved, so I needed something to help me feel empowered. I also recognized when I was just not up to anything other than rest. Always be kind to yourself.
I owe a lot to Apple. I developed a close bond with my iPod and the Yahtzee game I downloaded. It took my mind off my thoughts, which was a blessing. It relaxed me so it helped me fall asleep. If I awoke during the night with thoughts racing, I would start playing Yahtzee and would get all relaxed again and would get so sleepy I would drop my IPod and that was my cue that I was ready to fall asleep again. It worked much better than sleeping pills. Now I have upgraded to a tablet for a larger screen, download puzzle games that I love and can keep myself entertained and distracted to keep bad thoughts away. They say to find something you love doing when in treatment and my games were my medicine and they still are today after completion of all treatments. Don’t forget to balance it with some exercise in between. Take a walk! Get fresh air and listen to the birds. It is great for your spirits. During treatments I read a few books that I found humorous but informative although they related to cancer. I did not want to read books delving into all the cancer treatments and outcomes. I wanted to have a positive connection so I felt that I wasn’t alone but not be brought down emotionally. In regard to breast cancer, Dr. Marla Shapiro’s book about her journey was a good read.
I also had a couple of people in my life that I met who were undergoing treatment. Their support helped me tremendously. It may be harsh on my part, but until someone has experienced chemo and radiation, they don’t really understand what it does to you physically and emotionally. The diagnosis of cancer as well impacts you emotionally. A healthy person is not really faced with their own mortality the same way that a cancer patient is. A cancer diagnosis changes the patient’s view of the world, life, problems and simple pleasures. I for one do not take my life for granted any longer. I am happy to be alive and hold that thought every day, and I wish you the same as it will bring you serenity. Smile and laugh every day and the rest will take care of itself.