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Difficulties After Cancer: How I Cope
Things on the up… I thought
I was diagnosed with stage 3 locally advanced breast cancer in March 2017, a pretty crappy year on the timeline of my life events. A spring and summer of chemotherapy, routine hospital visits and admissions, no holidays, followed by major surgery, radiotherapy and medication.
Yet apart from coping with the anxiety of recurrence and the ‘new me’, life in 2018 was pretty good. 2019 got off to a flying start too and my hope in the ‘good life’ was slowly being restored.
Things soon changed.
By the end of the year I’d lost my last grandparent, a family member my age had a stroke, my cat had a rare cancer at the age of 8 and had to have a leg amputated, and then both of my parents were seriously ill. On top of all of this, I was also awaiting my own reconstructive surgery.
I’d already had cancer so how was I supposed to deal with all of this too?
Being Ready To Smile
Coping with negative events after cancer is difficult. As far as unlucky goes, I thought I’d got the biggie out the way. Life could only get better from now on, right?
Looking back, I now know other negative events are just going to happen. It’s a result of still being alive. I’m certainly grateful for that and so I have to learn that life will repeatedly and continuously kick me in the gonads!
I do this by being ready to smile. When the joyous events appear, I’m ready to enjoy them so that when I’m in moments of despair, the negative doesn’t overshadow all of the good stuff.
So how am I ready to smile, while going through all this life thing?
The Emotional Spend
I think cancer affects our ability to cope with negative events as we become emotionally spent. Once you’re emotionally spent, anything can tip you back off balance. There is no roadmap for coping with this and I do whatever suits me at the time, knowing the moment will pass.
Sometimes, I’ve found the moment passes to another even worse event. I tell myself that the mudslide has to have a bottom. When I find it, I can start climbing back up the hill again.
The enormous amount of mental and emotional effort this takes can be draining. I get angry, upset and irritable when life seems unfair, but when I’m back on top, the view is worth the effort.
When you get caught in a cycle of misery it can be hard to break these thought cycles. It’s important to still try to keep going through the motions of your usual routines. No matter how hard it feels to get out of bed, just keep doing it and eventually something will trigger you to snap out it. It might be a friend you chatted with, or a stranger that made you laugh from a distance.
Socialising was difficult when I was feeling low, but it really is necessary. It has positive results for firing me back up again. As an introvert, I’m always happy in my own little world but too much isolation isn’t good for anyone. Time spent reconnecting with people is always worth the effort.
Losing yourself, to find yourself
Those times in which I do need to be alone, I enjoy drawing or playing my piano. I can escape my own thoughts with these crafts as I become absorbed in them. They are good forms of mindfulness. Getting out for some fresh air in the countryside always has a positive effect for me too.
Looking for new books to read can also help because following someone else’s words, on an interesting topic, loses me so much that it allows me to find the road back to myself once again. Music is a similar therapy too. Without so many truly wonderful musicians, my mental world would be a lonely place. Music can take us on a virtual journey, resonating with our fears, hopes, frustrations and finally bringing us back to peace.
But sometimes, we just need a rest and a long sleep to recharge and reboot: to get away from ‘doing’ and simply learn how to ‘be’ without expectation or productivity.
I’m happy to share this experience knowing that others feeling low may be helped.
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