Cancer is probably the last word you ever wanted a medical professional to diagnose you with. It can be a very scary even terrifying word to hear, and yet now you have been given the unwanted gift you tried so hard to avoid and yet you now have the dreaded label.
But is it the end… I don’t think so.
In fact for me it was the beginning of a year of reflection, a year of understanding me better and a year of showing other people that there is a different way of approaching this, a calmer and more at peace way of approaching this.
In this article I will cover part of my own story, some key points that I learnt along the way and some recommendations for anyone that has just received a cancer diagnosis.
I was diagnosed on 22nd June 2017 with a pre-cancerous tumour in my right breast. Now you might be thinking “pre-cancerous”? So you didn’t really have cancer? Unfortunately I did, pre-cancerous refers to a cancer that has not yet developed the ability to travel elsewhere in the body (early detection). I still had to have surgery and radiotherapy but thankfully no chemo-therapy.
I was finally signed off the “discharge pathway” by the NHS on 9th July 2018, with the latest mammogram showing no signs of any abnormality. I feel incredibly blessed and grateful that this is the case.
For the moment, let’s go back to 22nd June 2017
I chose to attend the consultation on my own, my choice, my body, my right. This perplexed the medical team: “are you on your own” they asked several times; “do you understand what the consultant has just told you” the nurse asked; “will you be ok getting home” she continued!!! Here I was, a 53 year old, fairly intelligent woman being treated like some child. I know they were only doing their job and I know they must get a myriad of reactions to such diagnoses, but I was butting up against my thinking with all of this “softly softly” approach. I even stopped the consultant at the beginning of the consultation and said “please don’t drip feed me the information, please just give me the fullest picture you have right now”. It was important of me to take back control – so I did.
This is the first key point I want to address – control. It was important for me to not only be in control of the diagnosis (going on my own) but moreover I needed to feel in some level of control throughout my treatment and beyond. So I did ask a lot of questions, I did contact my cancer nurse, I did ask to see the surgeon when I wasn’t healing like I should have been, I took control.
Once you are on the cancer treadmill, it can feel like you are just part of a large machine; just a very small cog in the machine that is the medical system that is there to support you. It is all too easy to lose yourself, your sense of identity, and your individuality. You become a number not a name, a reference number rather than a unique individual. Whilst I know this is never the intention, it is difficult to avoid due to the large number of patients who are in the system – each on their own unique journeys through cancer.
If it is important to you, then I suggest taking a level of control back – no matter how big or small.
Medical Support Team
I had an amazing team looking after me. My cancer nurse, and the others in that team, my surgeons, the radiotherapy team and all the others in the wider teams that had any connection to or input into my experience.
So this is the second point I would like to make – your support team.
Whilst all the medical professionals are incredibly busy, if they can, they will find time to see you at very short notice. My first port of call was always my dedicated nurse and even if she wasn’t available then one of her colleagues would make time to see me.
My two surgeons were incredibly caring and kept me informed of the process, the decision making and the reasons why certain things needed to be done. Whilst I couldn’t change the diagnosis, I could at least feel part of the decision making around my treatment. This was incredibly empowering and for me, was very important.
I clearly can only speak about my own experience, and my own team but from speaking with others, they seem to have similar experiences.
Get to know your support team, the better they know you the better the experience you are likely to have.
Your thinking can help and hinder not only your mental well-being around the cancer journey but also around your ability to heal.
It is all too easy to let our minds race away from us at the very mention of the word cancer, but it is not compulsory. You don’t have to go immediately into panic or fear mode. There is another way.
I have an understanding as to how the mind operates and whilst thinking is inevitable, believing every thought you have is not. When you realise that your thinking is all made up, it is just you creating your story around what is happening THEN you are onto a winner. You can then choose to hold onto the thoughts or simply let them go, knowing that you will be ok no matter what.
Worrying is what I term a wasted emotion. It neither supports you nor protects you. What I have observed is that people worry themselves silly and yet in the majority of cases the worry has been either unfounded and or has merely proved to take you away from appreciating the moment at hand.
I cannot tell you that your cancer journey will be all plain sailing and that there won’t be challenges but what I can tell you is that worrying will not serve you. In fact, I have realised that the more at ease you are with the situation, the calmer and more in control you feel, the greater the chances are to allow your body to heal and recover.
Now this one might be a bit of a challenge to get your head around, but there can be benefits to the situation you have found yourself in. For me it allowed me time and space to reflect on where I was in life, how I had found myself in this position and how I wanted to show up in the world once the journey had come to a close.
I started journaling, reflecting and exploring. I unpacked, dug a little deeper and came to some interesting conclusions. These are my own personal reflections and my own story and not necessarily useful or helpful here.
However, what I can tell you is that with the help of a coach, mentor or even a good friend you can unpack and discover what has brought you to this point in time and furthermore to help you create the life you want going forwards. You might find you need to adjust or amend or completely change what you do to earn a living. You might realise a long held dream to live or work in particular place or undertake a particular role. You might take on new challenges or explore new and varied avenues. In short, you might find that life is too short for wasting time on things that you don’t enjoy.
For me, I found the whole thing liberating and expansive. I found out about “me” a bit more, I came to appreciate me a bit more and I lost the need to keep hiding my gifts and from the world and have started to show up more often and in a much bigger way.
I invite you to undertake your own personal journey of exploration and discovery- you might be surprised at the gifts and treasures you uncover.
There is so much more I can share on this topic, so do keep watching for the next instalment.