Resilience - the ability to cope with and recover from setbacks
Resilience - an essential tool for Life After Cancer
What can you do when life knocks you back? Is it possible to learn to thrive in the face of adversity?
I've got some tips for you on that. Secondly, I'm going to be talking about reframing events that happen in your life. That means looking at things that have happened to you in a different way, and taking away the lessons, the learning, or maybe just an alternative point of view of some of the things that may have knocked you back in life.
Thirdly, something I've touched on before, which is about your support network. And being around the right people, how important that is, if you are really to develop some resilience in life.
And lastly, I'm going to be talking about complaining. When bad things have happened to you. It's very easy just to get into the habit of complaining about it. But what can we do? If we feel like we are always complaining about bad things that have happened to us? Nobody wants to be that person. So what can you do? I've got some tips on that as well.
Bad things happen to good people – not fair but all too true. One of the bitterest pills, and there are many , that come with a cancer diagnosis is the injustice of it. At the beginning, of my cancer journey I was lost in the unfairness of it all. I was angry, I was upset, I had so many emotions, I couldn’t shake the feeling of how this is just not fair. Why has this happened to me? And also, I felt very much as I was going through the process of starting my treatment and all the things that a lot of cancer patients go through, is I really felt that I was grieving for my old life, you know that the old life that I had that carefree life when cancer was something that happened to other people, and it wasn't something that happened to me. But this can be true, not just for a cancer diagnosis, but for any difficult event in life. We can grieve. For some people, unfortunately, it may be the death of a loved one.
The 5 stages of grief - Can apply to Life After Cancer
The grief process is a very difficult, it's one of the most difficult things we're ever going to go through. And it's very well known that Elisabeth Kubler Ross did a lot of studies on this. And she describes the five stages of accepting the death of a loved one.
Okay, but a big difference is that with death, you may get some sympathy and people understanding what you're going through. I felt when I went through my cancer diagnosis, and even more when I finished my treatment, I felt so alone, nobody knew what I was going through, at least that's how it felt.
So the five stages of grief that Elizabeth talks about are first of all, denial and isolation, asserting this is not happening to me. And I felt that - I'm not sort of person who gets cancer. That was my first reaction. And you know, what, guess what? It was happening to me, stage two can be anger, how dare this happen to me? I certainly felt a lot of that as well. ‘I'm too young, I don’t deserve this, my family really don’t deserve this', and that angst and anger is understandable.
But it's important how you use that anger and how you're directing that energy, hopefully not at the people around you, not at other people that care about you. There’s a lot of anger in breast cancer, right? Particularly, I've seen that in some online groups, some really angry people, understandably, but again, it's what you do with that anger.
Stage three is bargaining. And some people do this by, you know, talking to God, you know, please let me get through this, if you do this, I'll be a better person and make amends for things I’ve done wrong in life.
And that is, again, your mind playing tricks on you saying, convincing you that this is a punishment, somehow you deserved this. I know in times of grief, people do some bargaining, with themselves, with others, or maybe with God. And it is of course, completely understandable, when you are in that whirlwind of muddled thinking and desperation.
Stage four is a deep, for some people a long lasting stage, which can be depression. For some people depression is just a temporary phase that they dip in and dip out quite quickly. But some people can become depressed for years. And obviously, if you're in that situation, you need clinical help, you need a professional to help you with that. This is not just something that a cup of coffee and a chat with a mate is going to sort out for you.
But again, these are all very understandable phases. But hopefully they are just phases, like the phases of the moon, you know, they come and go, hopefully then we'll move on. But if any of these are sticking, or of any of these phases are places that you are staying stuck in, then you need help to move forward.
The final stage - Acceptance - Life after Cancer is a new chapter
Stage Five is where we all want to get to - which is Acceptance. A time to state ‘I'm ready now, and I don't want to struggle anymore, it’s done’
It's done - I can Accept it.
It really seems when it comes to emotional pain, which a lot of us will go through at some stage in our life, unfortunately, whether it is the death of a loved one, whether it is a cancer diagnosis, or some other type of awful event, that you can learn from emotional pain, but you can't hide sooner or later, you are going to have to deal with it.
When you are ready to accept and move on it can be really useful to learn how to reframe events that have happened to you. And that may be a term that you've heard before, maybe not, but it's looking about finding the meaning in what has happened to you.
Searching for meaning from a Cancer Diagnosis
There is a highly regarded book by Viktor Frankl who survived three years in a concentration camp, called Man's Search for Meaning. And he was really interested in why do some people survived the concentration camps, and why some people did not. His thesis was it's the meaning that you've attached to the events that happen, not necessarily what's happened to you. He believed very much that people who had a student mentality, not a victim mentality, were the ones who survived the ones who thought, this is awful, this is not fair, but what can I learn from it? How do I move forward?
Viktor Frankl believed that he was meant to survive the Holocaust, so that he could write about the search for meaning and help others survive terrible times.
And I found that in the breast cancer world, particularly, there's a lot of very generous people who will give their time and energy to help other people who are going through similar things. And that gives them meaning. It gives them a purpose, it gives some sort of sense to what they've been through, yes, they've been through a terrible time. But you know what, some good came out of it, because they are there now to support other people.
Another example, I've recently seen with a friend of reframing things that have happened into their life is a young lady that I know who was in a very happy relationship, she was planning her wedding, she had been with her partner for quite some time, she was very content with life. And then out of the blue, very suddenly, he came home and said, he was leaving, didn't love her anymore, didn't want to get married, he wanted to end the relationship. And as you can imagine, this was a huge shock to her. And she went through probably a lot of the stages of grief that we've just talked about the denial, the anger, finally, she's coming to some sort of acceptance that is over, she now has some choices. What she does with that, this is what I'm talking about - reframing, she could make this event mean to her, ‘I'm unlovable, nobody will ever love me, there must be something wrong with me, or he wouldn't have left, I'm always going to be single, I'm always going to be childless. I'm never going to have a happy marriage’ - she could make that this event mean any of those things. And for a while in her hurt and her anger, she was making it mean that. Now that she's put some time into working through her feelings, she is reframing that into ‘ maybe the relationship wasn't as happy as I thought, maybe it wasn't as perfect as I thought. And maybe, actually, it's a good thing that we didn't go ahead with a wedding. And maybe it's a good thing, we didn't go ahead and have children. Because if we weren't meant to be together for the rest of our lives, surely it's better to find out now before the wedding than afterwards’
It’s easier for me to say that, and see her hurt from a distance. When you are going through that hurt it can be really difficult to see that. But that's the power of reframing. Focusing on the meaning it's not the event, the fact that he came home and said he didn't love her anymore, and he wanted to end the relationship. She's choosing now to reframe that into a positive thing for her, she's got a second chance at finding ‘the one’ who will truly love her, she wants to be in a marriage. She wants to have children. She's got a second chance at that now. And hopefully it will be with somebody who will love her back equally.
With a cancer diagnosis, we also have that choice. And that may sound bizarre maybe to say, as we don't have a choice, we're plunged into cancer world, treatment and hopefully recovery.
but we do have a choice of what we make it mean to us. You can make it mean, ‘my life is over, it's never going to be the same again. You know, I'm ill, I'm never going to have the same energy levels. I'm never going to be the person that I was before’.
Or we could choose to make that mean, ‘this is an opportunity for me to start again, to look at my life afresh, to decide that I'm going to do things differently, to spend some time on my self care, to improve my diet, to start exercising’ or whatever it is the things that you've not been doing that you know you should be.
But until you get that wake up call and realize this is important now, it’s literally a matter of life or death. Now you've got cancer, your health becomes your number one priority, because if you don't have your health, you don't have anything. Very easy to take that for granted when you are well.
So we can choose to look at that in a very negative way, or you can look at it as something really positive.
I'm not here to tell you that cancer is a great thing, and it's the best thing that ever happened to me. Clearly it's not. But it's what I choose to make it mean, and I'm choosing to make it mean, I've got a second chance at life now. This is my midlife and my life going forward is going to be better than it was before. I'm really not going to be bitter about the things that I've lost. I'm not going to be bitter about the things that I wish I'd done differently. We can't change the past. So can you reframe anything that's happening in your life. And again, sometimes you need a good friend, you might need a therapist or a coach to talk it through with you and help you to ask you the right questions. You know, a good coach doesn't tell you the answers. A good coach will ask you the right questions, so that you can come up with the answers yourself, you can reframe what's happened to you to mean - actually, this is good thing that's happened to me, life is helping me, life is supporting me and life is good.
And that's where I want to be.
Support for your new life - after treatment ends
The next thing I want to talk about is your support group. Something I've talked about in the last podcast is being around the right people. And I've got a study here from Dr. Dina Cobb, Bunnell of Simmons College. And she studied the secrets of people who had successfully bounced back from hard times. She tracked 400 People from age five to thirty, for 25 years, studying the main characteristics of those who did best in difficult circumstances. And she found that resilient people identify those around them who are available, trustworthy and helpful, and then they go towards this light. And I talked before about the people around you in your life. What's the energy coming out of those people when you're around them? Are they radiators or drains? You may have heard this saying, radiators are people who radiate positive good vibes. And drains are people who will drain your energy if you spend too much time with them. So please be around the right people get some support. If you haven't got that support around you. I'm here for you reach out to me.
Are you allowed to complain about your life after Cancer treatment ends?
The last thing I want to talk about regarding resilience is complaining. Something that we all do, we know we do. It's easy to get into that habit. If especially if you've had something bad happen to you, you're allowed to complain, you may feel fully justified in complaining. But we all know people who just complain, always, no matter how life is going, they've always got a bad word to say about it. And nobody wants to be around those people. And I don't want to be one of those people, do you? I've got some tips here are things that make you think about complaining in different ways. And I'm not saying if you're going through something difficult, of course, you can complain. Of course, you can offload, of course, you can tell your good friends how bad it is. But don’t make that your story, you are more than your illness or more than the trauma that you're going through. It's part of life, but it's not your whole life. Is it?
I've got a lovely book called Bounce Back by Karen Salmansohn. And one of her tips-number 18 - is 'if we didn't complain, what would we have to talk about?'
Her answer to that is ‘plenty, because there's a lot more to life than complaining!’
Some more of her tips include- if you've been through tough times, it's normal to want to vent. But here's the deal on complaining. Number one, you're allowed to air all complaints three times, get them out of your system. But once a complaint hits the air that third time you must let it evaporate. Number two, if you have to bring up the same complaint a fourth time, it should be either an effort to see it in a new insight, or in the hope of fixing a problem or with the goal of improving your long term life plan. And her last point on complaining is you really are also allowed to complain for another time if it's in a really funny way. In fact, joking about your ordeal can be highly cathartic for you, and a lot more fun for your listener.
Thank you for reading it would really mean a lot to me. If you can leave a like or a review or just get in touch with me. Let me know what you think. All the topics I'm talking about are quite difficult and I'm hoping you've got a good friend or a therapist or a coach that can help you with anything that you struggle with. If you are a cancer survivor who is struggling maybe with life after cancer treatment finishes, please check out my website confidenceaftercancer.co.uk I do have a lot of resources to help you or you can also get in touch for one to one coaching with me.
I'm always here for you just reach out to me, please get in touch. That's why I'm here, it really does help me to help you.
Stay safe, stay sane!
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