Feeling Triggered after Cancer Treatment Ends
Feeling Triggered After Cancer Treatment Ends
Quite often people will say after cancer treatment ends, ‘I was thought I was doing really well, and then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, boom! - an event, or something in the news will shake me, and take me back to a dark place’
A couple of things have happened this week that have really made me reflect on this. And first one was the death of somebody I didn’t know and had never met, Jacqueline Gold an amazing woman who was in the public eye, who died of breast cancer after a long battle. I know several other cancer survivors will relate to this. When you see somebody well known who you think has got a seemingly wonderful life, maybe they're rich, famous, good looking , and they look like they have a perfect life (even though we know there’s no such thing) And then they become very ill, or they sadly die from cancer, that can be such a jolt to your system.
A stark reminder, as if we needed it, that cancer is everywhere, it doesn’t discriminate and money can’t cure it.
I think part of the problem is we see people in the public domain, and we know so much about their personal life, sometimes it's almost as if we know them. I remember when Princess Diana died, and that really affected me, I felt I knew more about her family and personal life and about her children than I do with a lot of my close friends. And so it's not that surprising to think that when somebody in the public eye dies, it can have such a profound effect on us.
Unfortunately illness and untimely deaths are all woven into life’s rich tapestry. Sadly, some people that we know, will die way before their time, before they make it what we consider old age, which is always sad but at least feels like the ‘right’ time, like they had enough years on this earth.
But where do we go with that? And how can we stop that from completely derailing us? How do we stop those feelings that can lead us into a spiral of dark thoughts and depression?
What can we do really to protect ourselves from becoming overwhelmed by these feelings?
Triggered By Mother's Day
Another recent event was Mother's Day in the UK. And for those of us who are lucky enough to have children, that's a wonderful time to get cards and presents and hopefully enjoy a nice day where your children spend time with you and acknowledge all the things you've done for them.
But for many people, it can trigger a lot of emotions about the relationships that they had, or they didn't have, with their own mother. And I know how that feels, I had a difficult relationship with my mother. We were estranged for many years. It’s a long story I won’t go into that now. But I can certainly relate to how people see almost like a fairy tale of how a mother ‘should be’. Or they might see their friends, as I did as a child, with their caring, warm mothers who had a loving and close relationship. And that made me feel very sad and subconsciously like it was my fault, as if I didn’t deserve that love, and for a long time I felt it was because there was something wrong with me.
I’ve made peace with that now, after many years, and a lot of therapy I can see that my mother was doing the best she could with what she had. No one had taught her how to mother. The anger and hurt I felt is now replaced by compassion for a woman who had a sad and lonely life.
I also know quite a few people who wanted to be mothers, and we're not able to be. There are a lot of different experiences and stories going on behind Mother's Day, some happy, some absolutely heart-breaking.
If you are reading this, I do hope that you've had a good relationship with your mother or that you are a good mother. But if you're not in that place, let's reflect on what I’ve written and talked about before.
It's not the event, it is what you make it mean.
So for me, as a little girl and not being close to my mother, and being very jealous of my friends, who were close to theirs, who got the love I yearned for, for many years I made that mean that there was something wrong with me. Maybe I didn't deserve that love. Maybe I wasn't good enough.
It took me quite a long time to get over that, many years of unhappiness over how I felt. And I worked with a coach through some of the feelings that I had, of not feeling worthy. But I now realise that I've got a choice. That’s my personal story, but I share it as it realize now it’s all too common, and many people can relate.
So going back to what triggers us, and what can we do when we feel that we're being triggered? Most of us in our everyday life get triggered by something, sometimes it can be quite irrational. So you may hear a phrase, or hear a piece of music or you'll see something in a film. And it really just takes you back to a place in time. These feelings can be very powerful and debilitating if we don’t deal with them.
For some people with a cancer diagnosis it is very similar to post traumatic stress disorder. PTSD, people are talking more and more about that now, because it's more understood than it used to be in the past, that when you've been through a very traumatic event, even years after the event, when you think you've dealt with it, you've put it away, it's in the past, and now you're moving on. But your mind still has too many painful memories and feelings that can hurt us.
And people think that that after a cancer diagnosis, when you've had your treatment, perhaps you are ‘cured’ declared ‘No evidence of Disease’ or even told to celebrate because you are in remission.
But now you are in uncharted territory, as you start your new life. You may expect to feel invincible, I know I did. But the reality did not match my expectations for many years.
Quite often, it can be a very small event, it could be somebody in the public eye getting cancer, it could be something a story on a film or TV programme, it could be as routine as going back to hospital for scans that causes anxiety, or ‘scanxiety’ and worry about having to go for check-ups.
There are a lot of things that can bring back those feelings, those feelings that may include fear, panic, sleeplessness, worry, and anger, things that can seem to be outside of our control. So what can we do?
I've spent a lot of time studying this, based on my own personal experience, also with many people that I've worked with who have struggled after a cancer diagnosis, to learn some strategies to cope with this.
Well, the first thing is really to become aware of these feelings, and become aware of what is triggering you, because we're all different, we've all got our different stories, you're not wrong or right, you are unique, and so maybe a unique set of things that may trigger you. And that's nothing wrong with you, you just need to be aware of it. Because once you're aware of it, we can think about some coping strategies for things that are going to come up in the future. Because unless you live in a cave, and you don't have any contact with anybody else, things will come up in the future that may well trigger you again.
Building your resilience
Building your resilience is a way to take back your power, to take your feelings that are valid, there's nothing wrong with them, but to understand where they come from. And, to get those feelings working for you, not against you, putting you in a place of feeling empowered, rather than feeling helpless, and afraid and lost. Because you're not lost my love, you may be going through a difficult time. That's completely understandable, given what you've been through. Whatever your circumstances in life, nobody gets an easy ride. Particularly if you've been through a cancer diagnosis, the treatment and the unknown territory you are navigating when your treatment ends.
I was so confused, feeling like, ‘I'm not really sure what I do with my life now, I'm not really sure why I feel so bad. Why do I feel so bad? Everyone's telling me I should feel amazing, and I don't.’
It's recognising those feelings. I've talked before about stress, and about that fight or flight response that we all have. And that's your body’s very clever way of keeping you safe. And sometimes these triggering feelings are just keeping you safe, your subconscious mind is saying– ‘remember that thing that happened? Well, you just need to be careful, it doesn't happen to you again’.
But unless you are being chased by an animal, unless you're in physical danger, the danger is imagined, things that have not even happened yet. So we need some coping strategies to deal with that.
One thing I’ve learned to do when I realise this is happening is to take some time out. Take some time for yourself, step back, take a deep breath. Hopefully, you've got some good relaxation techniques, maybe a meditation, or some deep breathing, there is tons of stuff like this on YouTube, find an instructor you like and follow them.
I’ve struggled with being able to meditate but one thing that worked for me was looking at a candle and just watching the flame.
Another thing that you can do if you're feeling triggered, is to call someone and hopefully you've got a good coach or you've got good therapist, somebody that you can just talk to about these feelings, somebody that you can trust. If you haven't, you've got me, you know that you can ping me a message.
And part of your response just being human, you're empathetic person. You're feeling sympathy for that person and that's good and sometimes, a little bit of a cry can be good but just don't stay there, don't allow yourself to get into a spiral of depression, which has happened to me before. And it's, it's can be a tough place to get out of.
Another thing is to change your state. Tony Robbins talks about this a lot, moving your body is a great way of changing your state. Some people like to go for a run. I'm not particularly a runner, but I love to dance, put some music on even if you're on your own in your bedroom, in your kitchen, put some music and have a dance for five or ten minutes, and it will change your state. It really will think about something else, put on some music that makes you feel happy.
Don’t stress about becoming an uncaring, unfeeling person, you are caring for YOU. This is all about your self protection.
Understanding WHY we get triggered after Cancer Treatment Ends
I'd really like to think about why you get triggered by events, just try and be quite detached from this reflection. Don't try and analyse yourself, don't tell yourself, you are wrong, though. Don't tell yourself there is something wrong with you, because you're just human. Think about what you can do to cope, because these feelings are going to come up again. There will be things that come up in life that could knock you back, that will all of a sudden just sometimes come out of nowhere. And it still happens to me. And sometimes it's something really deep in your unconscious that you thought you dealt with. And it can be from many years ago, but it comes back. And that's okay, as long as you don't let it hurt you. You just understand it, and thank it for the lesson.
My mantras now include : I’m so grateful that I've learned how to control my feelings. I'm so grateful that I've got good friend that I can speak to. I'm so grateful that I've got a good coach that will help me and guide me and put me in the right direction.
Am I grateful for my cancer diagnosis?
And it might be a stretch too far just to say, that I'm actually grateful for my illness, but I am grateful for the lessons I have learned while I rebuilt my life, and the clarity that I now have on what is important and what is not worth worrying about.
I didn't want to get cancer, I wouldn't wish it on anybody, but I am grateful for my second chance at life. And I have learned that putting me first is not selfish, doesn't make me narcissistic or a bad person. It makes me somebody who is worthy and worthwhile.
And if you're reading this, I just want to say thank you so much. It means the world to me.
Please get in touch. If I can help you in any way at all.
Stay safe, stay sane!
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