Unity and Support after a cancer diagnosis
One of the mistakes I see people making is assuming that all cancer support groups are full of wonderful people without their own problems, giving sound advice, and there is some of that. But of course people are not perfect but hopefully trying to help.
Support for me means meeting people where they are, without judgement, and helping them on whatever path they are on.
Years ago, our ancestors lived in tribes, and belonging was literally a matter of life or death, you relied on your tribe to look after you. Modern life means for many people becoming detached from their families, many families are separated by distance, and the close neighbourhoods of my childhood, are no more.
The last three years have made us understand just how important community and connection are to most people.
Bill Bailey writes in his book ‘Remarkable Guide to Happiness’
We’re social animals, us humans. Maddeningly contradictory, often baffling and mildly eccentric, we nonetheless seek out others. We’ve always thrived in groups, and lived in small communities. Only relatively recently have we started to live more solitary lives’
According to a study by Nottingham Trent University the more an individual identifies with their family, friends local community, religious group, band or sports team, the happier they are.
So it would appear that we are hard wired to be part of a community, to need that support. But in everyday life so many of us are missing that connection.
One of the blessings of cancer can be the community that you are now a part of. It's the club that nobody wants to be a member of. But once you are part of that group, I certainly found such love, compassion and support from so many unexpected places, often from complete strangers.
But is that community helpful? Is it always a positive influence?
Empathy is always appreciated
I had a friend who was assigned a breast care nurse when she was newly diagnosed. The BC nurse was young and attractive with an impressive cleavage ( often a source of angst and jealousy from a cancer patient). My friend angrily asked her ‘have you ever had cancer?’, the nurse replied that she had not. My friend was full of rage, and walked out of the hospital declaring ‘you have no idea what I’m going through, how can you possibly help me?’ (I’ve left out the swear words she used)
So in cancer support groups you do have people who understand, although I am always mindful of the fact that a cancer journey can be so different for everyone, different treatment protocols, and different outcomes.
Some people will recover fully, and for some life will never be the same again.
However empathy for the diagnosis does not always extend to the treatment paths , I’ve heard people say
‘You got the good kind of cancer’ (yes someone actually said that!)
‘You didn’t have chemotherapy, you had an easy ride’
‘you're quite lucky, if you just had a lumpectomy or you ‘just had’ ductal carcinoma in situ DCIS, which is precancerous cells, it's not fully blown cancer’
I think that the diagnosis of whatever type of cancer you've had, whether it's a mild form that is easily curable, or if it's actually life threatening, once you get that diagnosis and a doctor says the C word, it is always devastating, to the woman or the man themselves, who has now instantly become ‘the patient’, and it’s brutal for everybody who cares about them too. We just know that once those words have been spoken, life will never be the same.
But one thing I have learned is it's not the event, it's what you make it mean.
Different strokes for different folks
There are two approaches that I've seen. There's no judgement here, I just find it really interesting how different people will react to the same event in different ways. A good example is that of two children running into the sea. They're on the beach, and they run into the sea very excited, and a huge wave comes and engulfs them both, the water is right over their heads. One of the children will absolutely squeal with delight, totally exhilarated, they may think it's funny, and they jump up or down and want that to happen again. The other child may be absolutely terrified by this wave and thinking that they're going to drown. They may be panicking, spluttering and thinking this is the worst thing that’s ever happened to them, they may have nightmares long after, it’s just an awful situation for them.
Same event, different responses.
This plays out so often in life, and I’ve seen it in the cancer world.
So the first approach could be with a cancer diagnosis. ‘Oh, my goodness, poor me, I'm a victim. And I am powerless to do anything about this. Now, cancer is just one of those things, all I can do is trust my doctor. It's just bad luck that I got cancer. And I probably get it again, because I believe that it always comes back. And there's nothing you can do is just awful’.
Or maybe a more helpful approach is what I tried to live by, which is,
‘I'm a survivor. I now have a second chance of life. I can stop doing the things I don't want to, I can even play the ‘cancer card’ if I need to, to get out of things I don’t want to do. But I try not to do that too much, because I don’t want to be a victim, there is more to me than my illness. I can ask for help. I can change my lifestyle to give me the best chance of a long and happy healthy life. I am constantly learning about how to make healthy choices, because what worked for me in the past isn't working for me now if I've got sick, and I want to be healthy and strong. I’ve decided to choose that if my cancer does come back, I can beat it again. I've beaten it once, and I can beat it again. I have very positive role models around me, people that I follow on social media, people whose books I've read, people who I watch on YouTube, and I choose empowering thoughts, thoughts that make me feel more positive and make me feel in control.
But whatever approach you take, and there is no judgement here, for everyone we all need sometimes to be just a little bit kinder to ourselves.
The cancer community at best is full of generosity, love and support from sometimes total strangers. And that can be a wonderful thing. But again, I've seen it not just in the cancer world, but in society at large, more and more division. And you can blame other people, you can blame the media, you can blame politicians, you can blame what's going on in the world. But at the end of the day, we all have choices that we can make. And we can all affect ourselves, and the people around us, and sometimes the biggest changes in the world that are needed, can be changed by a small group of people. I believe we can all change the energy around us by little random acts of kindness. Paying someone a compliment, reaching out to someone who is struggling, paying for a coffee for a stranger in line behind you. You do something nice for somebody, and they might do something nice with somebody else, like a ripple effect of kindness and love going around the world. There’s a wonderful film called ‘Pay It Forward’ which I would highly recommend.
It may seem that I am eternally optimistic, and to be quite honest with you some days, that's a struggle.
But when I really think about what's important in life, do we really want to spend the rest of our life moaning, and complaining about things that we can't change. We all have choices of how we live our lives.
And sometimes when you're feeling a bit fed up, and you're wishing that you had more energy, you're feeling a bit lost, maybe stuck, maybe feeling uneasy. That is a great thing. If you are sick and tired of your new normal as you call it, then great. Because sometimes that can be the impetus or the motivation that you need to make some changes. Because when we get comfortable, and when we think things are okay, they're not great, but everybody's okay, and comfortable, and it doesn't hurt enough to change. That's when it's very easy to get stuck. That's when it's very easy to feel powerless and feel like you can't move on in life. If you think it's ready to move forward, and you are ready to change, I don't want you to settle for survival mode, just coping, I believe we are meant to thrive, to feel great and truly alive.
And if you need any guidance, any sense of direction, or just to find some clarity in your life, you know where I am, I'm here for you. And so my Confidence after Cancer group that I have on Facebook, and on my YouTube channel is a community that encourages this sort of positive thinking.
I believe that you can make your life what you want it to be. You can set goals for yourself, that maybe you've never set in the past, you can decide that you're not just going to get older and settle for feeling okay, but not great. I want your new normal to be great. I want you to feel alive. I want you to feel like you have a sense of purpose.
And so if you're reading this now thinking, that all sounds really just what I need, but I don't know where to start, then reach out to me, I'm here for you. If I don't know the answer to the problem that you've got, I bet I know somebody who does because this has been my life for the last 15 years, I’ve been studying health, wellbeing and happiness and just making the rest of your life the best of your life.
You know, none of us are getting any younger. We're all got limited time on this planet. So why not choose to make the most of it? I know you don't want to settle. I know that you don't want to carry on feeling fed up. And if you're feeling like that, then that's great because you're ready for change. And if you're ready for change, reach out to me because I'm here for you. That's what I'm all about.
Reach out to me if there is anything at all that I can help you with, you know where I am. I’d love to hear from you. Have a brilliant week. Thank you so much for reading Stay safe, stay sane.
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