Cancer, the Benefit of Hindsight and the Lowest of the Low

Any Human Heart, Cancer & Me

A lady wrote to me recently praising my positive attitude to having cancer.  This lady also went on to say that her son had cancer and that he was in a very negative place and she had tried encouraging him to read my blog to gain a different perspective but that he wasn’t interested and so fearful for the future and asked if I ever felt like that?

I wrote back saying YES!

But her question made me think how important it is to discuss the lowest lows that you go through when dealing with cancer.  I have a wonderful friend who stayed so positive throughout her whole treatment.  She had breast cancer and has been all clear for years but looking back she says she never allowed herself to think the worst.  She felt remaining positive was integral to her getting better and she never allowed negativity to creep in.

I did not feel like this.

I felt utterly lost in the darkest depths of an abyss.  Like one of those little sea-creatures that lives in a place so dark its blind and has no idea which way is up or down, that was me.

I honestly think that the reason that I am able to speak about cancer so positively now is because it all turned out fine and I’m cancer free.

People generally (myself definitely) have an incredible knack for looking back on experiences and extracting meaning and positivity from them.  That doesn’t mean the ‘meaning’ was obvious at the time.  Or even there necessarily.

There were points when all I wanted to do was hide away.  I didn’t want to see people, speak on the phone, anything.  Treatment and bed, that was it.  At some points that was all I was physically able to do but at other points, it was a very useful excuse.  There were times when I would tell family not to come round and they would anyway.  I must be honest, I usually felt a lot better for seeing them and having a chat about whatever my fears, or purposefully choosing not to talk about my fears.  As I started to recognise this pattern, I tried to keep plans, or even invite my dad or sister round, which did help.

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In hospital about a week after my operation.

The lead up to my twelve-hour operation was mind-crushingly hard.  I was petrified I would go to sleep and never wake up.  I was so scared, I couldn’t even discuss my fears with anyone, I couldn’t say them out loud.  In the end I had to push myself to tell one of my closest friends how scared I was because I wanted her to be able to pass on messages to my husband and children should my worst fear be realised.  I don’t think anyone will understand the physical internal pain caused by fear that I went through in the weeks between radiotherapy and my operation.

My lowest of the low actually came towards the end of my treatment which might sound strange – it certainly did to those around me.  I reached a point where I couldn’t fight anymore.  I had already had three months of chemotherapy, three months of radiotherapy, two operations, followed by weeks in hospital.  The thought alone of going back to have another three months of chemotherapy, knowing how sick it was going to make me, was too much for me to bear.  I was so physically and mentally tired, I didn’t have any more fight left in me.  People kept saying ‘but you’re so close to the end,’ but all I could think was ‘I can’t have another three months of chemo.’

I reached a point where I would rather give up completely than even thinking about keeping going.

I spoke to my oncology nurse about it and she was very understanding.  I think sometimes in cancer care we think our reactions unique, but clearly nurses see this all the time.  She advised antidepressants to give me the boost that I needed to get me through the last few months.  Previously I had been quite ‘anti’ antidepressants but at that point, I was on so many tablets counteracting side-effects from the cancer and treatment I figured what’s one more tablet a day?!  Plus I acknowledged, I needed extra help.  The antidepressants did help and got me through the end of my treatment.  I’m not suggesting antidepressants are the answer for everyone, but for me they were and still are.  I am sure there are more examples of feeling lost that I could give but I’m sure you get the idea.

I must admit I have felt quite emotional writing this post.  Remembering and feeling that long dormant fear in the pit of my stomach.  But if you feel this way, or have a loved one who does, know that it is inevitably part of the process.

Me, walking with my family the day after I found out I was Cancer Free!

Me, walking with my family the day after I found out I was Cancer Free!

At the end of the day, I have turned out fine!  In every way I think my life is even better than before.  I have done things I wanted to do my whole life but never had the guts to do before (ironic as it was my guts that had cancer and are now gone – a little bit of ‘cancer humour’ there); like going to University and writing this blog.

One way or another the moment that you /your loved one is in will pass, but in the mean time be kind to yourself / to your loved one.

 

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The Many Emotions Of Cancer

Cancer & Me, Journey Back to Health

Cancer is obviously an emotional roller coaster.  Not only for the person with cancer but for the people around them as well.  When you have cancer, some of the emotions you experience are one’s that everyone expects you to have – feelings like anger, sorrow, fear and a general feeling of being over-whelmed or worn-out with it all.  But there are so many other emotions, that you just don’t hear about as much.  I was speaking with a friend who has also had cancer recently, about all the other unexpected emotions we had felt and it turned out they were the same, it suddenly seemed strange that we had never spoken about it before.  And so (as seems to be a running theme with me at the moment) I think talking about these things so people are more aware is what can help, so that’s what I am going to do….

Personally I felt a certain amount of relief when I was diagnosed.  This may sound strange but I had known that something was wrong for sometime so to know that I wasn’t going crazy or not eating enough fibre (as the GP kept saying) was a strange sort of relief.  At least now I knew what it was, we could start trying to deal with it.

The Many Emotions of Cancer Word Cloud

Guilt.  This is a big one.  And many other Cancer Superstars I know say the same.  There are so many facets to the guilt as well.  Guilt that you are inflicting this illness on others.  Guilt if certain family members or friends are coping very well.  Guilt that you are doing better than the person sitting next to you having chemo.  Guilt over getting the all clear when someone else didn’t.  Guilt over not being around for your kids as much as you should have been  Guilt over eating red-meat or drinking bottled water or whatever the latest, ‘this will give you cancer’ is, that could have possibly brought you to having the disease.  Guilt over not acknowledging just how bad it was when someone else was going through cancer before you because you just didn’t realise how much they would be going through.  Guilt, guilt, guilt, guilt, guilt!

Whenever you mention this to anyone who hasn’t had cancer, again they look at you like you are mad.  To be fair, it does sound mad.  None of those things are your fault and thinking about it logically, by definition you should only feel guilty if you have done something wrong.

But that’s the amazing things about emotions, they can be completely irrational and yet retain their strength and conviction over the person who is feeling them.

The other funny thing is when you don’t have a reaction that others expect you to have.  For me it was it was the ‘why me’ emotion.  I never felt this.  People would say ‘you must be thinking why me’ and when I said I didn’t, people would look at me like I was crazy… or lying!  It was really strange. I did feel ‘why now’ and thought the timing was unfair given that I had a 3 month old and 2 year old when I was diagnosed but never why me.  My friend felt like she had to apologise for not being emotional enough and crying all the time.  I think people often think I’m strange that I am able to talk about it so matter-of-factly (is that a word) and not break down.  I don’t know why this is.  Just because I’m feeling strong at that moment, doesn’t mean I’m not going to break down later that day / weekend / whatever.  No one could sustain that level of heightened emotion with a constant outpouring of feelings when you are going through cancer.  Doesn’t mean you’re not feeling it though.

My 2 year old only has room for one emotion at a time so can go from a screaming fit to laughing in a nano-second but adults and especially one’s who have cancer don’t act like that.  The number of conflicting emotions that you can be feeling at anyone time when you have cancer is cataclysmic and enough to give you a serious headache.  Just like in the word cloud above that I made, to show how many different emotions can be in your heart at any one time.  But regardless there are no right or wrong emotions. Everyone is going to handle it differently depending on there constitution and circumstances.

I think if you are a Cancer Superstar, you just need to give yourself a break.  Whatever you are feeling is fine, no doubt it is something that all Cancer Superstars are feeling and it probably will pass onto another emotion soon enough.  If you are the loved one of a Cancer Superstar, be patient, don’t expect them to feel or think anything and work on the assumption there is even more going on in their head than they are probably talking about.  This may not be because they are trying to keep things from you, most likely because there are so many emotions happening at one time, it is hard to pull them all apart and explain.

If you are feeling seriously down and struggling to cope, speak with your doctor.  There is a lot they can do to help, don’t feel like you shouldn’t ask.

What emotion are you experiencing that you didn’t expect?  Doesn’t have to be cancer related…. let me know in the comment box x