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

When Nicola Met Glaxo Smith Kline

Cancer & Me, Journey Back to Health

I did the most fantastic thing this week.  Glaxo Smith Kline approached Cancer Research UK as they wanted a guest speaker at an in-company seminar to give a patients perspective on Cancer to their oncology scientists and CRUK asked me!  The thought was slightly scary but I figured, when I am I ever going to be given a chance to speak at Glaxo Smith Kline again?  And I keep saying how much I want to spread the word so I better get on with it.

On a personal level, I was so impressed that this is something GSK do.  The whole point of the speech was to put into human terms for their scientists, what it is they are doing, why they keep researching and improving oncology medication and inspire in them the true difference they can make.  Definitely something I would like to be involved in.

The Auditorium. I can't lie, I was very nervous as I walked in & saw the room

The Auditorium.
I can’t lie, I was very nervous as I walked in & saw the room

Although I have spoken publicly about my cancer story before (you can see a pervious post on that here) I have never spoken in front of people before, let alone 200 scientists but my contacts at Cancer Research and GSK could not have done more to make me feel at ease.  To be honest I was just so excited.

I’m pleased to say that the talk went really well.  I even managed to make them laugh a couple of times (with me/at me, who knows?!)  Formatted like an interview, the interviewer me did a fantastic job of making sure everything was covered, getting to the bottom of the story and keeping me on track – even making me feel like it was just the two of us having a chat.  I did suddenly became nervous at the end that no one was going to ask anything during the Q&A session but thankfully they had lots of interesting questions and were all SO kind.  It felt extradonarily good to share my story and to know that it was possibly making a small difference in the future of oncology was a total buzz.

When the room was full. That tiny dot at the very front on the left, is me!

When the room was full.
That tiny dot at the very front on the left, is me!

A number of delegates spoke to me at the end saying how moving it was to hear my story, not just because they are scientists but because cancer is something prevalent in their lives and families, meaning it had been a help on a personal level to understand a little better what their loved one may be going through.  Again this just confirmed for me how we all need to just keep talking about cancer and that I am going to continue to do so.

The real irony is that the GSK employees were thankful to me for sharing my story with them, when actually I wanted to thank them.  I don’t think anyone in the room will realise how much they did for me, my inner strength and confidence.  I’m sure that nothing will make having cancer ‘worth it’ but to be able to turn such a negative experience into a positive through doing something I have always loved the thought of doing – public speaking and writing – and having the potential to make a difference through engaging with scientists and other projects raising money and awareness for Cancer Research UK, is as close to being ‘worth it’ as I think it can get for me.

The Weird & Wonderful Things People Say When You Have Cancer

Cancer & Me

Inspired by an article I read in this months Good Housekeeping magazine and their wonderful Good Health spread on Cancer, and more specifically ‘The Way to Talk About the Big C’.  This is such an interesting point when it comes to Cancer for both the person with it and then person they are talking to.

I am the sort of person who likes to talk things over, the more I say it, the easier I can get my thoughts together in my head so when I found out I had cancer, I was happy to call friends & family & let them know what was happening and get to talk it though again and again.  For me it felt good to let everyone know & I’m not going to lie, I also enjoyed hearing all of the kind things that everyone said. Having said that, I think anyone with cancer needs to prepare themselves for the weird  things people say. The most common one being ‘I knew someone who had that cancer & died’, and my personal favourite ‘just think positively & you’ll be fine’, like that’s all it takes.

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Things to avoid saying to someone with Cancer?

  • Try and steer away from unsolicited advice.  You may know someone who cured themselves by eating beetles but sometimes to the person with cancer it can feel overwhelmed enough without extra things to think about. If they are interested in anything like this, they will ask or find out.  You could mention it as a possible option, but never make it sound like it is what they should be doing.
  • Think positively.  This drove me completely potty.  I understand you don’t want your loved one to fall into a pit of depression but  you wouldn’t ask someone to think a broken arm fixed.  I thought that Good Housekeeping worded this perfectly;

‘Cancer is not a character building test with survival as the prize’.

  • But you look fine.  The irony is a lot of cancers don’t make you look ill.  Generally speaking it’s the chemotherapy that makes you look and feel like you have cancer.  Don’t place any importance on how someone looks and it can be difficult when you feel like people aren’t appreciating how you feel  because you don’t look sick enough.
  • You look awful. Seriously… who wants to hear that….. ever?! 🙂

So what should you say?

That you love them and are here for them.  Let them guide you with what they want.  Listen, let them talk about their fears, however irrational they may seem to you, sometimes you just need to say them.  Make tea and help out wherever you can.  Know that if something you say does upset them that it is just an awful time for them and don’t take their reaction to heart.

If you have Cancer, what do you do when someone says something stupid?

Just try & remember, people aren’t saying these things to annoy you, they are saying them because they are probably shocked & feel like they need to say something & they don’t know what to say.  You may also find it is you consoling the person you have just told rather than the other way round. I personally didn’t mind this but I can see how it may be upsetting for some people (I actually started getting quite offended if people didn’t need consoling when I told them, didn’t they care?!)  Obviously they did, but whatever their reaction, remember most people are trying their best, even if they do get it wrong & you are most likely in a very raw emotional place, taking things to heart that would normally not be a big deal.  This, like all your other roller coaster of emotions, is totally natural so don’t feel bad about it.

Love xx