Experiencing cancer, for many, is life-altering. Not only is it a physical challenge that jeopardizes our health, but it also affects our thoughts, feelings, emotions, and mental health.
Depending on the kind of cancer you’ve experienced, going through treatment can take up every aspect of your life. The chemotherapy or radiation, the appointments and checkups, the side effects – they take up a large chunk of your life but you’ve got a clear aim: get rid of the cancer in your body. Of course, this is as much a mental and emotional experience as it is a physical one, and it’s normal to have bad days because of cancer. In fact, having bad days is an integral part of human resilience.
Why going back to “normal” isn’t a thing
Many people experience that if they get through cancer treatment and it’s proven successful, the expectation is to start going back to life as “normal.”
Nope. There’s that common misconception – that going back to life as “normal” after going through cancer is even a remote possibility..
In reality, after cancer, you no longer have the clear goal of getting rid of the cancer in your body, but you still have all of the other mental and physical effects that it has introduced into your life. It may be that you experience a newfound yet consistent fear that the cancer will come back at some point, whether that’s in one year or twenty. Or, maybe you have side effects after going through cancer treatment, or a changed body as a whole, that make you question your capabilities or who you are now. There’s the possibility that going back to the career or job you once had is no longer a possibility, that it’s hard to find work again after cancer, or that you feel a 9-5 routine is a waste when you’ve been close to losing your life. Maybe you’ve grown further apart with loved ones or friends, or you feel the strain it has placed on your family.
Whatever your thoughts or fears or situation may be, remember that cancer is allowed to affect you. You’re allowed to have hard days. You may not want that, but experiencing hardship throughout life, whatever shape they take, inevitably impacts you, whether you face it or push it away.
Bad days are good to have
When we’re having bad days, we’re often told to look on the bright side. Yet, as Scott Barry Kaufman, a cognitive scientist and humanistic psychologist explains, denying the reality of what you’re facing (also known as toxic positivity), can be worse for your overall mental health. Life is full of sadness, loss, tragedies, disappointments. We need to accept this truth, rather than run from it. If we begin to do this, we start getting closer to the silver lining of suffering: the opportunity for growth.
Kaufman continues, “it’s not the traumatic event itself that leads to growth, but rather how the event is processed, the changes in worldview that result from the event, and the active search for meaning that people undertake during and after it.”
For example, Linnéa Hjort, War On Cancer’s Community Manager and breast cancer survivor explains that she can be sitting with her family and loved ones and sharing a meal, celebrating something. They eat and enjoy each other’s company, laughing together, and all of a sudden, she’ll feel this deep sadness.
“I feel a deep pang in my chest. It’s the realization that I can lose this – these people, these smiles, these moments. Going through cancer has shown me that these moments are not guaranteed. But I’m learning that it’s also a good thing, because it means I’m aware of and appreciate the people and moments in my life much more than I did before.”
This feeling is gratitude in action. Adversity makes us aware, and helps us cultivate gratitude for the things we do have. When we have bad days or experiences, it actually increases our capacity to appreciate life – the small things when our world feels dark, or a season of joy after a time of pain. The human spirit is much more resilient than we give it g
3 tips on how to get through the bad days because of cancer
- Let yourself feel, however uncomfortable or bad it feels. Sit with your emotions and find a way that helps you release them – that could be through journaling, talking with a friend, painting or playing an instrument, or meditation.
- After giving yourself permission to feel, try not to ruminate or dwell on the problem. As you sit with your sorrow or frustration or setback, be curious as to how it can serve as a catalyst for growth. And, find a way to lighten your load by doing something that brings you joy in the here and now, however small – a break from the bad.
- Remind yourself to practice gratitude as a verb rather than an emotion: look actively for the silver lining in every situation, knowing that suffering and joy go hand in hand.
This rollercoaster of a ride when living life with cancer – happy one day, sad the next, it’s all part of the inner work. There’s no need to want to go back to life before cancer… the suffering and joy all mixed together gives life meaning. It’s ok not to be ok. Feel bad, lean in, and be curious about who you are growing into, and what you are grateful for.