Monday 17 January, 2022

How To Face Cancer When You Don’t Feel Ready

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Maybe cancer runs in your family or you’ve had cancer and know it may return. Perhaps you’ve got cancer for life but aren’t in active treatment. Either way, when you face a cancer diagnosis, relapse, or have to go in for cancer treatment or the hospital after a longer break, no one feels ever quite “ready” for it. 

It means a disruption of your life and wellbeing – physically, emotionally, and even socially. But, disruptions aren’t unmanageable and for some who experience post-traumatic growth, these disruptions can lead to a positive change in perspective that wouldn’t have been the case in the long term. 

But, let’s focus on the here and now. You may not feel ready to face cancer, but there are things you can do, mindsets you can practice, and ways to steady yourself when you’re feeling unprepared or overwhelmed. Let’s dive in.

What we’ll cover in this blog
Share with loved ones and others affected by cancer
Practice a present mindset
Increase your sense of control by talking with your doctor 
Create an energizing daily routine that you can commit to

Share with loved ones and others affected by cancer

The number one predictor of happiness in the world is based on our relational wellbeing (take a listen to this podcast episode on the Science of Happiness with Professor Tal Ben-Shahar). Share with your loved ones on how you’re feeling about what you’re going through. It may feel difficult to put to words everything that’s happening in your mind, and that’s okay. Let it take the time it needs and write it out if it helps. Also, choose people to share with that you feel want your best and support you, and will truly listen. It doesn’t have to happen at once, but by communicating what it is you need at specific times, the better able your loved ones can support you (or you them!). No one can read minds and challenging situations don’t always bring out the best in us. Communication is key in sorting through the muddle and strengthening yourselves individually and as a team. Here’s more on why connecting with others is paramount for our health.

It’s also helpful to share with people who know what going through cancer is like because when they say they get it, they really do get it. If you don’t know anybody in your close circle, make sure to connect with people in a similar situation on the War On Cancer app. It’s a community of people who support each other, exchange tips, and are there through the ups and downs. 

Practice a present mindset 

Maybe you’re a big planner and enjoy having a filled calendar with things to look forward to. Or, maybe you’re super spontaneous and feel limited by the schedule or to-dos that cancer can introduce into your life. Either way, it’s important to remember that we can’t control what has already happened or the many unknowns of what will happen in the future. All we can do is learn to focus on the present, what we can do now, and decide how we’d like to approach what is happening right now. Focus on the worries of today, for every day will have worries of its own. There’s no point in worrying about something that may or may not happen, and something that you can’t influence today, no matter how hard you try. 

By practicing this present mindset, looking around the room, focusing on your breath, aware of what today holds and what you’ll face, you break down the dark clouds rumination creates. Presence makes big problems more bite-sized and manageable. It also helps you discern what’s important to focus on now and the micro-blessings of each day; a morning walk, a nurse’s smile, a text from a friend, a book or series that made you laugh or think in a new way. Here are a few practical tips on how to practice presence during and after cancer

Increase your sense of control by talking with your doctor 

Though a lot of cancer feels out of our control, knowledge is one of the most concrete ways to gain a sense of agency amidst the unknown. Our brains are built to anticipate future events and knowing more about a situation decreases the risk of being unpleasantly surprised. 

Oftentimes when you’re first hit with a cancer diagnosis, you might not know exactly what you want to know or how to ask. Whenever something comes up in your mind, write it down to bring with you to your next doctor’s visit. Then, choose what it is you’d like to ask when you get there (it can be everything or nothing, whatever feels like it will serve you best). Or, ask a close loved one to keep tabs on your thoughts if you don’t have the energy or desire to do the talking and asking. We can never know everything, and that’s okay, but if and when you want to know more, remember that you have every right and are empowered to know what there is to know. This is a huge step in taking agency and making your own decisions instead of blindly following along with some plan of action without knowing why. This boosts your wellbeing and puts you in the driver’s seat, rather than being treated or feeling like a “patient” or “victim.” 

Here’s some concrete insight on how to communicate with your healthcare team about cancer in order to help you take control and prepare for what’s ahead. 

Create an energizing daily routine that you can commit to

Everyone has routines, whether we’re aware of them or not. In order to maintain a sense of normality when cancer uproots our daily lives, it’s important to think about what keeps you grounded amidst the chaos. Is it a daily morning coffee? Or taking lunch walk? Perhaps it’s setting an intention to jot down three things you’re grateful for every day. Whatever it is, try to implement (or take away!) a routine or habits that ground you daily and help you come back to your essence and let the light in. Don’t beat yourself up about it if you don’t do it every day. Remember that it’s about setting intentions and showing up for yourself, and leaving space to be spontaneous and let life happen.

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