What happens when you are diagnosed with cancer?
This is a question you hope never to answer.
I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in January 2019. I thought my story was unusual. I am young and fit, the cancer rare. Now, I realise my story is not unique. There are many paths to a cancer diagnosis. Some long, some short. Some straight-forward, some complex. All of them shocking.
It’s easy to tie yourself in knots.
Why did this happen? How did this happen?
I must survive. How can I survive?
Inner peace comes not in answering these questions, but in accepting them unanswered… for now. As you attempt this, you come face to face with the reason you can’t let these questions go – fear.
Cancer is rich in opportunities for inner growth. Not everyone finds this attractive.
That’s OK. You are most empowered by your own choices. If inner growth doesn’t interest you and you want to reject it, reject it.
Here are some things I found hard about cancer.
It was a lonely experience. I had a sense of dropping away from the herd; of being substandard. Even with a close network of family and friends, it felt lonely.
I didn’t invite cancer into my life. It felt like there was a lot more uncertainty to come. What will the scan results say? What treatment options will I have? How effective will treatment be?
The Fear, Grief & Anger
A cancer experience piques fear. I was brought face to face with the fear of death. I was scared about treatment. I was scared for my mental health. I was scared for my body. I was scared for everyone that had to go through this with me.
Let’s be completely honest for a moment.
Cancer is extremely tough emotionally!
Consistent positivity isn’t possible. Doubt creeps in. I felt a strong desire to control the future. There were moments of despair as I slid from positivity to pessimism.
It was like struggling in a big sea. The waves of fear and anxiety ready to crush me.
One day a new question popped into my head: Has despair taught you anything before?
A quiet but sure voice asked: Have you ever got to the end of despair and found answers?
This was easy to answer. “No!”
As this realisation sunk in, I spotted a wooden structure to my left, a jetty or a pier. I realised I could climb out of the sea. I could watch the waves rather than be overwhelmed by them. Each time an anxiety arose, I reminded myself I could stay in the safety of the platform. It was a powerful experience that reminded me I need not attach to my difficult emotions. I could choose to stay out of the water. This experience marked a turning point.
Soon after, I heard a story where an oncologist said to a patient – “Let me look after your body. You look after your mind.” With a passion for psychology, philosophy and spirit, I realised I could find meaning and joy in the mental health aspect of a cancer diagnosis.
Maybe you can find meaning and joy here too?