Cancer is often stressful, and more than anything I think it’s just fear of the unknown. It plays on the mind, I know it’s not just me. Sometimes I feel completely fine too, like all this is happening to someone else.
Believe me when I say this, that a whole family suffers with cancer, from start to finish.
It’s never just one thing. Maybe you can’t sleep, can’t eat all that well, or just feel drained. I could be recovering from surgery or treatment, and frustrated with the side effects. Sometimes just coming to terms with bad news and uncertainty, and all the other worries that come along the way.
Unfortunately, everyone around me is going to feel it.
Have an escape route.
I always tried to find ways to be protected from the stress of having two crazy and affectionate young children. Mine never seem to stop moving, and just want to jump on everything. It was tough for weeks at a time, and regardless of the cancer, you want to be a parent too!
Sometimes though, you just need somewhere to hide when it all gets too much. When the waves of tiredness hit and you just want to sleep.
The long journeys for treatment, and walks in the country helped me to walk away from the madness. To recharge and face normality again.
Everyone is different, but you’re allowed to be selfish and do whatever you need to do to get better. Short term pain for long term gain and all that.
Also, everyone has different feelings about things and how they should cope. How they should feel, how they should act. There’s always a lot of talk about fighting cancer too, and we hear it in campaigns every day.
But, it’s not really a fight. It’s much more of an endurance race, or an ironman triathlon. Plus, you have the added excitement of not knowing anything about any of the events, and you haven’t done any training!
As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t matter how you finish, as long as you finish. Sometimes, you have to just put one foot in front of the other, day after day.
Dealing with Karen.
Sometimes you’ll find yourself confronted with strong opinions about how you should feel, or how you should act. In times like these, I like to use the tried and tested “dealing with Essex mum approach”.
In pretty much any circumstances where someone has a strong opinion about how you should act, or feel, or deal with something, you can use a combination of 4 simple phrases that could work something like this;
“listen Karen, it’s not your body, it’s not your house, they’re not your kids, and it’s not your cash. Any more of your trap and you won’t be seeing your grandkids at Christmas”
*sidenote, if you’re an Essex boy just say “sorry mum, yeah I know you’re right, you’re always right, love you mum, see you Sunday, I wish my wife was more like you”
Now, enough of my mischievous baiting of my fellow Englishmen. (I actually love Essex, especially your mum. I lived there for 4 or 5 years),
I’ve put together a few notes about how I dealt with things. It might help, take what you need.
Initially, I tried to stay away from the phone after 7pm at night, I just didn’t need the messages, the constant news, entertainment or anything else. I just tried to shut down a few hours before I went to bed. I’d plug the phone in downstairs too, so I didn’t look at it first thing in the morning.
And then… I discovered the meditation podcasts and people reading books with a voice that made you sleepy. If you can be disciplined and just lay there and listen, it could help you shut down too.
Cancer hits you fast, it hits all the emotions, you’ll get physical pain, surgery is a big thing, treatment can be tough and it lasts for ages. If there’s one thing that works for me, it’s not to think too far ahead, and just worry about what’s happening tomorrow. Even having a week or ten days lead into something as simple as a CT scan disrupts sleep and mood. One step infront of the other, see what tomorrow brings, deal with things as they happen, ask questions, get sorted or get reassurance, lean on people, they want to help.
If you start thinking what if, jumping loads of treatments ahead and imagining all kinds of things that could happen? Well, I’d probably go insane so settle in for a long journey, with hope and no expectations, and try and make the best of the positive things that come out of every day, because there’s a lot of goodness in this world.
This is going to be really unusual when it first happens, but it’s often a big sign that your body is fighting cancer. I laid there drenched in sweat some nights, and the stress only makes it worse. It’s tough for your body to regulate its temperature when you get the sweats. Over time, you learn to deal with them better, and after surgery and treatment they went away for me.
One other thing that’s not really linked to the cancer, but more as an after effect of surgery, is that every time I get a cold, or virus, or any kind of infection, my legs will get hot. It’s not the same thing, and you might be worried that you have a recurrence, even when you’ve just had the all clear from a scan! Nerves and circulation just takes a while to get back to normal after surgery, sometimes months and years and all that activity seems to be related to the repair of the things a radical series of surgery did to you.
Sleep when you can
Honestly, just take the sleep when it’s on offer. If you’re tired, have a rest, it’s ok. Sometimes you’ll just fall asleep on the sofa, sometimes you wont sleep all night, sometimes you wont sleep for a couple of days. Take the sleep.
There’s plenty of help out there. in the UK, we have an incredible charity called Macmillan. It’s a brilliant place to start.
February 2020 update, I wrote an article here about how partners can support cancer patients.