The Big Learning Curve; what cancer has taught me so far.
Cancer has taught me a lot, I have probably grown as a person more in the last four months than at any other point in my life. A silver lining I would happily do without but a silver lining none the less.
I would love to write of novel ideas and revelations that blow your mind, but unfortunately most of the things I have learnt are clichés. After all I have been through, I have just learnt that all of those goddamn clichés are true. Yet knowing them before being diagnosed and truly learning them and incorporating them into the new ‘me’ are different things. I will try my very best to make this post entertaining despite the fact it’s the SAME OLD SHIT, but please bear with me, as it turns out the clichés are true.
Cancer IS lonely
Unfortunately for me and luckily for everyone else, their lives haven’t hit the pause button
Cliché number one, god I hate myself for writing this, but it is true. Before I was diagnosed, I had heard this a million times, on every sad advert that brought a tear to my eye and made them roll at the same time. ‘Cancer is lonely’ whatever… I assumed cancer is probably lonely for some, but thought most people are so loved and supported, that tons of wonderful people rally behind them, making them feel like a king with a huge army of warriors on big horses with swords behind them, ready to stab cancer in the face. Turns out that even with my lovely warriors, cancer is still an island, where you float alone.
The day I was diagnosed, my life essentially hit the pause button, all of my priorities took a step back, not one step, but fell right down to the bottom of the ladder! The only thing left in my life was cancer and my health. My friends are here, and I feel them, it’s not that I feel alone and that I’m not supported, I very much am. Unfortunately for me and luckily for everyone else, their lives haven’t hit the pause button; everyone else still has work, social lives and their own complicated shit to worry about. They are here as much as they can be, but when you have cancer and everything stops for you, and you float around in purgatory, you are doing this on your own. When I’m at home feeling low, and my friends are at work, or busy, HOW BLOODY DARE THEY. Career, fun, life? What even are these strange abnormal concepts, I don’t know them anymore. So here I am, cliché number one, big check. Even with the best of support, cancer is a big lonely scary island.
A lot about the people I know
Once you see people’s true colours, accept them, adjust your expectations and you’ll reduce your hurt.
Having a tragic life event really does teach you about people, and this is the good, the bad and the ugly. Some people will surprise you by stepping up and showing their big lovely warm hearts filled with good intentions and support, but some will squirm like little worms and wriggle back into the dirt.
You may think you know someone’s character and have a realistic understanding of them, because why wouldn’t you? They are such a good friend, you’ve known them for years, they are your family? Well no, until some serious pressure is put on someone’s head, you really don’t know them. Well I’ve now been the pressuriser, and seen the true colours exploding out of people’s squished brains. This is a sad realisation you might not be ready for, and struggle with when life is so damn hard and you need every bugger you can get on your side.
This lesson was hard learnt for me, but I have learnt that whilst some people disappoint, many others surpass all expectations, some beautiful small stones in your life, polished up into true diamonds. Once you see people’s true colours, accept them, adjust your expectations and you’ll reduce your hurt. Grab those shiny gleaming diamonds and appreciate the hell out of them. These great people are your true friends, you may not have known them as long as some of the worms, but they will be the ones with you through thick and thin. They are good people, and that’s what makes the best friends. If you are reading this, and like many, you feel a bit awkward about cancer. Obviously you don’t know what to say, because it is an un-talked about subject, and your not sure how you can help. Grow a pair of balls and suck it up. Your discomfort pails in comparison to what your friend/family member/colleague/lover is going through so just try your best and don’t be a dirty little wormy.
Ask for help (I know, such a cliché!)
As a brit, a woman, a modern day human, I have been moulded by society since childhood to think that needing help is a weakness. I have always prided myself on being fiercely independent, because being a strong independent single lady is exactly who I have wanted to be, and who I think I am. Whilst being strong and independent has given me courage and been instrumental in keeping my sanity during my journey, there are times when I need help (like a lot).
Sometimes I need someone to just tell me that I’m doing okay, sometimes I need someone to cook for me because I have no energy and am happy to starve on the sofa rather than move an inch. I need someone to drink with me, dance with me, laugh with me, hug me, or make me feel damn sexy like the fierce Beyoncé I am. Believe me, people are prepared to do these things for you, if your friend had cancer wouldn’t you be happy to go over and help when they needed it? YES, of course you would. Yet, taking that tiny step to message someone and ask them to do something for you is huge, and agonising. You’d prefer to suffer instead of ask for help. I have learnt, and please, if you are in the same position, listen to me (I know) just bloody text someone, they really don’t care. If they can’t help you or don’t want to, they will say no. So no skin off anyone’s back, right? So just do it, once you’ve let go of your British tight-lipped, strong independent woman/man pride and you’re happy to ask for help you will honestly cope 100x better. We all need our bros and bitches; this is well accepted but hard acted, so reach out!
Be kind to yourself
I now, for the first time in my life, actively plan my day, activities, thoughts and conscious feelings around maintaining my own sanity, happiness and well being.
Everyone knows we are our own worst enemy; YET… no one changes their attitude towards their selves. Recently I have, it’s been a huge deal breaker in my happiness the last few months. No one criticises other people as hard as they do themselves, (perhaps psychopaths with grandiose egos do) but most of us normal guys are very hard on ourselves. It’s common to look at yourself in the mirror and say ‘you don’t look good’, to think about your work and tell yourself ‘what an idiot and it’s a load of crap’. When do we ever (us reasonable decent people) say or think these things about our friends or even strangers? We just don’t! So why, OH WHY, are we so horrendously critical and cruel to ourselves.
I used to be the worst culprit for this. So much pressure, I had to be doing everything, all of the time, succeeding and progressing in every life pie I had a finger in. If I wasn’t doing well at work, exercising every bleeding day, if I ate a single grain of rice, then I beat myself up about it for days! Since being diagnosed and having all normal areas of my life on pause I have to spend all of my waking hours thinking about and maintaining my own happiness. Most people don’t need to do this, they just do things they enjoy, carry on with their normal daily activities and happiness comes naturally (or sometimes doesn’t).
I now, for the first time in my life, actively plan my day, activities, thoughts and conscious feelings around maintaining my own sanity, happiness and well being. What a chore, I have 0 hours left in my day after all of this self-preservation. So my advice to anyone struggling through cancer, or not, this will improve happiness for everyone= please stop being hard on yourself. TOO MANY CLICHES, yet my point still stands, we have heard it all before, but not a single person listens. It took the big C bomb to make me listen, so anyone healthy and happy, get a head start! I now never beat myself up after eating too much chocolate or some pizza. If I feel too tired or sad to get up and exercise, I happily allow myself the luxury of a sofa day. I look at myself fondly and see the struggle I’m going through and how I have survived. Instead of feeling shit my body is broken I take pride in the fact my soul is not. I am bloody fabulous and you are too (always channel the inner B). I may gain a few ickle wickle pounds, but the benefit to my happiness has been huge. Please heed my advice, honestly it is so worth it!
Although I have been suffering with the symptoms for quite some time, I am still fairly fresh off the block in the cancer world, just starting treatment and still under 6 months diagnosed. I am sure I will learn a hell of a lot more throughout this long and arduous journey. The more I learn and grow the easier it will get right? Fingers crossed for me.
To read more about the issues that face young adults with cancer and the impact of gynaecological cancer visit Young, Wild and Fibroblastic