When you are first diagnosed, there is a process of shock, maybe sadness, anger, overwhelm, fear, why me, unfairness…and there is a stage of getting over the shock.
But what I struggle with from time to time…is the thought ”how did my life turn out this way?” Some call it grief – of all that is lost through having cancer. I guess I can see it that way. For me, it is hard to accept that this is how my life was supposed to be.
For many people, life does not follow a straight line – there are illnesses, deaths, loss and heartbreaks on the way. For me, I never saw my 30s and 40s as being the breast cancer years. I saw them as the career and relationship years.
And as well as that, who knows how the rest of the years will be? There is an element of fear about what the future might look like. Believe me, I don’t want BC again.
So there is an identity issue “is this really my life?” I say to myself. “Is this really how my life was supposed to be?” But perhaps the question really is…’how did I think my life was supposed to be?’ or perhaps more importantly, my life was supposed to be different, somehow better.
Maybe at 44, I was supposed to be a wife, in good health, working overseas, and on my way to owning a home. Planning holidays, planning dinner parties, doing volunteer work, and having dreams and goals.
But the reality at age 44, is that I am not in great health, I do not own my own home, I’m single, I’m not working and I’m unsure when and what I will be working on next. In fact, I hope that I don’t get BC again but I can’t control that.
What can I control? Eating well, doing meditation, doing exercise and trying to make peace with this thing of cancer.
What I can’t control is whether there will be a recurrence and the fact that BC happened to me. Whether I like it or not, this is my life or has been my life. BC is part of my life journey.
I never thought it would be in life. I hope it won’t be in my life again. But I need to get to a point where all of this okay. My friend Jasmina calls it cancer-ship, making peace with cancer.
Sometimes I am at peace with cancer. Other days, I feel it is very unfair and feel quite sad about it. Other times, I need to distract myself from thinking about cancer; it is possible to have a BC website without checking in with how I feel about having cancer. Also, there is so much to deal with – there is surgery, chemo, medications, doctor’s appointments, feeling sick etc. etc. It is easy to avoid noticing how I feel about having BC.
Sometimes I see glimpses of being okay with it. That it is taking me on an unknown journey which is rich, rewarding, exciting, challenging and …I feel on track, living my life purpose. But other times, I want to be normal, working 9-5, not thinking about life and purpose so much. Just living my old life.
Sitting with feelings
Overall, when I feel safe to do it, I can sit with the feelings of having cancer. I sometimes cry, write a poem and write things in my diary. I talk to my art therapist and draw things. Sometimes, I mention how I feel to people.
Other times, I feel that I need to eat some chocolate and stay busy so I don’t need to feel it.
I am doing a mindfulness class through the Cancer Society and part of it involves meditation. There, it is okay to sit with feelings, listen to the breathing and feel what’s happening in my body. And I am starting to see that this is what it’s all about: feeling my feelings, listening to intuition, instead of holding myself so tight, not wanting to cry or show upsetness.
The new plan
It is okay to feel feelings about having cancer. And it’s great to move to acceptance of having BC. My life is not going according to plan but maybe it’s going exactly right according to a different plan. And I guess, in ten, twenty or thirty years’ time, I will know all about this new plan is for me.
In the meantime, I kind of have stopped planning. I do what feels right and interestingly enough, I feel more on track with life than I ever have.
How do you feel about cancer being part of your life journey? Are you at the place or in the process of acceptance? How has your life path been changed by cancer? I would love to know.