A cancer diagnosis is a point of profound change in our lives, and for most people hearing the news, ‘You have cancer,’ is the start of a journey that takes over, at least initially, in all areas of our life – not just personally, but also our family and social life will be impacted.
Cancer diagnosis often means a cascading series of tests, specialist visits, and treatments that become the defining story of our lives.
Treatments will mainly involve some sort of medical intervention such as surgery, and/or combinations of chemo and radiotherapy, plus attending appointments with complementary practitioners and other support workers. It will be extremely busy. Our familiar daily lives are taken over by a series of appointments. This can be quite overwhelming, and become a significant stress to our body, mind and spirit, leaving little time for anything other than a scheduled existence.
We may have the need to stop work, and experience significant loss of time for social contact with friends and family, due to feeling tired or unwell.
The word cancer starts to dominate our thinking, planning, and conversations, and defines our sense of freedom or spontaneity to life.
This need not mean that all joy or meaning in our lives stops, or that we don’t participate in our healing in meaningful or life changing ways.
But it is true to say that partners, parents, friends and siblings will take on the numerous roles of carer/caring, with much of the intimacy of relationship absorbed in this process, and our conversations will be centred around our cancer situation.
It is a time of transition, as treatment and recovery for most people will be experienced over many months, not weeks.
Cancer starts to dominate our life experience in many ways. It redefines our personal story and we need the opportunity to remain the authors of our story about our illness, and to reconnect with a familiar sense of self, our true essence that is separate from illness, and the effects of illness. We need to reconnect with our community, family , friends in familiar ways that move us from survival to thriving, to reconnect with the “wonder of life, rather than worrying for ones life.”
Our pre-cancer life is gone, and we are not that same person, or family again. We need time to reflect, to redefine.
This process of coming to terms with the distress, the exhaustion and the upheaval, requires a need to release, and also a way to move forward and heal. This becomes part of how we develop and evolve through our experience of cancer, into creating a new life for ourselves.
On a day to day, week to week basis we need ‘cancer free time’, no matter what’s going on. No talk of treatment, illness or appointments. Some peaceful, restorative time – walking in the bush, café time, dinner out – whatever speaks to the sense of ‘my life’ not ‘my illness’.
In the bigger picture when the intensity of treatment, check- ups and upheaval have subsided, the opportunity to rest, reflect and redefine our priorities is critical to our long term recovery and peace of mind. So remember to make time for “a cancer free day along the way.”