I remember the day I was told I had cancer. My first thought was “that’s not possible, this can’t happen to me”. My whole life just flashed across my mind to understand where I could have gone wrong to get this ‘terminal disease’.
Cancer has taught me several lessons about myself and my life which I otherwise wouldn’t have learnt. So here goes:
Cancer is not = death:
when we first heard I had breast cancer, the only thought, like most people would have is.. I’m going to die.
I remember an emotional discussion between me and my husband where the only thing he wanted of me was not to lose hope and the only thing I was scared of was the process. My partner was not afraid of the process while I did not think my time had come! This simple communication strengthened us. Very often we keep our fears to ourselves as we don’t want our loved ones to suffer more. But often, it helps for you to just vent and release any toxic thoughts.. you will be surprised at how relieving it is.
As we went through the diagnosis with doctors and became a part of support groups, we realised that a lot of progress had been made in this field. Many survivors lead healthy, long lives. That’s all I needed to know.
What do I do: I have joined a support group in my city. There are so many who have survived this cancer and are going strong. This group can also help you with recommendations for all sorts of questions you may have. It’s a sisterhood of sorts and they understand your apprehensions completely.
Sometimes ignorance is bliss:
I decided to stay away from the internet as I did not want to play the statistics or probability game. The internet is a scary place and at this time my vulnerability is high. My mind could get stuck on some side effects or threats to life etc, so I thought best to focus on other things.
What do I do: I don’t read much on my cancer except for what is absolutely necessary. Diet, exercises, blogs of cancer patients and what helped them etc are things I usually check out.
Get a perspective on what truly matters & feel grateful for it:
When the shock of finding out wore thin, I remember crumbling and feeling how unfair life had been. But then I started thinking it could have been worse. I would have found out when it was too late. The pandemic had pretty much made stepping out difficult. Had I not still decided to take the risk and meet a doctor that day, I would probably have not made it. Cancer simply helped me with a different perspective.
It taught me what and whom I value most in life. What do I want to spend time doing? Wallowing in self pity or doing something that I enjoy. Cribbing about small things or trying to make each day count? When it brings you to the door of death, it shows you how we often take so many things for granted, including our spouses and children, our home, our family. It helped me see and treasure what I had. In a way it made me more positive.
What do I do: In one of my counselling sessions, I was asked to show gratitude everyday for 5 things. At first it seemed like a task, trying to remember all that had happened that day that I felt grateful for. But as it became routine, I learnt to smile while documenting everything I felt grateful for, in my journal. It made me see the small things which I would otherwise overlook. Small things like thanking the medication for helping me fight the disease or thanking our helper for being so awesome with my newborn.
Your inner circle:
Trust me, you will be surprised at the people who step in and out of your life at this point. This is the time I started realising who is truly there for me. Often you will get pity. There is a time when you can face the pity and be indifferent, but now is not the time. Now is the time to build your circle of trust. People whom you know have your back and will be there for you no matter what. Pity is the last thing you need.
I fell in love with a quote I read recently “Sometimes, you stumble across people you weren’t looking for, but the Universe knew you needed’
Its these times that you see who goes the extra mile for you. Who is ready to push you out of your comfort zone and not allow you to sulk. I had friends who would take out time during the week to catch up, counsel me, do fun things and basically just be there. I saw my in-laws stop there lives completely to devote their time to my newborn, so my husband and I could focus on the treatment.
It’s ok to feel weak and ask for help. It’s not a sign of defeat. This is your inner circle and keep them close. They matter the most.
That doesn’t mean your other friends/people whom you expected more from are not there, they probably have their own way of being there for you, which is also ok.
What do I do: I reach out to my inner circle at any hour. It’s a privilege they have given me and I appreciate them for that. My body has cancer, but my mind is as healthy as ever, that’s where I love to indulge myself with my clique!
I have also started counselling sessions with someone to help me deal with my mind blocks. She too is now part of my inner circle.
Whatever it takes!:
often in times of adversity its quite difficult to see the rainbow. My treatment started with 1 dose of chemotherapy and then moved to hormonal therapy with a possibility of having to go back to chemotherapy if this doesn’t work. With so many up and downs the only constant is the mindset that IN THE END everything is going to be fine. Cancer has taught me resilience.
‘How your mind can heal your body’ by David Hamilton or the new Netflix series Heal were things I have recently seen.
“Whatever it takes” is my mantra!
What do I do: In one of my therapy sessions, I took a Sankalpa (an intention by the heart and mind which states something you want to achieve as already achieved). Everyday I visualise and repeat the same in present tense. It’s the story I have created of the future and ensure my actions are also aligned.
Visualisation exercise. The day I beat cancer. How will it look. What will happen. What is my reaction. Visualise the smallest detail and live it everyday.
Through my counselling sessions, I have realised how I see myself. Often we look at ourselves as incomplete or faulty. Only if I was prettier, or more intelligent, or more outgoing and the list goes on. When do we truly start loving ourselves for what we are? One day, early on during my diagnosis I decided to chop off my hair and then did not like what I saw. Also cancer wreaked havoc on my body with external marks showing. I hated myself then.
What do I do: It’s in this time that my counselling sessions helped. I started writing letters to myself, my body, my mind apologising for never realising how each part had sustained me for so many years… given me the best years as a healthy human being. If only I had appreciated it more. But it’s never too late. Do I love myself completely now? Probably not, but it’s the realisation that matters. That I might be flawed but am beautiful in every way.
The letters felt strangely cathartic. I also landed up writing a letter to my mother, who had passed away a couple of months before my diagnosis. It just helped me grieve for the loss and communicate whatever I wanted to say to her.
when chaos reigns in the mind, one of the best techniques I have learnt to calm it is meditation and yoga. While I can’t perform too many yoga poses, there have been several beautiful souls who helped me with some basic yoga postures and meditation practices and breathing techniques. This is something I practice religiously and it has definitely made me calm and happy.
What do I do: I practice yoga, breathing exercises and meditation for an hour everyday. I also chant certain shlokas which give me strength.