This past year, the ‘C’ word on everyone’s lips has been Covid. It has consumed our minds and taken over our lives in ways that no-one could have anticipated. But before this dramatic global upheaval, the ‘C’ word meant something very different. And for many people, it remains so. Cancer has not gone away. It still steals our loved ones from us too soon. Unfortunately, in the wake of the Coronavirus, it has slipped a step in our priorities. You might ask what my purpose is in drawing your attention back to the terrible issue of cancer when we’re still in the throes of coping with Covid-19. The reason is that it is still one of the biggest killers in the world. At the moment, people with cancer are having to cope not only with a horrendous diagnosis but also with the fear and loneliness that the pandemic has created. Coping with cancer and our feelings about it has never been more important.
There have been studies conducted to follow the trend of cancer diagnosis and treatments since the start of the pandemic and it’s worrying. ‘Britain’s Cancer Crisis’, which aired on BBC One in early July 2020, follows the stories of several people living with cancer during the pandemic. The show highlights the shocking and horrific reality of how the pandemic is affecting people with cancer across the UK. Delayed diagnoses and cancelled treatments will potentially cause between 7,000 and 18,000 additional deaths from the disease in the most likely scenario over the coming year. The deaths from cancer are already heartbreakingly high at around 165,000 per year in the UK and around 606,880 per year in the US. (The numbers vary so largely due to the vast difference in population size).
So why am I telling you all this?
It’s certainly not to depress or scare you, and I apologise if that has been the result. No. I’m drawing your attention to this information because it’s important. We need not only to be aware of our own bodies but of the people around us who may be struggling. You may already have someone in your life who is enduring the difficult battle with cancer. Or you may be that person yourself. Either way, it is a painful and challenging time that requires immense strength. Coping with cancer, and your feelings, as a result, will help you face it with greater strength still. We must learn to face life’s challenges with dignity and an inner might that only shows itself when we accept what we are facing. Coping with cancer begins with what we are feeling, owning it, accepting those feelings, and leaning into others for support.
Speaking from experience
I don’t know anyone right now who is coping with cancer, and for that, I am very grateful. But I have been that person who has watched from the side-lines as someone they know battles it so bravely. My lovely Grandpa and my wonderful Dad were both taken by cancer within four years of each other. Between the ages of 14 and 18, my life was shadowed by uncertainty with hope and despair fighting each other for victory in our lives. I was very close with both my Dad and Grandpa and miss them still, all these years later. At the time, in the early stages, I don’t remember thinking about the true implications of a cancer diagnosis too much.
I’ve always been a ‘let’s just get on with it’ type of person, plus I was a teenager with lots to deal with in many areas of my life. But towards the end, when different services were brought in to help and people were coming around to support us, I entered into a state of numbness. I didn’t know what to feel or how to hope anymore. Looking back, this ‘state’ lasted for years. A low-level functioning that allowed me to survive, but not really live. Grief takes so much from us.
Your feelings are important
Expressing emotions and feelings has never come easily to me. Especially when I’m feeling vulnerable. I would drive my Mum crazy by keeping my troubles to myself. The result was usually me becoming extremely reclusive and easily upset which would invariably end in some sort of argument. If I’d been better at dealing with how I felt, this would probably have been avoided.
During times of extreme stress, heartache, and fear our feelings and emotions become so much more heightened and alarming. I became a different person; shy, emotional, a loner, but also braver. I did things that I wouldn’t have done before because my perspective on life had shifted. I forced myself to be brave because I knew I had to. Not only for myself but for those around me. I wasn’t going through hell alone.
It’s ok to feel it too.
How many times have you apologised for how you feel? Not just in this specific situation I’m talking about now, but at any time. So often we think it’s somehow unacceptable to feel the way we do. We don’t want to draw attention to ourselves or that we should feel some other way. This can be true especially if we’re supporting someone with a cancer diagnosis. But this isn’t healthy. We feel the way we feel for a reason and we need to acknowledge it, work through it, and then progress forward. Often, in these more extreme situations, you’ll find you’re not alone in how you feel. By being open, we can help each other and learn to cope with cancer and our feelings in a healthier way. We grow closer together and love each other better.
If however, you feel that you are not coping or dealing with how you are feeling it’s important to seek help. Feelings of depression, anxiety, or anger, for example, that are left to fester and worsen will become debilitating and make you unable to face the challenge before you. There are so many ways you can seek help, through the NHS if you live in the UK, through cancer charities, or by speaking to a therapist or life coach who can help you process how you are feeling. This is a service that we provide here at Mind, Body, and Soul. If you’d like further information, just click on the link.
Some people find it beneficial to write about their feelings. One such person is Kate Gayle, an Australian author, and cancer survivor. She was diagnosed with breast cancer, and through her experience, she wrote a book, Thanks for the Mammories. Click the link to purchase your own copy of her inspiring story and listen to John’s Podcast Mind, Body, and Soul on Youtube to hear directly from her about her experience. Click here to view the show.
Look after yourself
Dealing with any life-altering experiences is going to be hard. Often we create an illusion of control around us, only for life to step in our way, trip us up, and send us careening down a different path. Cancer is an extremely difficult path that many of us have taken, are taking, or will have to take. What is important, is to remember to look after yourself, both physically and mentally, to your best ability. Often we are embarrassed to talk about our bodies. I know I am at times. I hate getting the call up for cervical screening! Dread it, even! But I know that if I don’t, I’m putting myself and my future at risk. Check yourself where you are able, go to screenings when invited, take unpleasant tests when necessary. It’s a temporary embarrassment, and you never know… It could save your life.
What are your feelings about cancer?
Cancer is such a difficult topic and a terrible ordeal for anyone affected, so if nothing else, I hope I have inspired you to look after yourself and those around you by encouraging you to be more aware and face how you feel about cancer. Coping with cancer and our feelings should be an integral part of our society with so many of us affected by it!
In my research for this blog, I happened upon Macmillan Cancer Support’s website. I was specifically seeking methods of how we cope together under the shadow of cancer. As you might expect, there are many emotions that people experience, both as a patient or someone supporting them: anger, shock, fear, denial, anxiety, sadness, grief, loss. There are so many things we feel. But it’s important that we do. We will be unable to properly deal with the situation if we ignore how we really feel. If you live in America you can also seek advice and support here at the American Cancer Society.
Thanks so much for reading! Please subscribe to our mailing list if you haven’t already, and be sure to comment below with your story or experience with cancer. Often writing down how we really feel, or telling our story, can be a great way to help heal, move forward, or reach out for help. And it might just help someone else today!