I have recently returned from a week on the English coast, with our grandchildren and we had probably pretty much continuous wind and rain the whole time. It was possibly the wettest week of the year! We all know that the English weather can be extremely unpredictable so we gambled on the end of August being at least warm. Even before we left I saw the weather forecasts then immediately thought of the problems of trying to keep youngsters occupied, all I could see were the negatives. Bad weather and bored children for a week wasn’t how I imagined spending my valuable time. But once we arrived, the kids loved their new scenery and we were all laughing as we got caught in the first shower of the day. Soon we had planned things to do that weren’t weather reliant and we all had a great time. There really were many positives to come out of our break, but the negatives were the first thing I saw.
Since my diagnosis in 2007 I have continuously seen all the things I have lost because of my poor health. It has almost become a natural way of thinking, concentrating on all the bad things that were happening to me. Which is quite strange as prior to my illness I was a really positive and confident guy. So was it the disease that affected me and how did my personality change so much? Why it happened I still don’t know but it has, and I am receiving some specialist help to deal with it. Looking for the positives in every situation is what I now work hard to do, and it is very difficult I have to say. It has been like re training my brain, which at my age is no small task!
I’ll have to agree when many people ask how can you find any positives from cancer? When first diagnosed it felt like my world was collapsing, and someone had pulled everything from under my feet! Almost everything I knew and relied upon was taken from me. Like many people I had always taken my health for granted but realised I could now do nothing without it. I was relying on my clinicians, family, and an awful lot of luck. It became quickly apparent that with unreliable health for the rest of my life and the possibility of the disease coming back at any stage my life plans were trashed. As my health became more unreliable it became difficult to find the positives. Everyone of course was encouraging, and the favourite phrase became “stay positive” which is much easier said by people who never saw the scans and had the conversations about making sure your affairs are in order.
On one of my long stays as an inpatient as my liver was starting to fail it was remarked that I didn’t seem my usual self. I was then visited by a member of the psychology team who asked me what my problem was, I replied that I was feeling fed up, and when he looked in my encyclopedia proportion sized case notes replied, “I’m not surprised!” Which did actually make me smile. As a healthy man I had never worried about my career and earning potential as I knew that as long as I was able to work I could earn, which I guess gave me some confidence. As my long term health issues began to open up, the fact that I would never be able to work regularly started to play on my mind, then I started doubting my own ability. Even if I was able to survive, what would I do with my time, I struggled to see any positives at all!
But actually they were there, it was that I was struggling to see them. I was still alive, there were my family and friends supporting me. It started from there, being grateful for what I had previously taken for granted, and there was a lot of it! Now when I reflect on my time as a cancer patient, I can actually see so many incredibly positive things that have happened, that would never have happened in my previous life. Of course I wouldn’t choose my current life but it has happened and I must make the best of it. Some people say that they feel a better person since cancer, and I am not really one that agrees with that, but I do know that I am gaining a lot more satisfaction from what I do now, than when I was charging around chasing money.
I am a great believer in Karma and ‘paying it forward’ whenever I can, and in recent weeks I have received some totally unexpected exciting invitations. The world certainly moves in mysterious ways but I have become used to it now and have begun to believe that there will me more good things to come. I never wanted a mundane life, and my early steps into self-employment certainly ensured that didn’t happen but since my diagnosis life has been incredibly unpredictable, so I guess that could be seen positively too. If it were my choice I would still be working, and have little knowledge of cancer, but life has shown me a different path. We have all seen things we never expected to in our lifetime, things we couldn’t influence, and we must make the best of them.
Do you find it easy to find any positives from a difficult situation? Is it easier to find the negatives? How have you dealt with your own issues? As always I would love to hear your experiences.
I was somehow expecting to be told I had cancer, though not womb cancer as I’d not heard of it before being given the diagnosis. As soon as the Consultant said I’d need surgery followed by radiotherapy I took the positive view – rightly or wrongly, probably naively – that at least I was being told there was treatment available. The CNS ‘phoned me the day after diagnosis and began speaking to me in what I felt was a rather sepulchral tone, telling me she realised it was a shock etc etc. I stopped her and said I was kind of expecting to be told I had cancer, that it wasn’t terminal and they’d spoken about treating me so I was OK at that point. She urged me to be cautious in a, “Well, hang on a minute,” kind of way and I told her I realised we’d have to take it step by step. Once she knew I didn’t want to dwell on negatives she spoke to me in a normal tone from then on. I looked for the positives throughout but only took one day at a time, feeling that I couldn’t look ahead: the cancer had been removed; there was no need for radiotherapy after all; the resus team stemmed the bleed-out two weeks after surgery; antibiotics cleared the infection in one of the wounds. My daughter told me, “As you’re OK with it I’m OK with it,” and it seemed that me looking for positives, no matter how small they might be, was not only my coping strategy but helped her too. I have a pretty warped sense of humour too and that definitely helped see me through. I accept that it isn’t always possible to be positive and that negatives had / have to be faced. I found it far harder to deal with my father having, and dying from, cancer because he was diagnosed too late than I ever did having cancer myself as there really was no control over what happened to him. Some might argue that there’s never any control and I did feel that way to a certain extent at the outset. I’m now five years clear and was discharged from gynae-oncology in June this year. Looking for the positives became a permanent mindset, almost as though I might jinx myself if I were to look for anything else. It’s something I feel I gradually trained myself to do, if that makes any sense. I’ve mostly kept any negative thoughts about having had cancer to myself and have only very gradually begun to look ahead, though not too far. I always say the demons were locked away in a metal box at the back of my mind and have escaped less and less, thank goodness. Cancer has changed me, hopefully for the better in some ways, though I confess I have my less rational moments on occasions and don’t necessarily remember as well as I used to or understand as well as I used to, I guess that was the trade-off for me now living what I’d say is a pretty good life post-cancer – I’m not gloating or boasting, it’s just an all things considered assessment of where I am at the moment. I don’t think about what might happen in the future, I probably focus more on the now than I ever have done before. Have a good Sunday, Chris, and thank you for letting me say all this. Deb xx
Hi Deb, it sounds like you have a regime that works for you which is great. When you receive a cancer diagnosis, your world is changed forever, and there is no rule book to help you deal with the changes. I guess we all do what we can to help us through, and what works for one, doesn’t work for others. There are times when I think I have found a way but something always happens to surprise and challenge me.
I also focus much more on the now, and the rest of it will take care of itself!
Thanks as always for sharing your experiences Deb. This site is a community site so that we can all learn from each other and is there for everyone and wouldn’t work without these sort of contributions.
The very best to you as always, Chris xx
Living with cancer represents many challenges. Getting a hold of your attitude is one of them. And it’s not always easy.
The practice that has saved me has been meditation. It’s given me the tools to be calm in the midst of calamity. But it requires daily practice to stay with it, and that’s not always easy.
And sometimes adversity and set backs bring new learning experiences. I’ve been “forced” into yoga to rehab a new hip (chemo/steroids have destroyed my joints). Yoga is difficult, but I’m desperate to regain my mobility. So it’s off to yoga 3 times a week and in less than 3 months, I’ve seen significant improvement. My newfound strength is giving me cause for optimism. What’s been most interesting though, has been the shift in my attitude.
Yoga forces me to be accepting of my body and where it is today. Pausing in acceptance is a new experience, and it’s one with deep inherent wisdom. And it changes. One side is different that the other. Everyday is different. I am where I am.
Cancer has opened up experiences I doubt I would have had otherwise. It’s given me courage to let go of many pre-conceived notions; to question my life values; to take risks that I might not have taken before.
As I look back at my life, I realize that holding onto things creates pain. When I release my grasping, magic happens. I got divorced–In letting go I learned to soar (not just metaphorically, but in high performance sailplanes!). My beautiful house flooded and I moved out with almost nothing—I discovered the joy and freedom of simplicity. Neither were pretty paths at the time, but both were good lessons.
Perhaps cancer is teaching me to be a better student of life. I know there will be future trials and tribulations. May I learn more readily this time around!
In the meantime, off to yoga! Be well Chris,
Hi Pat, I love “perhaps cancer is teaching me to be a better student of life.” You have certainly seen plenty of challenges in recent years and I admire your acceptance of things. I am slowly coming round to that way of thinking myself but it has certainly taken time!
It is fantastic that you have found yoga and meditation as positive focuses, I feel it is important to step away from the cancer arena at times if you can.
I hope yoga was good and thanks as always for sharing your incredible cancer experience for the benefit of others. Be well too Pat!
Whenever negativity strikes I always look at how far I’ve come and all the amazing people I’ve met on the journey. I would not have chosen to have cancer but find it genuinely surprising at the courage and strength one can find when there is no other option!
It’s very similar for me too Margaret. Cancer certainly takes away, but can give in many unexpected ways.
Thought provoking as always Chris. I personally have never seen you any different from your pre-cancer days to now. You have always been a pleasure to see and chat with and I always came away feeling positive as it was such a pleasant time.
I think it’s difficult being positive in this world we live in today and living with cancer must be a hundred fold worse. Your blogs are a great help and am sure have supported so many people in being and staying positive.
Thx so much for your kind comments Ken. I have always found my pleasure by helping others, and my humour has remained the same really, despite the disease. It is certainly satisfying to be able to share experiences through this medium and knowing that you can help others. as always your support is greatly appreciated. Please pass my best to Mary and all.