The loneliness of a life with cancer

When I started this blog, I mentioned the feeling of loneliness that can play a big part in the lives of people affected by cancer. Today I want to go into a bit more detail about that, with some examples. Like a lot of things in life, it is hard to imagine, these effects unless you have experienced them yourselves.

As the regular readers of my blog will know, I have a wonderful family and a large, fantastic group of friends. I am involved in numerous projects weekly, plus I am still having regular treatment. So there are very few times that I am truly on my own. Yet there are many occasions when I can feel lonely. That doesn’t make sense I can hear you saying.I know it sounds crazy, but I am going to try and explain, now, how that works.

Ultimately, all the things that are happening to me, both physically and mentally, are things that only I can deal with.Sure, we can talk about them, but I am the one who has to decide. So many decisions to make, and even though there is so much information around, which sometimes can confuse matters, the decision stops with me. Have I made the right choice?? How will this impact on my life, and my family?

Making treatment choices, sitting with drips and machines for hours on end. Taking drugs, day after day and wondering what sort of effect they are having on your body. Those are only thoughts that you can imagine, unless you have experienced those things. Hours and hours of hospital visits, numerous discussions with doctors and health professionals, about your prognosis. Weighing up the pros and cons of your treatment. Will  it make you more sick than the disease? What will your quality of life be afterwards?

When it comes to the the physical treatment, it is only the patient that can deal with the chemotherapy, radiotherapy or surgery, and also the fallout from that. Everyone can be with you on your journey, but you are ultimately on your own, with most of the major stuff.

” Of course, this doesn’t come with any guarantees, Mr Lewis” .That’s a common thing I hear. I know that only too well, but I still have to make a decision about what to do next. It is like a game of chess, that I play in my brain. Just when I think I have got myself into a winning position, the opposition seem to pull out an unexpected move. Have I done the right thing, so many questions going round and round?

Coming away from the disease angle for a bit, and even social arrangements can be quite tricky at times. People want to support you, and maybe go out to dinner etc. But you are feeling tired, you are on a regime of drugs etc and therefore you have to make special arrangements, and there are times when you feel that you are the odd one out. You are being a pain, by wanting to leave early.

Even things like holidays are very difficult. Even if you are well enough to take one, there are all the issues, around holiday insurance, before you even start. Then, do you have the energy to do the things that everyone else would like to do?
Can you go to a warm place, sit in the sun, have a few drinks or go to night clubs? If you are lucky, maybe one or two from that list.

Work can be another problem area. If you are lucky enough to be able to continue your work, after illness, do things feel the same. Do your colleagues react to you in the same way they did? Are you able to still manage the same job you did? Just some of the issues you may have found if returning to work.

What about if you have been sick longer term, and have lost your original job? How will prospective employers view your illness? Where will your application form and CV sit in the queue for a new job? We all know what the law says, but what are the facts? I know very, very few people who have had long term illness and managed to find their way back into meaningful employment.

It starts to feel that you are the only one that has all these issues. In most cases, everyone is very supportive, and understands things to a degree, but It can feel like you are the odd one out. All your friends are working and having fun, living what might be classed a normal life, and there you are thinking about every small step of every day.

One common side effect of all this, can be sleep issues,  A lot of my fellow patients struggle in this side of their life, and it can work two ways. Either, you are so exhausted in the day, that you are constantly tired and fall asleep quickly. Or like me, your mind can be so active during the day, that it struggles to shut down at night. Unfortunately, to ensure that I am able to sleep, I have to have sleeping tablets. Before this, I was awake continuously, night after night. My mind found it impossible to close down of it’s own free will. This was an issue, not only mentally but physically too, as your body repairs itself while you sleep. Therefore if you are not sleeping correctly, you physical improvement will be a lot slower.

Hopefully I have been able to get across, some of the ways that people affected by cancer can suffer from loneliness, even though they appear to be surrounded by people.

If you are unfortunate enough to suffer with a long term illness you will be aware of many of the things that I have mentioned above. In fact you might have experienced other things, which I haven’t mentioned, and that you would like to pass on to other readers. Please feel free to add your own experience in the comments column, as we can all learn from each other.

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