Sunday, 1 September 2013

Mentally Surviving Cancer

Anyone that has found out they have cancer knows that not only are you going to be fighting the cancer in your body, but you will also be fighting a mental battle.  There will be a lot of thoughts and ways you view yourself that will threaten to bring you to a state of unbalance, anger, and depression.  Here's some thoughts from me to help with the post diagnosis time of your life:

Forgive yourself for having cancer.
I know this seems like a silly thing to say but one of the first things most think about, after the shock of the fact they have cancer, is to question "Why?".   No matter if it is genetic, something you encountered in your past, because you turned left and not right as the moon rose in the night sky, you are not being punished, you are not being singled out, you are not at fault.  Sometimes "bad" things just happen.  And, it may be hard to see now, but there is a chance that you will find a lot good throughout the experience.

Find the sexy in your new body.
A lot of treatments can lead to scars, indents in your body, or missing parts.  This was deemed necessary by your counsel of doctors/physicians, but that doesn't make the end result any less hard to live with.  Your body has been altered.  You are not the "you" that you had come to see day in and day out for all the previous days of your life.  As an adult you may find that you feel less attractive, you are scared to show this part of you, and your reflection is an ever present reminder of being diagnosed.  You may need a lot of time and solitude to find the acceptance you need to see that scar as a victory, see that missing piece of you as part of life and not a damnation.  If you already have a partner, talk with them about how your new body makes you feel.  If you do not have a partner, you must come to your own conclusion to when you want to tell prospective loved ones of your journey.  Fear of rejection is something we encounter whenever we share something intimate, like having (had) cancer.  Just remember if they cannot accept that part of your life, they don't deserve you.  No matter what love yourself and treat yourself with respect, don't accept anything less from someone else.

Cut the stress ties.
You have enough on your mind, if someone or something is only a source of stress, sever the connection.  Some will be so kind as to cut the ties themselves, making you feel abandoned.  It hurts to admit it, but some people are only fair-weather friends and do not care for you as deeply as you care for them.  This is almost more difficult to deal with than your sexual identity and the blame that you place on yourself for having cancer.  You need companionship, it helps with fighting the feeling of isolation you may encounter.  Having people berate, belittle, abuse you will not help you, even if you did not have cancer.  Hold those that love you close, say goodbye to those that cannot find it in themselves to cherish you.

Take a Cancer Vacation.
You may say this is a ridiculous notion but hear me out. Your mind needs a break, it needs down time, just like your body needs a rest between treatments.  So, either during the before mentioned breaks or after treatment is completed, take a vacation from your cancer, even if only for a day.  Find some friends that you can party with that know you just need a day to be you and not the cancer patient.  Run away by yourself for a relaxing time, lock yourself in a spa and forget about hospitals for a day.  Hide away with the family in a hotel and just enjoy each other with no IV's, surgeons, or cancer ribbons in sight.  Try to take as much time as you can, but at least get 24 hours under your belt to help rejuvenate your mind.

Find someone you can talk cancer to.
Doctors do not count here (unless the are survivors themselves).  Find someone that has (had) cancer and can relate to your situation.  They may not have (had) the same cancer, they may have (had) the same type but different treatments, it doesn't matter.  You need someone that can fully understand you.  Someone that understands what it feels like to have cancer put their life on hold.  You may find someone outside of an organization, or you may seek out a support group.  There's also organizations that hold retreats and conferences like Young Adult Cancer Canada.  Seek out a "cancer buddy".  Not only will your mental state benefit from this but it will give your loved ones a break from constant cancer talk.  They love you but need a break from cancer, too.

Get a pro.
When it comes down to it, you are going through a mentally straining situation.  Find a social worker or psychologist that can make sure your mental health is going in the right direction.  *This is not being weak*, this is being smart.  Friends and family are great, cancer buddies can give you advice, but when it comes down to it, you need someone that is a professional and has experience helping those going through cancer.  If you are having financial difficulties, these people may have groups/resources to help in that manner, or know who does. Many cancer centres have a list of social workers that are covered through insurance (and in Canada by your provincial health coverage).

I'm sure there's lots of other ideas and methods to help.  Try to remember to take it one step at a time, one chemo at a time, one treatment at a time.  You are still yourself, you are not your cancer.