The "Hidden Costs of Cancer" - #WorldCancerDay - 4 Feb
For World Cancer Day on 4 Feb, I was interested to find that the MacMillan Cancer Support (one of the UK's leading cancer care charities) is raising awareness of what they refer to as the "Hidden Costs of Cancer;" some of the challenges of going through cancer that most people may not be aware of.
This really struck a chord with me; I meet many people on their "cancer journey" through my complimentary therapy and health-coaching work, through friends, colleagues and family members who are at some point on this journey too; whether they are currently going through treatment, or have done so in the past and now in remission.
They have often spoken of some of the surprising (if not shocking) challenges that they have faced along the way: from the moment of diagnosis, during pre-treatment preparations, whilst receiving treatment and also whilst in recovery and getting on with life again and absolutely wanting to make the most of it! "I want to 'live long and prosper!' " as one of my Star Trek fan-friends once quoted. And so be it.
So what are some of those little-known challenges? Where are the gaps?
Real-life, little-known challenges
Feeling like an Outcast - following diagnosis, noticing that friends/ colleagues "go quiet" or "can't look me in the eye" any more when you walk in the room, or perhaps cross to the opposite side of the street and "pretend they haven't seen me - or immediate family -coming". Why do you think this is? "They just don't know what to say to me". Just imagine how this might feel if it were happening to you, whether in good health or otherwise.
Maintaining a Victor not Victim mindset - if you are a very pragmatic sort of person, your patience and tolerance can wear thin when close family members/friends express their deepest sorry for your terrible diagnosis and suddenly start treating you ... well, differently. This is, of course, their way of expressing their love and concern perhaps; but for You, it feels like a cloud of Doom and Gloom being sent to you; because you don't want to feel like, or be perceived as, a helpless victim.
You don't want to feel like you are being pitied, and you really don't want to feel negative or disempowered either.
What you DO want to feel, though, is optimistic and positive! It's a tricky one this; you know they mean well, and truly do love and care about you, but it all feels a bit shallow to you somehow, and really pushes those irritation buttons!
Not "Walking On Eggshells" - You have always been The One Who Holds It All Together in times of family turbulence and trouble. You're the one they all come to to fix things and make things right? So you don't want to let them know about your inner turmoil. You put on your brave ever-smiley face .. but it is really a brave, ever-smiley face that betrays what's really going on underneath. If only you could be your authentic self. If only you could let down your guard, relax a little about Just Being You, and connect with Yourself more deeply. But no, you're still going to hold it all together and keep walking on those eggshells, however uncomfortable you find it. Maybe it takes your mind off it all. Afterall, that is a great strength you have there. It just takes so much energy to maintain that brave face; energy that you could really use for your own self-care and self-nurture.
Rebuilding Physical Body Strength and Resilience
It's a fact that cancer therapy treatment can be extremely gruelling. Some individuals sail through it and pop up like a cork bobbing on the top of the water
afterward, still afloat and seemingly getting on with sailing through life again. Albeit an adapted one. For others though, this can be an extreme hardship; just getting up every morning, and facing each day; let alone longer-term planning.
Depending where in your body your treatment needed to be focused, you might experience:
digestive disturbances due to digestive tract damage;
discomfort or pain during sexual intercourse (even if you still actually "feel like doing it");
you're constantly managing fluid retention and risk of oedema where your lymphatic system has been comprised;
you're struggling to chew and eat with your new, replacement false teeth;
your salivary glands no longer function, so you have to drink water as you chew, and you can't taste your food now anyway;
your whole immune system is just weaker, and even small colds become potentially terrifying;
every body twinge, ache or pain or previously "petty" illness naturally, and totally understandably, automatically triggers those "it's come back" thoughts and worries.
Hormones gone Haywire - if you knew exactly what it felt like to be an emotional omelette, that's probably how you'd describe yourself. Your fuse is short and your sense-of-humour has done a by-pass. Your energy levels dip and dive in a heartbeat. You often catch yourself being uncharacteristically upbeat and manic, or uncharacteristically low and depressed, angry and aggressive. You often wonder, "where did that "old me" ever go?
Recurrently Ruminating - you worry about your mental health. At night, just as you're trying to
get to sleep and are beginning to drift off into a broken slumber, the memory of your Diagnosis Day comes back to mind and is haunting in the level of detail as it replays itself over and over again in your mind: the room you were in, your Consultant's tone of voice, the look on their face, the words themselves. And perhaps this was all years and years ago. You just wish it could be put to bed .. and you could get some proper, peaceful, quality sleep. You really feel like you need some.
Loss of Confidence, Self -Esteem, and a Poor Body Image - we get that don't we, even when we are healthy and strong. A bit of social anxiety perhaps. The "I'm not good enough" complex stemming from growing up in the shadow of an over-performing more extrovert older sibling. And now, scrutinising the physical you in the mirror and just feeling like you've "lost it". It's like one of those days when you wake up, feel really crappy, then you stub your toe, you lock yourself out of your car, then it rains, then pours, and you can't find your house-keys now .. it's that downward spiral. You know you can turn it around. You know that with ramping up your tremendous inner resources, you could make it different and get that downward spiral to swing and go upwards in the opposite direction instead. But, just for today, you're too tired. And that's okay.
Thing is, the list can go on and on. This is just scratching the surface, to raise awareness of some of those Hidden Costs of Cancer that aren't often talked about. And you're still here! You've survived it all.
My advice to anyone else going through a cancer experience would be don’t panic – you are stronger than you think you are."
Helen, MacMillan Stories - World Cancer Day 2023
In addition to your course of treatment, there is so much you can do to support your own health and wellbeing. Gathering as much information as possible through your own research will help you make well-informed decisions about the next steps. This in turn will help you feel more empowered about your future health choices and options and give yourself a positive start to the challenges of your future journey. Wherever you are on your own health and wellbeing journey, please know that you always, ALWAYS have options, and choices.
Do not be afraid to look at all the alternatives available to you, explore all alternatives and do not be afraid to challenge if something doesn't feel right."
Judith, MacMillan Stories - World Cancer Day 2023
The Mental-Emotional-Physical-Spiritual Connection:
Turning the Gaps into Strengths and Opportunities
As human beings, we are so much more than our Physical self alone, aren't we? Addressing purely the physical symptom is just one important yet single perspective on reclaiming and restoring our optimum levels of health-related quality of life and wellbeing.
Casting our minds back over some of those "hidden costs of cancer" highlighted above, it's clear to see that when we experience issues with our physical health and wellbeing, it's essential not to neglect the impact that has on our Mental, Emotional and Spiritual health and wellbeing too. It's all too easy to omit our Social and Environmental world perspectives too.
Each one of these 6 factors are intimately intertwined and fully synchronous with each other.
Whilst this can present gaps and challenges, it can also highlight strengths and opportunities too.
Taking responsibility for our health and wellbeing doesn’t mean doing nothing. To the contrary. It means removing everything that’s blocking our body’s natural auto-regulation process and increasing vitality and self-healing mechanisms. To create lasting change, we want to consider changes in old Lifestyle habits, address Emotional hurts, be open to new ways of Thinking, migrate towards a more positive and uplifting Social circle perhaps, and even change our physical Environment.
In other words, get clear on what we want, focus our intent, and take Action.
This doesn't have to be huge, comprehensive Action that takes a lot of time, energy and other resources. It can be small, simple Actions that are easy to implement, easy to do ... and build up over time to create the lasting change you've been looking for.
Set aside an hour a month for a relaxational massage - and set out to enjoy it; don't feel guilty about investing in quality me-time and self care! Massage is a true holistic therapy and there are so many options available. Book a consultation or a bit of chat time with your therapist before your first treatment; don't be shy about shopping for a therapist you feel relaxed with and can trust.
If you are in the habit of adding 1 or 2 heaped teaspoons of sugar to your tea or coffee, ditch the sugar for a week; it will taste revolting to start with, but surprising how quickly your taste buds will begin to adjust! Processed sugars are highly inflammatory and highly addictive; just keep reminding yourself. A little bit