Words from people who have or have had cancer…..
Cancer. 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women will experience cancer in their lifetime. It is now recognized as a manageable disease. Simply, cancer is one word for many different diseases in which some cells go rogue, just won't quit when they are supposed to, then multiply. Our immune systems are supposed to catch these wild ones.
The following are the pearls of wisdom comes from the people that I've been privileged to meet in my clinic or in our Yoga for People with Cancer class.
1. You've got the power. Listen to your intuition, your mind and your body while making the many big decisions ahead of you. You'll be getting to know and handing over some degree of power to medical professionals and making challenging decisions. Check in with yourself with kindness and gentleness. Seek support from your MIPs (most important people).
2. Recognize that you are still you. Many people describe a loss of identity as they search for one cause, one action/habit/behaviour/situation that is the root cause of "their" cancer. Try thinking of cancer as a mystery….one cell mutated and the immune system didn't catch it. No ownership, no causation. Not your fault.
3. Sit a while. Be aware of your thoughts, ideas and sensations, the good, the bad and the ugly. Ask for what you need and for what you want. Some call this experience "sitting well with discomfort" rather than denying its presence or letting it completely take over. Learn to be aware of how you're coping with cancer, your treatments and how they're affecting you.
4. Give yourself space when all the medical attention is over. This may sound odd, but many people report feeling quite lost when, after far too much intervention, there is suddenly none. No doctor visits, no specialists, no tests, consultations….then what? There is a period of waiting for you and your medical team to see how your body is responding. It can be a scary and lonely time. Talk to those people with whom you can be vulnerable and open or seek an appointment with your GP and/or a counselor.
5. Oh, those comments. "You look great!" "How are you, really?" or avoidance. Many people, from good friends and family to acquaintances, have no idea how to interact with someone with cancer. Some want to reassure or offer their stories, opinions and internet "wisdoms". Those with cancer have said: simply be present, listen, "be normal", have other topics of conversation (besides cancer), go for a walk together, remind us all that there is beauty in life outside of tests, surgery, radiation, chemo and side-effects world!
6. And sometimes, the "side effects" go on, and on, and on…… For some people, cancer doesn't end with the end of treatment. Hormonal or targeted therapies can last 10 years, create sudden onset menopause and give both women and men hot flashes. Retesting can be every 3, 6 or 12 months and be terrifying. Just attending doctors appointments and hospital tests can evoke fear. There may be side-effects from chemo (like peripheral neuropathy), radiation (like scar tissue) and surgery (loss of part of you) that change you for a lifetime. The people around you may assume that you're "done the fight", expecting you to bounce back. They may not recognize your challenges. Describe cancer related fatigue (and how it's different from garden variety "tired") and cancer related cognitive dysfunction ("chemo brain") to those near you. Help them understand your present experiences to help them be more compassionate and understanding. And know that your body is really talented, wants to restore and almost all side-effects reduce in intensity in time.
Here we are in a new decade where cancer is considered a manageable disease. Who knows what brilliant insights we'll have in understanding cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment!
Yoga for People with Cancer classes are held on Mondays at 10:00 at The Yoga Room at 1204 NW Blvd. in Creston. First class is free and come as you are…no special clothes or equipment, no previous experience or fitness level, just you and a sense of humour!