Even when you seem to be doing well, there is always a sense of loss which may even become a deep sadness. Even if you are set to make a full recovery, you have lost a part of yourself that you didn’t ever think would die.
Perhaps you’ve lost a physical part of yourself, like a breast. That is a hard thing to get used to, and so much depends on how your family and immediate support group cope with your situation. But in addition to the physical loss, you have also lost a part of yourself. The part that you thought would live forever has been dealt a severe blow. Your plans for the future have hit a jarring speed-bump. Will you even have a future?
It is vital that you understand that everyone deals with grief differently. We all have different coping styles and different personalities. Our life experiences differ, as does our understanding and relationship with God. However, there are ways to help you through this hurdle and I’d like to share some of them with you now.
Two major issues you need to understand:
1) It is normal for you to feel sad, depressed, and even frightened.
Your life has been dealt a heavy blow. You don’t know for sure what the future holds. Perhaps you have been told that you don’t have long to live.
Just as a side issue here: If you’re trusting God with your life, then He is the One who decides how long you will live. The medical profession can only estimate based on statistics. But you are not a statistic! (Nearly 17 years ago my surgeon didn’t expect me to live a year! Oops! But God . . . )
Even if medically your treatment is going well, there are probably still those lingering doubts at the back of your mind.
Will the treatment beat the cancer?
Will I ever fully recover?
Will it come back?
Feelings of depression or grief are normal and need to be faced. Only then will healing start to take place.
2) The grief process takes time.
It can’t be forced or hurried. Some people quickly come to terms with their diagnosis and are ready to move on, only to hit a U-turn on the road. Then they wonder what has gone wrong. Many others find it takes months or even years to get on top of their situation. That is not wrong. Everyone is different, remember?
You need to be patient with yourself and talk openly with trusted friends who won’t criticise you (or preach to you). Keep the conversation as upbeat as possible. And remember—you’re on a roller coaster. When you are down, the path will go up once more. When you reach the top and feel good, chances are you’ll face another dip.
Contrary to how it sounds, this is actually helpful to understand. When you start to feel depressed, remind yourself, “This is normal” and “This too shall pass”, and prepare to feel better in the morrow. Or next week.
Remember too that if you’re on chemo, the drugs will cause your immunity to crash which also makes you feel terrible. This is when it helps to journal, to keep track of how many days it will be before you feel better. If this interests you, follow this link when you’ve finished reading, for a selection of different ways to journal.
Here are some tips to help you cope with the sad times:
Don’t try to ignore the emotion and think it will just go away. You need to deal with it. Sadness, like the other emotions on the cancer roller coaster, is normal. Crying isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s your body’s normal reaction to the shock, fear and sense of loss of a cancer diagnosis. At the same time, there are other ways of showing sadness. Maybe you don’t feel like crying. That is not abnormal.
You need support. Talk to loved ones and friends. When people ask how they can help, tell them! Don’t say, “Oh nothing thanks. I’m fine!” Give them ideas of how they can help, even if it’s only offering a shoulder for you to cry on. And don’t say, “Just pray!” Tell them how you need them to pray. People like having a specific need to pray for.
Lean on God. If you already have a strong faith, find comfort through spiritual activities such as prayer, meditation and reading Christian books. If you don’t have a faith to sustain you, please contact someone in leadership at an alive Christian church and attend a couple of services. Ask the Lord to show you who to speak to, and set up an appointment to chat to them.
Watch out for full depression. If your grief gets to a point that threatens to overwhelm you, or you feel as if you’re sinking into a real miry pit, look for a counselor who can help you work through the emotions. If you don’t know anyone, ask your oncologist or medical doctor for help. See point 1. Do not ignore this.
Face your fear of a recurrence realistically. Of course you are afraid of this. Who wouldn’t be? Are you afraid of being run down by a motor car when you cross the road? No? Then why do you look both ways and wait for the traffic to stop before you cross the road? Of course you’re afraid. But you take care and you live with it. So yes, a recurrence is always a possibility. You can’t get away from it. But you can take care of yourself, and learn to live with the possibility. You don’t feel you have the strength to cope with it? Of course you don’t. But you don’t need it right now. So leave the future in God’s hands, and live in the now!
Continue to take care of yourself physically. No matter how bad you feel, force yourself to get out of bed (if you have the strength), have a bath or shower, put on makeup (ladies only please!) brush your hair and your teeth. Even if you have to take you all morning to achieve all this, one step at a time with rests in between, you will feel better for making the effort.
Find new ways to deal with your emotions. Speak to God in prayer or through the pages of a journal. (See link at the bottom.) Take up journaling, even if only short phrases at a time. Find a new craft or pick up an old one. Look for ways to involve your mind in something other than cancer. I took up fabric painting when I was on chemo. Some weeks I didn’t have the strength to attend classes, but I could still do a little at home.
Make sure you get sufficient sleep. Speak to your doctor if you have a problem with sleep. Now is not the time to avoid sleeping medication. When I told my oncologist I couldn’t sleep but didn’t want to “get hooked on sleeping pills” his response was, “Take the medication I prescribe. Your body can’t fight insomnia as well as cancer.”
Get as much exercise you are physically capable of. If you are confined to a chair or your bed, try gentle leg lifts, or arm exercises. Ask to see a physiotherapist for advice, or even Google for ideas. Caution: Clear any exercise regime with your oncologist first.
Eat healthily. Increase your vegetable and fruit intake. Decrease fatty substances and red meat. Don’t become paranoid, but be sensible. Now may be a great time to invest in a juicer and start to prepare yourself tasty health drinks.
Educate your friends. If you have a friend or caregiver who likes to tell you to “snap out of it” speak up. Tell him or her that it’s okay for you to feel upset, cry, or get mad. Help them to understand the concept of the emotional roller coaster you’re on.
Think ahead for difficult dates. Anniversaries of people you loved who died, or the date they received their diagnosis can bring back emotional turmoil. Make plans for the day. Don’t try to ignore the date. Arrange to do something that will honor the person or situation, and get someone to do it with you.
Join a support group either physically (best) or even online. Sharing with others going through the same or similar experiences can help you get things into perspective.
Don’t wallow! Having stressed the need to accept sadness as a normal part of the process, I need to end on this final note. Don’t allow yourself to go on a pity party. If you need to cry, cry—then get on with something else. If you feel miserable, decide what needs to be done, read a good novel, phone a friend to come and visit, or do something else to help you overcome the negative emotions.
Above all, remember that sadness is a normal loop on the cancer rollercoaster. Hang on tight, go along with the ride, and you will soon experience the next upward swing.