Let me start from a place of honesty and humility about how cancer makes me feel. I know how a new cancer diagnosis feels. I know how actively working on recurrence prevention feels. I know how recovery from major surgery feels. I don't know the days of how radiation and chemotherapy treatment feel. I "got lucky" with an early stage cancer that was surgically removed and am in active surveillance for 2 years or more, which is a fancy term for watching and waiting for cancer recurrence.
My challenge every day is not to get carried away with the anxiety or fear or other toxic emotions that come with this watching and waiting. In my journey of living with a cancer diagnosis, there are some days that are better, some that are worse. With or without cancer, you also may be having of those days, and this short blog is about the time spent on the spectrum leaning towards worse instead of better. I offer some options for you to employ every day to help move that experience away from the worse and toward the better.
I am no different from anyone else - not every day is unicorns and rainbows. However, these days are minimized with the effort to be actively engaged in my day. Active engagement means you are focussed on the task at hand or what you want to get accomplished, and not distracted. It feels good to be actively engaged and tends to reinforce our ability to stay engaged. Distractions come in many shapes and sizes and can be anything: your inner thoughts/commentary, the phone, the other people you live with, and of course, the news. It means getting stuff done when you want to, and not getting stalled out by something else. It means setting a healthy boundary to prevent toxic thoughts and other distractions from sidelining your daily goal of getting things done. Let's first discuss how to tell if these are toxic or healthy.
We all have an inner conversation or a running commentary in our own heads, sounding off about this thing or that event. Sometimes we have other people we live with providing that commentary as well. Start with gaining an awareness of that commentary and noting how it makes you feel. From there determine if this is good or bad for you, and work to resolve the bad and reinforce the good. Try to find a method to 're-program' the negative emotions you feel with the commentary. Challenge the bad and ask: "how necessary it is to reinforce the negative?". Answer: You can opt out of the negative commentary. Help is available if you have trouble doing that. It may be through walking, exercise, reading, listening to podcasts, working with apps, talk therapy, a church or support group, journalling, friends and family. The goal is to turn that negative commentary into a positive one with a tool that you can use to support you on the days when things are somewhere between better and worse. The tool has to be available and consistently provide your re-framing experience with the outcome you desire. Keep trying different options until you find one that works for your needs.
Living with cancer causes all manner of emotions within you and your loved ones. As I try to do this myself, I encourage all my patients to personalize regular practise which prioritizes mental health in the physical and emotional fight against cancer. It will build your resilience, keep the momentum going for the next challenging day and give you the confidence to move through that challenge. You can rely on your inner positive commentary to move you on the spectrum towards making today a better day.