Mindfulness and cancer

To be diagnosed with cancer does no longer necessarily mean you will die of the disease. Often, cancer can be cured, or de process can be slowed to such a degree that it becomes more of a chronic disease. Nevertheless, cancer always comes with losses and profound change to your life. As in the story below.

After the diagnosis has been made, it baffles you to conclude that you have suddenly become a cancer-patient. And before you have had a chance to get back to yourself you get swept up into a series of intensive medical treatments which totally disrupt your life. You are being lived. It may seem that you have to visit the hospital every day. Caregivers flock around you. Family and friends offer help and attention. Everyone commits to positivity. You enter the fight and give everything you can.

And then you are done with treatment. You might have been cured (although no-one gives a 100% guarantee). Or the cancer has been put at a distance as well as possible (yet no-one can tell you for how long). People around you tell you in relief: “Now you can start enjoying yourself again”, and you notice interest in your situation lessening. Everything returns to business as usual… but not for you. You feel like an island which has just been hit by a storm. The wind has stopped, but there is debris everywhere. All road signs point in the wrong direction.

Nothing is like it used to be. Maybe you have no idea how to move on. You might blame yourself: why can’t you just be happy? Why aren’t you relieved? You had been looking forward to living a normal life again for so long. Instead, you think: “Who am I really?” Because you no longer feel like the person you used to be, but you haven’t quite become someone else either. This makes you feel uneasy, insecure and afraid. And then there is the fear of the disease returning. And you realise how fragile your life actually is. There is nothing you can do anymore, but yet you think: “What should I do?”

 

You may recognize yourself in (parts of) this description. I (Stephanie) have been told stories like these by many people who have suffered from cancer. As long as you have the feeling that you are effectively battling the cancer you can take on anything, including the – sometimes very radical – consequences of all medical treatments. But when those are over, a new task presents itself to you: to Live On. Then there is nothing left to fight. Living on demands very different qualities, such as being able to reflect on what has happened to you. Such as grieving over your losses. Like your health and unquestioned trust in your body. Your candid outlook on life. Sometimes also grieving over previous losses which now – again – resurface.

It may be new to you to reflect and give yourself some attention. But it is necessary to be able to move on. You do not, however, have to do it by yourself. If you become stuck, you can ask for help in learning how to do this. It really does not have to be a prolonged or heavy path. After some time – sometimes this happens quite quickly – the space within you, which may now feel empty or filled with fear or uncertainty, could begin to fill itself again with a new ‘me’. You will have more breathing room, enabling you to move on – with your new life.

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