Cancer and its relationship with death
The word cancer brings fourth many scary thoughts to one’s mind. It appears to encompass everything that we want to avoid thinking about. My work with patients who have been given cancer and palliative diagnoses brings death to my mind on almost a daily basis. Facing the reality that we are mortal and our time on earth, in many senses, is finite can be a harrowing reality check. I have learnt that overtime this fear can fluctuate. Patients move between fearing death, accepting its reality, focussing on what appears to be the mundane and living life.
Patients come to therapy tormented by what cancer has brought forward, not just physically but mentally. Therapy can be a helpful way to begin to process some of the thoughts and fears that have come about as a result of cancer. It is challenging to pinpoint what will work for one person as it varies between each individual. Some of the things below, I have personally found helpful, when forced to consider our finite time on earth.
Firstly, one of the things that has helped me is to consider the now: the present. Taking a minute to truly appreciate what is around me. Bringing your attention to being alive right now can help to reduce some fear around one’s life coming to an end.
One of the simplest ways to incorporate this into your life is through the simple practice of mindfulness. For me, that is in taking a mindful walk or having a mindful bite of food. Find what works for you; it can be helpful to consult with your therapist about this as they might have come across lots of different mindful practices.
Secondly, it can be helpful to consolidate your beliefs about what happens after one dies. Some people believe in a life after death and a meeting with God. Others, in reincarnation or some in nothing at all. Having discussions and developing an understanding of what you believe will happen, can be useful when facing an existential crisis.
Thirdly, I have found engaging in imagery exercises to be. This can be imagining past scenarios in which you recall being content for example on holiday and just being with your best friend. Or it can be to a completely imagined place. I often visit an empty beach. I close my eyes, imagine and conjure up all that I can see, then I move to what I can hear, what I would be able to touch, what flavours would be present in my mouth and what beautiful smells would be encompassing me. Engaging in this exercise can feel relaxing and can have powerful effects on your general psyche.
The above are some exercises that may provide some relief however the truth is nothing can take truly take away death anxiety forever. It comes and goes in waves. We just need to prepare ourselves for when it does come. Be prepared to feel scared, sad, lost and then consider what steps might be helpful for you to take from there.