Living with cancer - yours or someone you love
Cancer. Such a frightening word to say out loud and yet so many of us are having to face it at some time in our lives. Sometimes it’s a far away thing, a famous person, a friend’s family member, an item on the news. Yet it feels so different once it touches us personally. Whether you are the person who has cancer or it is someone who you love or care about dealing with cancer can be terrifying, confusing and overwhelming. This article seeks to think about some of those difficult feelings whether you are the person with cancer or someone you care about and to consider how therapy might be helpful for you.
Living with cancer is such an isolating place to be. It can feel that the whole world just seems to be getting on with things and there you are, facing every day with what seems an uphill struggle and a whole sea of uncertainty. This uncertainty often seems to take the form of torturous questions. "Why me?" "Why our family?" "What if I die?" "What if they die?" and "What if I’m not strong enough?" go round and round in our heads. Many of these thoughts stay hidden, frightening to ask out loud or just too hard to say.
It may also be hard to ask questions, to know what will happen or to hear that we do not know will happen. Odds, statistics and horrible facts from the internet leave us flooded with fear and feeling you are not sure if you want to know.
How can therapy help me?
Therapy is not for everyone, it does not feel helpful for everyone but for some people it can be a place of refuge. A place to speak the unspeakable to someone who doesn’t need you to be strong or doesn’t force you to feel something, someone who accepts you right where you are. The experience of expressing some of the pain, frustration, confusion, irritation, anger or perhaps numbness you feel with someone along side you to support you can help you to manage. Your therapist can offer you a place where you do not have to worry about upsetting someone or scaring them with how you feel.
We live in a world where we like to believe that things can be easily explained, that we understand why and how things happen and that we deserve good things to happen to us. Dealing with cancer shatters these illusions and can release some powerful feelings that can be difficult to make sense of. Therapy is a space to think about those feelings, to experience them safely and to help to manage them. We can feel let down by our bodies and it can help to relearn how to trust and experience hope or acceptance.
When is the right time for therapy?
Again, this is different for everyone and it is important to consider the different stages you might find yourself in and how therapy can help at this stage if you are struggling.
Shock and disbelief may be your initial response to hearing that you or a loved one has cancer. Many thoughts will fly around your head and then you may have difficult decisions to make. How to tell loved ones and in particular your children, partner, parents and even your work colleagues can be difficult to work through. You may feel fearful about the future or need to focus on what is to come. Therapy at this time can offer support to anyone who is struggling to work through the turbulent time that can follow someone having a diagnosis.
This can be a difficult time to access therapy as life can become completely consumed with medical appointments and dealing with the day-to-day worries and physical implications of cancer treatments. It can be difficult to fit in the regular activities you do in life and it can feel like you are exhausted by small tasks whether you are the person who has cancer or someone who is supporting them. Having a space to talk to a therapist in this time (if this is something that is feasible) can help you to manage some of the psychological implications and to have a space to offload and feel safe and supported.
There can often be a fantasy, especially for people who care about the person with cancer, that when the treatment is over the person is now ‘fine’. Whether the treatment is successful or not, dealing with cancer does not always get easier at the last radiotherapy session. Sometimes people are able to put it to one side and can quickly return to a normal life. They may want to try to forget about what they have just experienced and to get back to living. However, for some people it can be difficult to adjust and to let go of some of the unexpressed anxiety and worry that they have been experiencing often for months. For many people this too eases over time but for some others this can be a point where therapy might help.
It can be a space to make sense of what the future looks like, whatever that means to you at the time. Especially when some of your support network may step back and ‘go back to normal’ and you feel anything but. Making sense of these feelings with a therapist can alleviate some of the weight of carrying them around. This may particularly mean that you will feel fearful ‘what if I always worry about every twinge?’ ‘what if it comes back’ ‘how do I talk about how I feel when I’m scared in case it scares someone else?’ and ‘what will happen to me and my family?’. These are all questions that can be thought about and which you can learn to manage differently during therapy at this stage.
I hope that this article has helped, that you might have been able to identify with some of the things that I have described. I also hope that this helps to make sense of or reassure you about the things that you have been worrying about. If you feel that this has helped you identify a need for you to have some therapy to help you don’t be afraid. Try it and see if it helps. If it doesn’t seem helpful for you that’s ok too but it may just help you at a difficult time to feel unstuck and a little less alone.