Living with Cancer

Living with Cancer
                                                                                                                                                                                              Just the word cancer is whispered by some people because it feels very frightening even to say. Whether you are the person who has cancer or it is someone who you love or care about dealing with cancer, it can be terrifying, confusing and overwhelming. This article seeks to think about some of those difficult feelings and to consider how therapy might be helpful for you.

Living with cancer can be a very lonely place. It can feel as though everyone is getting on with their lives and 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 around and around 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 others do not know will happen. Odds, statistics and horrible facts from the internet can leave you flooded with fear and feeling that you are not sure what you want to know.

How can therapy help me?
                                                                                                                                                                                         Therapy is not 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, who does not 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 alongside 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. We like to think that we are in control of our own lives and 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 our bodies and to experience hope or acceptance.
                                                                                                                                                                                                When is the right time for therapy?

After Diagnosis
                                                                                                                                                                                            Shock and disbelief may be your initial response to hearing that you or a loved one has cancer. Many thoughts and feelings will come up and 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 needing to focus on what is to come. Therapy at this time can offer support to anyone who is struggling to work through the turbulent and confusing time which follows a diagnosis of cancer.

During Treatment            

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. What is paramount in this time is to learn to listen to your body and undertake as much or as little of your everyday tasks as you feel capable of. Some people find they need to rest and that they are physically drained and others may find that they want to keep things going and try to continue their usual life. Finding this balance can be difficult, particularly when you have responsibilities to others such as children, partners, family members who you care for and work commitments.

After  Treatment      

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 or after an operation. 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.

Often people feel frustrated with themselves at this time as they too feel that they should be ‘fine’ and cannot understand why they might now feel tearful or on edge after months of coping with everything that they have been through. There is a grieving process that often takes place at this point-now that the initial crisis is over it is the first time there has been an opportunity to take stock and process what has happened and the impact it has had on their lives.
What can therapy offer me?

Therapy 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. Some people 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 in therapy to help you to manage the feelings they bring up.

I hope that this article has helped, that you might have found it helpful to identify with some of the things that I have described. I also hope this reassures you about the things that you have been worrying about being normal. If you feel that reading this has identified a need for you to have some therapy to support 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.

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