I was 32 and heavily pregnant when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. All these years later and the fear sometimes comes back full-force – especially when I think about my children, writes The Mirror’s columnist Roisin Pelan
Image: Roisin Pelan)
Seriously though, at times it is IMPOSSIBLE for your thoughts not to consume you. That panic-filled fear which you felt when they diagnosed you comes back in full force and it feels like there’s no escape from it. That all your thoughts are going to come true and your world is going to crash and burn hurting everyone you love.
A clear scan is always an incredible feeling, it can make you feel deliriously joyful and as though you can do ANYTHING! But it can feel so fleeting too and once the relief has settled, the fear pops back in to say hello! (Or more like, I’m back to remind you you’re gong to die). Almost everything can feel connected to cancer: expiry dates on things, booking anything in the future, someone talking about what your kids might be like when they’re older. There’s always the great big ‘WHAT IF’.
There can be positives (believe it or not) of living with fear. Everything that you appreciate is heightened, you feel more and hear more and smell and see it alllll and that is such a liberating feeling at times. There have been moments where I’ve wished people could feel life as I do, just so they can appreciate it as I do – but obviously I would never wish this mental turmoil on anyone.
Sometimes when I’m in a good place mentally, it’s hard to believe that I’m living with an incurable diagnosis. My chemo is manageable a lot of the time and honestly, there are moments when I feel bloody invincible and I adore that feeling of calm and the simple ease of breathing.
So many of us take comfort and power from being in a cancer community. Instagram and Facebook for me have without doubt been my saviours. The amount of people that have come into my life through me sharing mine has been unreal. People actually take time out of their day to check on me, or to send me messages – even gifts! When I’m absent on social media, people notice and get in touch, I am so lucky!
On the flip side, social media can be where a lot of my fear sets in. I know there are others who feel the same. We don’t want to be insensitive to the hell others are going through, we want to help! But that can have big implications on our own state of mind. The fear can ravage every ounce of positivity you’ve worked so hard to muster up and you can find yourself becoming irrational and convinced that you’ll ‘be next’.
There are times I am afraid to feel optimistic, or to feel joy and ease – like I’m going to jinx something! It must sound ridiculous to some of you, but I know this is a common worry with a lot of people in the cancer community…. “If I belly laugh, something disastrous is going to happen.” I remember the first time I was diagnosed and they told me they would be able to get rid of my cancer – I had a month or so of being absolutely convinced that something bad was going to happen to someone I loved. And it manifested itself with my dad. I begged him not to go out cycling, telling myself that because I had escaped, death was coming for someone else instead. It’s incredibly difficult to shake yourself out of it in these situations.
So what works? Sighhhh, it’s really tough! I’ve been in a bad place for a couple of months (which is why I’ve been absent here). It’s a tricky one because for some it’s exercise, for some it’s talking, for some it’s crafting and for some it’s time. Sometimes it’s a little bit of everything! I’m still working out what helps at times! I’ve just not been able to get through it very easily lately.
I feel like I am SO DONE with all the appointments, low bloods, mouth ulcers, forced menopausal night sweats and brain fog and bone aches and chemo and overthinking every single thing. I’m not over it in the sense that I don’t want it anymore – just that my mind and body are so pissed off at what it has to endure daily.
Whilst so many other things and people can help, YOU are the one that has to pull yourself out of the dark. You have to ask yourself what is going to help you? Breathing, reading, speaking, walking. Write lists – I had never understood the big love of lists until recently! I write down what feels overwhelming and then I try to get them ticked off and each tick seems to lighten the load. Try it!
Remind yourself that a thought is just a thought! Just because the devil on your shoulder is telling you you’re going to die imminently, doesn’t mean it’s true! One thing that helps me is to choose five or 10 minutes to actually allow all the bad thoughts and worries in one ear, tell them to eff-off or remind them that they are ‘just a thought’.
And then send them out the other ear – and that’s your 10 minutes of negativity out of the way!
Then allow yourself to feel all the joy in your life. The simple act of breathing deeply, the warmth of a bath, the arms of your child around you. Put some really uplifting music on and sing the words LOUD or hum them gently. The reward can be beautiful.
Instead of trying to fix it all, try adding some extra goodness in there instead. Sometimes a joy for life is all you need to keep you going into the next day – and the next…
What if it turns out better than you ever imagined?
Product of the week
I have to share one of the things that really helps me disconnect from the unpredictability of cancer and all the anxiety that it brings – it’s creating! When I got my incurable diagnosis, I knew there was absolutely no way I wanted to stay in a job that I didn’t really get anything out of. And so began www.fightypants.com. That in itself is another layer of uncertainty and something I have to work so hard at, but I absolutely adore it.
One of my latest additions is the CRICUT. I swear it is the easiest thing to use once you’ve got set up. We use it for so many things – mugs, gifts, cake toppers, school uniforms, tote bags, personalised tees. It’s the best thing to come into the world of creativity for so long! Get it on your Christmas list immediately.