by Margot Larson
Everyone approaches adversity in a different manner. Reaction and emotion run the gamut. Some get floored and incapable of action; others burst into action and tackle the challenge with gusto. And then again, some address it with such optimism that it mimics denial and out-of-touch with reality while others are angry and resentful. F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “For every minute you remain angry, you give up 60 seconds of peace of mind.”
Regardless of your reaction, everyone who has cancer will experience a change in lifestyle and capabilities, even years after treatment. I don’t need to list all the residual side effects. If you’ve been there, you know them.
Yes, we are grateful for being alive but that doesn’t change the hurdle of adjusting to this life that we had not anticipated. For many it’s the loss of vigor and physical capacity.
I can’t hike in the woods. I can’t go back to my job full time. I can’t enjoy kayaking ‘cause I no longer can carry it to the water. I can’t bicycle that 10 miles or play tennis the way I used to. I have lost cognitive skills, my memory is undependable, my eyesight is weak. I’m not sleeping well and I’m not having fun.
You have been propelled out of your comfort zone. You’ve lost energy; fatigue is a common visitor. Your eyesight, hearing and memory have aged you beyond your years. You pass by a mirror and wonder who’s looking back. And with every test or visit to your oncologist, you endure anxiety as you await the results. Then, on the days when you feel almost normal, you want your old life back, and it’s beyond your reach.
I could go on, but the bottom line is we are trying to recapture our lives and just like aging, we can’t rewind the clock. The past represents memories. We must find the joy in the present now that we have a chance of seeing the future. We are allowed a little time to grieve but should not waste too much time there. We’ve learned that time is precious. Don’t get stuck – move on.
So what’s next? What can we do? If we are truly grateful to be alive, shouldn’t we focus on the present, the gift we received for a second chance? Let’s spend our time and energies on the choices we do have.
Make a list of your obstacles. What is standing in your way? What is causing you stress and really bugging you? Acknowledging these obstacles is the first step to finding the solution. Now, focus on what you can do. You’ve already shown a great deal of fortitude and courage in battling cancer. Don’t stop now.
Redefine yourself. Who are you? You are not somebody’s spouse or parent. You are not your job title. Find your identity, the real you. Accept that you used to be a great accountant or nurse and now you are something else. There is still time for something else and this is your first conscious choice.
I was a great management consultant. Now I am a retired HR Consultant, a Writer and a Life Transition Coach. I still have valuable skills that I can transition and apply to something else.
Create routines. Challenge yourself to develop new habits. Take the time to consider what you really enjoy and want in your life. Start the day and end the day with a routine so you feel a sense of normalcy. Set goals–something to focus on and gain a sense of accomplishment outside of your battle for health. Recognize your little successes at the end of each day, each week.
Make your “bucket list.” It’s as good a time as any to create your list of things you always wanted to try or do. You don’t have to be facing death to reach for some of your dreams. You may need help from others to reach some of them. Ask.
Develop a strong sense of community. Create a network, a following, a support resource, before you need it. It’s never too late to start. Rekindle old friendships. Join an exercise group or book club or coffee club with like-minded people. If you reach out to others, people will gravitate your way. Volunteer somewhere. It’s a great way to make new friends and acquaintances.
Reach out for help. If you find yourself stuck, ask for help. Tap in to your company’s employee assistance program if you are still on the payroll or a retiree. Attend an appropriate support group. Many people find themselves gravitating to their faith during difficult times. Consult a therapist, particularly someone who specializes in working with cancer patients. You may also work with a life transition coach to help you surmount some of the obstacles that are standing in your way. Ask your best friend for help.
When your house is on fire, the reaction is usually to call for help quickly. You don’t procrastinate or spend a lot of time considering the alternatives. So reach out the moment you realize you need help.
Add significance to your life. Take it a small step at a time. Look for the opportunity. Open your eyes, your mind and your heart. Find your “new” passion. Perhaps helping others might bring you a sense of purpose that you feel is missing in your life. How could you help someone or bring joy to someone else? Try things out. It doesn’t have to be permanent. Enjoy the exploration.
Be patient. Life is a journey not a destination. It takes a while to build new habits, to make new friends. It’s an evolution. Cut yourself some slack. If at first you don’t succeed, try again. Remember, you are no longer on a treadmill. You can choose to slow it down.
Adopt healthy living practices and balance. Make it a priority. Learn about nutrition and adopt healthy habits. Exercise regularly, at whatever level you can manage. Enjoy/cherish your relationships. Identify what causes you stress, so you can focus on getting it out of your life. Step away from toxic and negative environments and relationships. Forgive others and make peace a priority in your life. Learn to shrug. Identify the little things that make you smile and feel good. Let go of the urgency to always finish things quickly by learning to enjoy the process. Focus on what you CAN do rather, than on your limitations.
If you look at life’s events and search for the lesson, you might find it easier to accept the present. Perhaps the purpose is not evident to you — yet. Live in the present, in the moment. Let go of the pass so you can find peace with who you are and the possibilities that exist for you.