Right now, it seems like so many people in my online cancer groups are struggling. Some of them are in the midst of treatment, some of them are years out, but there seems to be a general trend towards people feeling low, fatigued, depressed, or lost.
I think there are bigger trends contributing to what seems like a mini collection of crises. I don’t know if this is due to the days getting shorter. I don’t know how much of this connects to the broader struggles affecting so many people during this pandemic.
For me, it’s a bit up and down. Most days, I am generally happy, even though my energy levels have been flagging a bit lately. It’s taken nearly a year since chemo to find this kind of equilibrium. I don’t feel like I am struggling in the way some of these folks are experiencing, though I recognise the feelings they describe. And I know I will probably find myself circling back to that place again at some point in the future.
When I’m able to let go of the idea that I should somehow be doing better/more, it really helps.
There is a brilliant article called After the Treatment Finishes by Dr Peter Harvey, which was also shared with me again by a counsellor who specialises in supporting people living with cancer.
He outlines that this is a three stage process: recuperation, convalescence, and rehabilitation. We expect to be able to jump ahead, but we have to be patient about moving at the speed of our bodies’ healing.
I struggled to pull out a few favourite takeaways, because the whole article is so valuable. But I particularly liked this bit:
“In our enthusiasm we often forget just how complex and difficult this life business is, and it’s only when you have to get back on the roundabout that you realise this. Sometimes I think that living is like competing in an Olympic event – but because we take it so much for granted we forget how demanding and tiring it can be, even at an ordinary, everyday level. Let’s take this analogy further and pretend that we are all Olympic sprinters – a rather farfetched concept in my case, I should add – who have had a serious injury. We would not consider getting back to running the 100 metres until we had fully recovered. We would put ourselves on a gentle retraining programme, beginning with gentle walks rather than sprints. Getting back to living life should be done in the same way. A gentle build-up to the main event.”
It is only bit by bit that seeds can take root and grow, and that as living beings we can find these changes within ourselves.
But actually, I think the best sum up came from a woman named Amy in one of my cancer groups. She gave me her permission to quote her comment in this post – I can’t really think of any better way to sum it up myself. This a response to a post from someone who is really struggling:
“I think a lot of us seem to be feeling like this recently. I also feel as if I had more mental energy and a better outlook last year, closer to finishing treatment than now.
I think when I am struggling mentally I have less physical energy too.
I also feel that family and friends expect me to be better and ‘back to normal’ now.I explained this to my consultant and she said that young women in particular, expect themselves to be back to how they used to be very quickly, I suppose just because we are expected to get back to normal life.
She reminded me the extent of the treatments I – and we – have had and that the body has taken such a knock it will take a while.
She also stressed to be kind to myself and listen to my body. Take some time out and do something relaxing and for you. Don’t feel as though you are failing at recovery, because we are at just the right stage in recovery as our bodies are ready for (if that makes sense). Everyone’s recovery is different and is done at our own pace.”
May we be gentle and kind with ourselves. And may we also remember – even though it doesn’t always feel this way – that there are more people out there than we can even imagine who care and understand these issues, and are there to help us pick ourselves up when we stumble on the road to recovery.