When the shit hits the fan, you have two choices: sink or swim. Find a way to cope, or give up. This lesson is one that permeates and will continue to permeate my whole existence, as a result of being diagnosed with breast cancer in September of 2022. My initial reaction was panic, catastophising, devastation and defeatism. And then I found that state to be unbearable, so I moved slowly and compassionately into one of positivity and strength. A massive part of the coping ability came from lesson number two.... Acceptance.
Accepting what we cannot change is a wonderful freedom. Resisting what we cannot change causes pain, suffering and frustration, and is ultimately pointless. If I had cancer, I had cancer. My brain's attempts at making this truth into something else were futile. I had cancer. Deal with it.
Receiving a cancer diagnosis feels stigmatising. One of the first questions I asked the nurse upon hearing the news was "What did I do to deserve this?" She wisely told me that all I had done was be a woman (actually, men can also have breast cancer so I guess what she meant was that all I had done was be a human). I felt self-conscious, as if I was "one of them" instead of one of the crowd, the wider majority of non-cancerous people. This was a revelation to me - how illness can result in us feeling on the periphery, alone, misunderstood and isolated. Because of the fear around cancer, I think there is a (most likely subconscious) pushing away from lots of us - we don't want it near us because we are scared of it. Whether or not this was in my head or real, I felt like "another" all of a sudden.
Facing our mortality is essential for a happy and more relaxed existence. I was TERRIFIED of death before I was diagnosed with cancer, and now I'm not. I dealt with my own mortality by looking back and asking if I could be happy with my life to date, as opposed to looking forwards and imagining all the things I would miss out on if I was to die prematurely. This is gratitude on a grand scale - I forced myself into a place of deep gratitude for every little thing that I had ever done, all the people I had loved and who had loved me, all the beauty in the world that I had witnessed in my 47 years on this planet.
The only thing to fear is fear itself, as the wise American President Franklin D. Roosevelt once said. This lesson I learnt in bucketloads. I never really got it before I was diagnosed with cancer but I realised that when we are faced with the biggest, scariest of challenges, we are always able to fight and find strength in the moment. The fear disappears and we just cope. Fear is an imagined place in our minds, it is a collection of words and terrifying scenarios that play out in a completely unreal place. What actually happens in real life becomes our reality and we adjust accordingly. This is one of the most wonderful things about being an animal, if we allow ourselves to drop down into that place; when we lose the narratives that hold us back and scare us witless, we can deal with pretty much anything. This is like a superpower, and having cancer made me discover it.
We have incredible bodies that, when treated in the right way, tick along so harmoniously that we feel calm, centred and energised. We can create and maintain this balanced state by eating the right foods, exercising and looking after our minds through meditation, mindfulness and emotional awareness. When we stop fighting our natural needs and buying into the marketing of profit-driven companies attempting to persuade us to eat and drink rubbish; when we begin making good choices that serve US, nobody else; when we recognise that we have power over our wandering minds if we put the work in and train our brains in the same way we know how to train our bodies, then we achieve balance.
Love is the answer. Love brings people together and melts away pain and loneliness. Love puts an end to internal wrangling and isolationist tendencies, and it breaks down self-made barriers that cause us so much pain. Love is peace, stillness, connection, honesty, openness, non-judgment, sharing of experiences, offering to be there no matter what, empathy, kindness and selflessness. Love is everything.
Footnote: I am now cancer-free following surgery in November, just for those who may not have seen my updates. I wish you all a wonderful, happy and healthy 2023, lots of love, Lucy ♥️ xxx