Going through active cancer treatment totally sucks. It just does. There’s no way to sugar coat it. It’s completely horrible, emotionally draining and totally life changing. But as I discovered when I went through my active treatment, there are things you can do to keep yourself moving forward and get through to the other side.
Me on my first day of chemotherapy and again on my last. My mum and my sister gave me a pizza party on my last day of chemo while I sat in the chair.
1. Keep social
Going through a major illness (no matter what kind) can be a very isolating experience. Your life goes from being an active and connected one muinute to being very consumed with hospital and doctor visits at the drop of a hat. In an instant, your life as you knew it has changed. It is therefore, VERY important to socialise as much as possible in between all of these visits and maintain as ‘normal’ connections as possible with the outside world. Keeping social minimises the impact of loneliness and depression.
This can also be VERY hard to do as you never know how you are going to be feeling to make plans in advance, how people might react to you (as they get nervous what to say to you), and you might be a little self-conscious of how treatment has changed your appearance. All you have to remember is just be kind to yourself, do things in small doses that won’t be too exerting or fatiguing (like just going for a coffee with a friend), and don’t give a stuff about what people think!
For me, I always tried to maintain as normal a social life as I could (and also indulged in being a ‘lady who lunched’ as I wasn’t at work). If I felt up to going to a coffee or a BBQ, I would. I would go to local markets with my family, a small shopping trip or go see a movie.
During chemo treatment, one of the things I did to keep social was attend a friend’s superheros & villains 40th birthday party. Betchya can’t guess who I went as?
2. Surround yourself with friends and family
Whilst it is important to maintain social relationships while you are unwell, it is also a positive thing to have family or close friends for those moments where you need a little love and care or help around the house. For example, there are days through my treatment where all I wanted to do was lay on the couch and watch TV. I was just too darned fatigued from treatment to do anything else. Even feeding my ‘fur child’ his dinner was an effort (not that he complained as long as I was patting him while I was laying on said couch. Lol).
On these particular occasions, you do need to ask for help (something I had to learn to do as asking for help is not something I did). On days like that, you just need a little TLC. Someone to make you a sandwich, throw the washing on or just give you a hug. They also come in very handy if you don’t feel up to driving to your medical appointment, or even for joining in on your appointment to take notes so that you don’t have to remember everything. These people are worth their weight in gold in these times.
Christmas 2013 in Adelaide with my [from left] uncle, brother, sister, cousin, and my mum whilst mid-chemo treatment. I treasure this photo as it’s the last time I saw my uncle. He has since passed on.
3. Keep your mind active
You’ve probably heard that there’s much research behind keeping your mind active to prevent things like dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and memory loss. But keeping your mind active can also benefit you whilst going through active treatment as well.
During active treatment, your body is copping a HUGE pounding physically. Your physical capabilities will inevitably diminish and your emotional capabilities will be overwhelmed. This is only natural. We know we need to stop and let our bodies do what it needs to do to fight the cancer, but we forget to also be kind to our minds and give our minds the outlet it needs to cope. By keeping your mind active with non-treatment related activities, you allow it time to process, accept and heal all of the cancer related issues swimming around inside it. Not to mention, let the time pass a little faster.
There are so many things you could do to keep your mind active. I ended up completing two RTO courses (on my good days) I had been wanting to do for ages but couldn’t as I worked full time. I also took part in ‘art classes’ at The Kim Walters Choices Cancer Support Centre here in Brisbane and did a little extra painting and drawing at home too. I refined my ‘bucket list’ and planned a holiday to Hawaii for when I had finally kicked cancer’s butt, as well as one to Africa for my 40th birthday (starting to cross things off my bucket list). I even researched on how to write a book (that’s how this whole blogging thing all started for me). Some people like to do things like Sudoku or puzzles, read a few books, watch movies, or even knit. It doesn’t matter what you do – just keep your brain moving forward and it will keep you going too.
The coffees and milk art I made on a 1 day barista course whilst going though chemo. I also completed a 5 day WHS course while doing radiation treatment.
One of the art pieces I did in my art class at Choices.
Having powerful, meaningful music behind you in tough times is an excellent way to keep you going. Listen to songs that give you energy, charge you up and inspire you. Songs that are upbeat and boppy tend to be more uplifting than slower tempo ones. At the time of my active treatment, Katie Perry’s ROAR song hadn’t long been out, so I would use it as a kind of a theme song when things got tough and felt too overwhelming. It kept me going A LOT!
Lastly, never underestimate the power of professional counselling (and never be ashamed to use the help). Centres like The Kim Walters Choices Cancer Support Centre offer free counsellors and they really help to ground your thoughts, give your thoughts some perspective and help you to realise that what you are going through is very tough and that you need to grieve over such huge life changes, but also that it’s all completely normal to have those feelings.
Now of course, like any cancer related blog I post, I must stress that these are the 5 things that kept ME going through MY active cancer treatment. I’m not going to sit here and say to you that “one size fits all” and these are the ONLY things you can do because it simply isn’t true. As every cancer is different and every individual is unique, how a person deals with getting through active treatment is greatly personalised. What things worked for me many not be the right thing for you. You may need to find you own ways to cope and moving forward.
I am also not going to sit here and tell you to ignore any medical advice you are given by medical professionals such as keep participating in gentle exercise. That would be very silly of me. They are the experts and they know their stuff. These are simply the ways I found were the best at looking after the mind and the soul while the experts were looking after the body. I hope you find some value and comfort in them, regardless if you are a cancer patient yourself or someone supporting a cancer patient.
Please remember….. Any cancer story portrayed on this blog site is a reflection on my cancer experiences only. Each cancer experience is uniquely different. My words do not reflect the thoughts and feelings of other cancer patients or survivors. They are in no way to be taken as medical advice. Should you have any concerns, please seek professional help as I am not a medical practitioner.