A painter, a skier, and a miner looking at a mountain from the same side will see different mountains.
-Thanissaro Bhikkhu, The Paradox of Becoming
I feel very affirmed when I have been thinking about something and then “poof” there is discussion of that very thing on one of my go to sites on the internet or with people I know. The internet has provided a way for people to connect in ways not available previously and I am increasingly in awe of the power of this community when it comes to cancer. You all know it: Cancer is ugly! Cancer is messy! It hurts literally and figuratively and every which way. One of the aspects about the cancer community that continues to grow is the acknowledgement of all the complexity and messiness that goes into the lives of those touched by cancer. Life after a cancer diagnosis and after treatment can be really hard-for everyone, for the person with the diagnosis, for their partners, family and friends. Blogs and on-line communities provide an ease of access into the windows of peoples’ lives and their personal stories. Previously, yes, in historic times for some of you before the internet was so easily available, I think the cancer community was often based in two camps. One group was all about moving on and “life is better” and this is what I have learned and the other group focused only on the challenges of a life destroyed and let me tell you in all the ways. Now we have fuller access to the range of experiences and the differing time frames that individuals share. There is greater openness to all the messiness that people face and ideally some of what they have found helpful. There is greater acknowledgement of the time that it takes for people to process what they have been through and to figure out how to move towards healing. There are a variety of ways that people can get support. I do believe that having a sense of centeredness or as my dear friend said, “It's really about equanimity, calm, steadiness, soundness, feeling solid, strong, durable”, is a goal for many. And finding this place is a many tiered process. For many this time is part of their life work- a time of searching and steps towards change. Stories of others can help to paint a picture for our lives and like humankind throughout the ages, we can learn so much from the stories of others. Stories help us to connect and make meaning and our DNA is wired to respond with oxytocin when we connect with others in this way.
The Challenges of Difficult Mood States
Recently I have noticed a few posts that address anxiety (click here) years after cancer treatment and trauma (click here). A few people can move through cancer and seem to experience it as no big deal however that is very few! The challenge for many is that after the treatment is done you and those around you just want life to be normal again and that “normal” is still in the making. For some arriving at that“new normal” may take years. Lending voice to those difficult places—the despair, the anxiety, the pain, the fear, the uncertainty—allows people to acknowledge where they are so they can then decide what they need and what are the next steps to take. The power of the online world is that it provides information more readily and offers the opportunity to connect. Knowing that you are not alone in some of the thoughts and emotions you experience is very powerful. Knowing that there are so many different ways that cancer can impact your life is helpful. Knowing that what you decide to be important in your life is your work. That others may have similar experiences to yours can be affirming and supportive. I follow @ihadcancer on Instagram—I like how the organization shares different peoples' voices about their unique experiences. It strives to connect people. IHadCancer empowers viewers to take control of life during and after cancer. They provide peer to peer support to many folks. Sometimes moving through challenges implores us to not only connect with ourselves but also with others in new ways! I find myself somewhat surprised at my awe of these connections but wow am I happy that they are out there!
“I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.”
This is not to deny the challenges of being in those difficult places—those places that can feel like a swamp or maybe even quicksand. Your life has been about dealing with some really, really difficult stuff physically, mentally, emotionally, and most likely financially. There may be a sense of a lot of destruction or there may be the dilemma of figuring out how to rebuild. For some finding a local support group can be really helpful, for others it may be daily writing or daily mindfulness practices and for others working with a mental health professional or someone with expertise in cancer survivorship. Yours may be a calling to a retreat or an art workshop. I encourage you to allow yourself to check out what others find helpful as you begin your “building plans”. If you would like to discuss what steps may best serve you given your current challenges feel free to contact me for a discovery session.
What has helped you through the messiness? Are there some favorite online sites you would like to share? Consider sharing one! Are there steps that you have taken that helped you to navigate this difficult terrain? Please consider sharing them so that we might all benefit from the community that is “out there” helping us to connect.
Compassion really begins when you begin to see that we all have this vulnerability, and we’re all exposed to traumas—And that opens you up to other people, and then it opens them up to you.