5 Ways I Stayed Strong During Cancer Treatment
Deborah Caine shares the ways that she remained strong and positive throughout her cancer treatment
Being diagnosed with a serious illness is a complete game-changer. But that’s what happened to me two years ago. At 37, I was chasing after my boys and packing up our ex-pat lives in the UAE, feeling too young and busy to be diagnosed with primary, and incurable, secondary breast cancer.
There’s no denying, the weeks afterwards were horrendous. I would lie awake, petrified that every bodily-niggle would see me perish in my sleep, then wake up feeling my impending doom.
But once a medical plan was in place; I began to feel hopeful about moving forward and thankful to have fantastic support around me. Everyone’s different but these are the things that helped me remain strong throughout the months of treatment which followed.
The medical plan offered direction and a routine which gave me back a degree of control. Educating myself about cancer, and making a list of daily things I could do holistically, kept me empowered. Sure, nothing would alter the big-picture, but if I could perhaps boost my immune system a little to better tolerate treatment through eating more fruit and veggies and gentle exercise, surely that was a plus. Short meditations sourced from YouTube kept me sane and a chat with a nutritionist, gave me knowledge. Reiki helped me feel better, plus it was comforting to lie down and zone out for an hour.
Last but not least, my trusty makeup was worn every day to remind myself that yes, I was STILL ME! Cancer messed with my identity. I wanted people to see me and not just the illness. The ritual of applying the tools of my trade helped me feel like myself. Until I invested in a decent wig; my fast-thinning locks lent me a certain bond-villain edge, but at least my complexion was smooth and my nails were a pretty pink. It helped.
Accepting the love and support
Used to doing things my own way, I was suddenly reliant on others. It felt odd but also showed me how fortunate I was. Hubbie and Mum entertained the kids and good old Dad chauffeured me to hospital appointments. My parents deep-cleaned the house (high standards) and friends sent cards, groceries, hand creams and fluffy pyjamas. Another pal sent box sets of Nashville for fabulous, couch-based escapism. It was all gratefully received and was what got me through.
During my "good" weeks, the gym was my friend. I didn’t go crazy but the endorphins did wonders and exercise restored confidence in my body’s ability. Yogalates became my new love and as I improved week by week, I found that my body was pretty strong after all and I finished classes feeling resilient and well-balanced.
During the tougher weeks when I was in bed a lot, there were times I felt detached from the world. Those were the days, my husband would push me to go outside for a short walk, which shifted my mind from "inside" to "outside" and nudged me back into society so to speak, which brings me to my next point…
Reconnecting to nature and the universe
I’m no earth mother, but being outdoors amongst bursts of happy daffodils and blossoming trees, was therapy. Whenever my head got crowded, a woodland ramble or a meander along the Jurassic coast where we lived helped reconnect me to something bigger than myself, whatever that may be. Even a brisk walk round the block shifted my perspective back to positive, inspiring me to focus on the present and feel gratitude for the good things.
Sometimes I yearned for a moment alone. It’s a huge, scary process when your lofty assumption of seeing old-age plummets to the horrific basement-level of potentially not raising your own children. When warranted, I retreated to gather my thoughts or escape it all via my historical fiction novel or TV show. People mean well, but it can feel all too much being bombarded with questions about the diagnosis (read: prognosis), when still unsure of everything yourself and in semi-denial. Initially, I chose only to tell my nearest and dearest, encouraging positivity rather than sympathy. Trying to stay hopeful and strong meant I didn’t have the capacity to calm everyone else’s worst fears as well as my own.
There were times I wanted to discuss it, and times I changed the subject. Good friends who knew the pre-cancery "normal" me were invaluable and called upon for fun and frivolity. And other afternoons, I just needed a cosy nap, cocooned in my new, fluffy pyjamas. It all worked.
I’ve just learnt from my latest scan that I’m still stable (hurrah!). But this strange, new intangible life means treatment will be ongoing, and chemotherapy is highly likely as and when the disease progresses. But when the gremlins pop up inside my head, I remind myself that none of us can predict the future but what I do know, is that right here and now, I’m feeling good and raising my lovely, funny boys alongside my hubbie. And for that, I’m hugely thankful.