Today’s Throwback Post is from Bernie Kirwan, a breast cancer survivor and former Cancer Support Nurse. Bernie offers some guidance for those who are just starting out on their cancer journey, and their carers, on how to make sense of it all.
Facing a cancer diagnosis or any serious illness brings unending challenges and questions. Often it is hard to know what’s right or wrong so here is what I wrote all those years ago when I was trying to figure it all out. Someone messaged me recently asking me for some guidance so I thought I’d share this. I truly believe it is relevant to any life challenge. It really is okay to ask for help when we struggle, sure we were never meant to carry everything alone. And it’s ok to do it your own way and in your own time. There is no right or wrong… only you will know.
I am helping myself when…
1. I acknowledge that I am alive and in control of my body, even though my world seems to be full of previously unknown people making decisions for me. I will not become a passive bystander in my quest for wellness. I will ask as many questions as I want, no matter how trivial they seem. I will do this in my own time and when I want to.
2. To maintain that control I will see my illness, not as a failure but as a challenge, an opportunity to explore ways and means to help me cope with whatever my illness brings. I will find ways that are right for me, and only when I am ready. I owe it to myself to accept my vulnerability at this time.
3. I will graciously accept help as it is offered to me. I will acknowledge that it is not a sign of weakness to say “yes” I need help. People do feel helpless in the face of serious illness so they need to feel useful. By saying “yes” I am not only helping them, but myself as well. It is okay to let them know how vulnerable I am; after all they are vulnerable too.
4. I will stop borrowing trouble from tomorrow. I will take each day as it comes, accepting and learning that we do only have today. Cancer diagnosis or not, we all have an uncertain future. What I imagine may happen is often far worse than the reality. I will find something to make me smile in the midst of the madness and I will find peace and contentment in the simplest things.
5. I will be as gentle and kind to myself as I can. By accepting the limitations of my illness instead of constantly fighting against it wasting, valuable energy. I will not be afraid to ask for a hug if I feel sad and alone and I’ll give myself a hug if there’s no one there. I won’t waste energy trying to change my life too fast with diets, therapies, etc. Instead I will learn to deal with one thing at a time. In this gentleness I will truly learn to love and respect myself, to accept my good and bad warts and all. I am not superwoman!
6. I will try my best to be as honest with myself as I can, about my thoughts and fears. By acknowledging my sadness as well as my happiness I am being true to myself so I can be at peace in my own company. Finding my own inner peace will make it easier for those around me to do the same. This will mean there’s no need for false smiles and statements like “you’re looking great” and “sure I’m grand” when we all know I look like something the cat dragged in! As I acknowledge my sadness and fears I will not lose my capacity for joy and laughter. I will give myself plenty of permission for fun because laughter really is good for the soul.
7. I will surround myself with people who allow me the freedom to be honest. People who are at ease with me on the good and bad days. People, who know that there is more to being positive than an outward smile. People, who can be present with me, who don’t try to “fix” everything. It’s enough just to be there with me. For those who cannot do this I can’t carry them as well. They must find their own way to deal with their fears. It’s not their fault that they can’t carry my pain and it’s not my place to judge.
8. I will not feel guilty about the limitations of my illness or for even getting sick in the first place. Guilt is a waste of precious energy. Instead I will accept and acknowledge this difficult time knowing and trusting that it will pass. I will accept myself as I know there isn’t always clear answers as to why.
9. I will practise surrendering each day and letting go. To do this I will accept and tap into the real power of my thoughts and I will make a daily affirmation of my choice. In this constant awareness I will live every moment using every thought I have to be one of healing, wellness and renewal. By doing this I will know that I am truly empowering myself to be positive.
You are helping me when…
1. You hold back on giving constant advice, telling me what I should or shouldn’t be doing. Instead allow me time and space to find my own way even if you don’t always agree and it goes against your way of thinking.
2. You don’t try to “fix” everything for me. By saying “you’ll be fine, you’re looking so well”. There’s really no need to do this because it stops me from being able to say how I really feel which makes my worries seem trivial and unimportant.
3. You don’t expect my illness not to affect you. Maybe by your “over fixing” you are not really protecting me, but are avoiding your own fears around cancer. It really is ok to focus on your own needs and remember it’s normal to be scared, sad, even terrified. I am at times, so maybe by sharing these fears you allow me to express my feelings too. Cancer can be a really lonely place to be.
4. You don’t overburden me with too many suggestions… About diets, therapies, self-help books. Allow me to take one step at a time. For now I have enough to deal with just dealing with my treatment and hospital visits. I still have a family to care for too. Any extra life changes are just too stressful just now.
5. You don’t try to convert me to all things religious. Especially when I’m just not ready. At the moment I don’t have the energy. For now I just need to be carried, so if you want, light a candle or say a prayer for me. If you don’t pray, well then just send me continuous positive healing thoughts. By doing this you are helping me in the greatest way possible.
6. You don’t unintentionally make me responsible for my illness. By asking things like, did you smoke, work too hard? I don’t need the extra burden of feeling that I have contributed to my illness by not being in tune with my own needs.
7. You accept me on both my good and bad days. Allowing me to be as I am on any day. You are able to spend time with me, doing nothing, saying nothing, your presence is often all I need. If you can’t do this, that’s ok too, I understand that you care.
8. You offer loads of practical help. Housework/school/hospital runs, cooking… the list is endless and I am learning and getting better at saying “yes please” and “thank you” very much!
This post was first published on Bernie’s Lessons And Blessings. We have re-published it here with permission from Bernie.