In March this year, after I found a lump, I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer. This lump turned out to be a 5cm, grade 3, stage 3 cancerous tumour. This is the day my life changed. There are no words I can think of to fully describe what it was like to hear the words “it’s not good news, you have cancer”. The hours, days and weeks that followed were so difficult and scary. My head was full of ‘what if’s’, ‘why me?’, ‘how will I do this?’ and ‘how has this happened to me?’ It was a non-stop wheel of scary thoughts of the unknown. These thoughts and the fears they carried introduced me to anxiety attacks beyond anything I had ever experienced before. I felt completely out of control and disconnected from myself and my life. I described it to a friend that it was like I was standing still in my old life but all the parts of my life were floating above my head slowing falling down around me. I felt completely alone and so scared. I was waking up every morning in a state of panic and on the verge of an anxiety attack.
One of these mornings I woke and instead of lying there panicked, I decided to close my eyes and take a few deep breaths. After which I decided to get up and stretch. What I discovered was that the anxiety lessened and I felt a small sense of relief! I also realised that I was no longer thinking about all the ‘what if’s’ etc but rather I was just focused on what I was doing (breathing and stretching) in that moment, that’s when it clicked with me. When my thoughts were in the future I felt completely out of control, hence the anxiety but when I brought my thoughts back to the here and now, I felt calmer and more in control. The negative or future thoughts had me in a place where I felt I had no other options but in the positive or present thoughts I could see other options.
I should add here that I am a trained counsellor and psychotherapist. I regularly work with clients who have issues with anxiety. This can mean working with the client to try to stay present rather than looking back or projecting too far into the future in an effort to learn to live in the here and now focusing on the feelings present in a moment. I decided to practice what I preach!
I made a conscious decision to try my best to take each day as it came, deal with whatever that day brought and feel the feelings that came with that day, good, bad or indifferent.
Although there was now a lot in my life that I couldn’t control, I could manage how I was going to be in it. That for me was deciding to stay present. For instance, rather than lying awake at night worrying about scan results I told myself that the results were out of my hands so my choices were, I could worry endlessly and waste time or I could simply just get on with each day as it came dealing with the results when I received them. What I discovered was a sense of calm in relation to my treatment.
This calm feeling has allowed me to continue to enjoy my life with cancer and it’s treatment just being a part of my life rather than it being my whole existence. I discovered a fight in me that was calm but was quietly pushing me through the really bad days when I felt like I’d had enough and wanted to give up and on the goods days smile, laugh and live.
I still have a bit to go in my treatment – a few more chemos, surgery and radiotherapy. I miss my hair and eyelashes and there are days when I forget all of the stating present practices above. I panic and worry sometimes still but even on these days somewhere deep inside I know I will get back to the present moment to feel ok again.
I breathe deep breaths, keep track of my thoughts, talk to friends and family, write, cry, laugh and everything in between to keep myself in the here and now. It is a much better place to be for me, well most of the time anyway! It is definitely worth a try.
Thank you so much Avril for contributing this piece to Happy Magazine.