I was asked recently what one word came to mind when I thought of cancer, and what first popped into my mind was “change”, both good and bad. When we get a diagnosis, everything just stops. Everything you’ve been doing up to that point becomes entirely about cancer and dealing with it.
And then comes all of the changes with treatment and a schedule that completely centres on appointments instead of work, family, and friends. If you are taking an integrative approach, then comes all of the lifestyle changes, diet modifications, and mental and emotional work, which can bring deep change within ourselves. But what comes with this are the positive changes too that we can cling to like a life preserver; personal growth, learning, perspective shifts and more are some of the unexpected gifts that cancer brings that make the whole ordeal feel just a little less awful.
Change can be SUPER scary and anxiety inducing. Even small changes can cause a spike in stress, let alone something as huge as cancer. So, how do we deal with the small and the big changes, the good and the bad, that cancer and other challenges bring?
1. Find Joy and Gratitude Around and Within You
This is one of the most important things that we can do to combat the dread and anxiety of change. Fear drives this response to change, and joy is one of the best combatants against fear. Find moments in your day to feel gratitude and joy for what’s happening in your life right then and there. It could be something big, like a clear scan or a negative biopsy, or it could be something more everyday, like lunch with a friend or the beautiful sunshine. Even if you are somewhere or doing something that you wish you weren’t, there can be lots of joy to feel gratitude for. If you’re stuck in a waiting room, maybe there are pretty flowers to look at or a nurse you really like. Maybe you can just feel a moment of gratitude for this quiet 15 minutes you get to spend reading while you wait for your doctor.
Whatever it is that you find, hold onto it. Make space for it in your heart and take that feeling with you. When you are having a particularly challenging day and there isn’t anything in your immediate vicinity or experience that you can feel joy or gratitude for, look inside at what you have stored there and bring the memories to the surface.
2. Know That Humans Are Meant to Change and Grow
Just as nature handles change with grace, as it’s been doing since the dawn of time, as it’s supposed to do, humans are also meant to change. We are not static beings; we do not stay the same from birth to adulthood, nor are we meant to. It’s a natural part of the human experience, growing and changing and transitioning from one phase of life to the next. It’s as important a part of our lives and existence as it is for nature to be transitioning.
And nature doesn’t think, “Oh God, it’s fall. I gotta start getting the colours ready!”. It doesn’t have a checklist it goes through; it just rolls with what comes at it, and we can 100% take a lesson from that. Whenever you feel yourself coming up against that resistance to change, just look outside to the wonderful transformations that are happening there no matter the time of year, and remind yourself that as natural as it is for nature to transition and change, it is meant to be as equally natural for you to transition and change and adapt and move and grow and learn.
3. Remind Yourself That It Is the Challenges We Face That Make Us Who We Are
We can take another cue from nature here. You may have heard this analogy before if you’ve been following me for a while 😊 Big, old trees have all of these turns and twists and bumps that happen to them, but of course the tree doesn’t care because it’s doing what it’s supposed to be doing; it’s strong and beautiful and offering shade, regardless of what has happened to it over its life. Just like the tree, regardless of the things that happen to us in our lives that cause those twists and turns and gouges, we can still offer shade and beauty and strength to the people around us, not just in spite of those curves and bumps and bruises, but because them. Those things all get worked into the fabric of who we are, into our “trunk”, and without them, we wouldn’t be the people we are and we wouldn’t have the same things to offer.
It’s easier said than done, thinking of those challenges in our lives and the effects they have on us as positives, but it is possible to choose to see them in a different light. When you are feeling anxiety about how you are changing as a person as a result of your experience with cancer (or any challenge for that matter), take a moment to acknowledge those changes. Write down or think consciously about how those challenges and changes are contributing to who you are or have made you who you are, have brought you strength, have brought you perspective shifts, and/or have brought you personal growth. It can definitely be difficult, but it can be so helpful to your mental and emotional health to shift the way you are looking at these changes towards the positive and to lovingly accept them as a part of who you are. Like I said before, no matter what challenges you are facing, you still have beauty and strength to offer those around you, not in spite of what has happened to you in your life but because of it.
The resistance and anxiety we feel surrounding change is coming from fear. We are here in our comfortable rut and we know what it’s like in there, and it’s really scary to peek out from that rut. But, I can’t think of a time in my life where a change happened and something good didn’t come out of it. Of course with cancer there were a ton of negatives that came too, and I still have times of resistance, but if we can remind ourselves that even though these negatives might come up, there will also be something positive (even if it’s something little), and we can start to tip the scales. Every change, every obstacle, every transition is an opportunity for growth and learning and positive development, and even though it may not feel like it right now, who knows what could happen in the future as a result of these changes? In a week, a month, a year you could be looking back saying, “I am actually really grateful for ______ that this brought into my life”. Being able to approach our challenges and changes with a little more ease – with the reminder that we can find joy and gratitude in the little things, that we are meant to change and grow, and that we are the awesome people we are not in spite of but for having gone through these challenges – it will add a little more grace and calm and take away a little more anxiety and resistance surrounding challenge and change.