You've been handed those three devastating words "you have cancer". The doctor may as well have stopped speaking as your mind struggles to process this devastating blow, it is incapable of taking on any new information at that point.
The next few weeks can race by in a blur, you realise that you now have a hundred questions to ask your oncologist and surgeon that you didn't think of at your appointment. You find yourself comforting people "don't worry, I'm going to fight it, I'll be okay" as they cling to you, sobbing about how unfair the whole thing is, whilst thinking to yourself, I have no idea if I'll be okay.
So where to from here?
- Take Time to Mourn - You're life has just been hijacked by some rouge cells hell-bent on causing chaos to the normal functioning of your body and you are about to launch an all encompassing assault on them. It isn't going to be easy, and it is going to pre-occupy your mind and pester you with worries and anxieties that make functioning like 'normal' an almost impossible task. So give yourself a break. If you are struggling with getting work done, or can't seem to function efficiently, cut yourself some slack and give yourself some time and space to mourn. If it feels like you've lost something, it is because you have; your mortality has just been brought to the forefront of your life and stolen some of your innocence. In this instance, the ugly cry is okay!
- Create Boundaries - It's time to put your needs first. You now have the momentous task ahead of you of dealing with above mentioned rogue cells. The treatment is pretty extreme in nature and between appointments, therapy and sleep, the whole process can be fairly all encompassing and exhausting. You want to put your needs first during this time and engage in activities and with people that fill you up and help you to feel energized. Avoid situations that are unnecessary and drain your reserves.
- You don't have to tell the whole world if you don't want to. Who you let in and tell about your diagnosis is your own business, there will be situations where it is therapeutic for everyone in the room to know and times when it is not. Telling your friends and family isn't an easy task and you will quickly work out that there are several cookie-cutter responses that you start to detest (like "Oh dear, what are your odds?" or "Best of luck on your journey"). Group emails or facebook pages can be a nice way of letting people know how you're getting on without you having to answer the same questions 100 times over.
- Become a Cancer Groupie - Spend time with other people who have (or have had) cancer. You don't have to go to your local support group, but hanging out with other young people who can relate to how you're feeling can really help make the process a bit more bearable. Not everyone will be able to handle your cancer jokes, but another cancer survivor will likely roar their head off with you. It also becomes completely normal to discuss bodily functions with others going through similar treatments and you can really glean some handy tips from those who have gone before you. Don't be afraid to reach out. Most people love the opportunity to just feel normal, even if it only for half an hour over a cuppa.
- Don't be afraid to ask for a second opinion - Cancer medicine is changing at a rapid pace and new technology is arriving on the scene all the time. Don't assume that just because you've spoken to one oncologist, you've spoken to them all. It should not offend any medical professional that you would like to speak with more than one person, and if it does, that might just be the right sign you need to thank them very much and then move on.
- Speak to a Shrink - We're a fairly proud nation of self sufficient people all built upon our DIY attitude and asking for help isn't really in our mantra but if you've been diagnosed with cancer, finding someone disconnected to talk to about it can be very therapeutic. Anxiety, depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are struggles that are common among young adults who have been diagnosed with cancer. The good news is, they know this because so many young adults survive and go on to live many years after treatment is finished, the bad news is, many years of worrying about cancer recurrence does take it's toll on a lot of people.
- Never Never Give Up.
8. Learn to ask for HELP.
And you can start right now by getting in touch with us here at the Whole Lotta Life Foundation and letting us know what you need. Pop over to our Support Services to review the initiatives we offer and then let us help you out. If you don't see what you need, please get in touch with us anyway, we just might be able to find you exactly what you're looking for.
Asking friends and family for help when you need it may not be easy but it is just as important. People will want to help, but many people don't know how to just jump in there and get on with some of the busy work you may need help with, like folding washing and keeping up with the gardening. It will make your life easier and it will make people feel good about being able to be really useful. Give it a go, you won't regret it!