Changing the Narrative

I’ve seen a few posts on social media recently about the language surrounding cancer, questioning why it evokes so much talk of conflict? The posts really struck a chord with me.

Anyone diagnosed with cancer is encouraged to be and often referred to as, a fighter, labelled strong and courageous. This is of course well-meaning (and there are some people who appreciate it) but no one walks this path willingly. We are mostly unwitting warriors who have been called up to do battle, essentially with ourselves!

We all face cancer differently. For me, the battle that people speak of has always been a mental one – not just managing the fear and uncertainty that comes with diagnosis, invasive surgeries, toxic medicine and ongoing testing – but also coping with societal expectations of how I am presenting my experience of it. Nobody wants to hear that some days I feel like curling up in a ball and giving up. I’m expected to be tough and resolute and brave – even when that’s the last thing I feel!

Kind-hearted keep positive, stay strong platitudes can actually be very difficult to take sometimes – when what is often needed, is just to be heard and for the rollercoaster of emotions to be acknowledged, even if they can’t always be understood.

When I wrote ‘Turbulence’ last summer, in an attempt to process the feelings that being diagnosed with another stage 3 cancer (my second in only a few years) brought up, I used many references to war and fighting for context, but I also tried to show how easy it is to be swept up into that way of thinking, especially when facing an unknown future.

We all find our own way through the maze of treatment, somehow. Mostly I think people just do the best they can, with what they’ve got available, at the stage they’re at. I find meditation and mindfulness very helpful when faced with the barrage of emotions that are triggered with treatment – not just for identifying and acknowledging them but also recognising that doing so, is an important part of my mental recovery. I’ve learned a lot from our local Cancer Psychology service, who continue to support me.

In Yoga, there is a pose called Peaceful Warrior which I practice often and try and embody as much as I can. For me, it signifies endurance and acceptance and I wonder, if it’s time we started to encourage making peace (rather than war) with our complex bodies – whatever disease or condition is presenting itself?

With thanks to Remembering Ruby (@KindlyLoudly) on Twitter/X, for their recent heartfelt and incisive thread.

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