WALKING IN CANCER’S SHOES
Guest Post by Shirley Ledlie
For anyone lucky enough not to have suffered from cancer it’s an understandable assumption that survivors, with a good prognosis, can go back to their normal carefree lives. Wrong. The ‘new normal’ is exactly that – new.
After much research and first-hand experience, I’ve found a big black hole where mental health support should be for ‘life after cancer’ or the ‘new normal’.
It’s simply not possible to get over the trauma in a few weeks or months after you have finished your last treatment. And if you are one of the lucky ones that have not been diagnosed with secondary cancer at the time of your first diagnosis, you are scared it’s going to return, each twinge, pain, or anything new sending you into a blind panic. Going for your yearly mammogram it’s a terrifying ordeal, convinced they will find something and then there’s scan-anxiety, yes that’s a word on all our lips, it does exist. It doesn’t get any easier with each passing year. In fact, for some of us, it can get worse because you think you’ve been lucky and that will run out, with this scan. You are paranoid each time a loved one gets something wrong with them, thinking the worse. You think you are pushing your luck by planning anything special too far in advance. Survivors I personally know never book anything more than three months into the future for fear of bringing bad luck.
Although everyone’s cancer journey is different, if you have surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy it’s usually around a year of your life. A year of tears, trauma, sleepless nights, and black thoughts. Of course, we get on with our lives, but the PTSD is real, and survivors are left to deal with it the best way they can. And we do get on with muddling our way through, grateful for each and every day. Things that were once taken for granted are now cherished.
If left unchecked these feelings, for some, can get out of control but many will at least use support groups even if the majority are online, they can help, immensely.
Survivors should be routinely offered support for their mental health and if they don’t want it initially after finishing treatment, at least they know where to turn to if they need it in the future. It’s hard for family and friends to understand, if they haven’t walked in cancer’s shoes, and it’s understandable to expect the patient to forget it and move on. If only it were that easy.
12 Things You Should Avoid Saying to Someone Newly Diagnosed with Cancer
- Don’t worry you’ll beat this!
- I know someone with the same cancer as you, and they are fine.
- Suggest trying unproven treatments they’ve read about on the internet.
- Stay positive!
- It’s only hair.
- You’re brave.
- You don’t look ill.
- What stage are you?
- OMG, that’s terrible.
- It could be a worse type of cancer.
- So many more people survive cancer these days.
- You’ve lost so much weight.
Of course, it’s natural not knowing what to say to a friend who unexpectedly tells you they have been diagnosed but you can listen to them and not pry, they will tell you what they feel like disclosing. Let them know you are there for them, to listen to them, and most importantly offer practical support. Do they need driving anywhere, you will drive the kids to their swimming lessons, and tell them what meal you will make for the family and do it! Don’t ask because they will probably say no that they can manage so you can say, ‘I’ll bring a lasagne round tomorrow at lunchtime’ and never let them down.
Reliable practical support is vital!
Do remember that when their treatment is over, life doesn’t go back to normal for the survivor, but it does move forward and with the right mental health support in place, if it’s needed, there is a bright future.
About the author –
S. A. Ledlie
Writer and a former weekly columnist for the Bella UK magazine
Author of four books including Naked in the Wind – chemo, hair loss, and deceit.
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14 thoughts on “Walking In Cancer’s Shoes”
Thank you so much for sharing my blog post! It’s a subject that touches most of us either with a family member or friends.
This is such a fantastic post! It addresses a very serious, important topic, one that desperately needs to be addressed. I’ve known a few people with different types of cancer, including my grandma. I can’t even begin to imagine what they’ve all gone through, but it’s great to know what to avoid saying and how we can best support them. ?
Thanks for your comment, Haley.
Such a powerful post. I can’t even begin to imagine how difficult surviving cancer would be, and I’d never have any idea how to be adequately supportive. A few years ago one of my friends was seriously ill, and I found all I could really do was listen. Thanks for sharing your advice, it might be incredibly important one day
Thanks for your comment, Tom. Sometimes listening is the best thing you can offer a friend.
My mum had thyroid cancer when I was younger and it was so hard on our family. She didn’t look ill and luckily found the lump early on so could have it removed and she’s left with a scar on her neck but it’s only noticeable if you know to look for it. I always donate to cancer research xx
Thank you Sarah for your comment, much appreciated. Glad your mum is well.
Such a brave and honest post. Knowing how to support others, especially because we don’t walk in their shoes, can sometimes take practice and work. Thank you so much for sharing. Blessings for health and peace.
Thank you for your comment, Aspen. Very much appreciated.
Wow, this is an interesting read. I never would’ve known what to avoid saying if it wasn’t for reading your blog post. My aunt has bone cancer but I was quite young. It took as huge toll on my family as my cousins were around my age as well. Thank you so much for sharing! xx
There’s so much that we don’t realize on what not to say isn’t there!! Sending positive and healing vibes to your aunt xx
wow! what a profound read! these are great reminders of what not to say to individuals with cancer. i have family members who have had this and it’s good to know how to better handle the situation.
This is such a great post. I have several family members and friends that have been diagnosed with cancer, and my friend is currently undergoing chemo. Even though she lives in another country, I’m there for her whenever she needs someone to talk to. The list of things to avoid saying is helpful too.
So sorry for your friends’ diagnosis hun. It’s great that you’re able to be there for her though!!