Oh how we fear the subject.
I regularly find myself meeting new people, being an avid fan of public speaking and networking, the issue is that the question almost always pops up “…so what have you been up to?”
Well, you know… cheating death.
I don’t try and avoid the conversation, I realise for a fair few people it can be a difficult or sensitive subject, considering most people don’t know what to say when they first find out you spent a year in bed. But, because of how prominent cancer is in today’s society I feel that it’s something that everyone should eventually be at least comfortable talking about. The key skill I’ve tried to develop is how to make cancer, my cancer at least, funny and interesting.
Although, it’s probably one of the hardest things I’ve accomplished since being diagnosed; accepting cancer as a part of my life.
I fought to convince myself that I was going to be fine as soon as chemo was over and that I’d go straight back to normal, what a stupid idea that was. It’s not like I still go to hospital every week… I have to accept I’m still unwell and that because of my leg and lack of fitness I get tired very easily. Therefore, I need to accept that I’m still going to talk about cancer, probably for a very long time.
The problem with having had cancer and chemo for such a long time is, when is the right time to mention cancer? How do you approach the subject? How long do you keep talking about it until you change the subject? How detailed do you talk about your experience? Do you tell them about the time you had your arm cut open and had a plastic tube shoved inside without anaesthetic or do you tell them that you just felt a little bit unwell and gained 3 stone? There are no right or wrong answers here.
I’ve never really known how to talk to long term friends or family about cancer, mainly because I know the whole ordeal kind of upsets them. I’ve never known how to tell them I’m struggling either, but I’ve accepted if I do they won’t always have the right things to say. It’s usually a long and messy conversation.
My point is, I don’t want cancer to be the elephant in the room anymore. I find that one of the reasons that people have issues with mental health after finishing active treatment is because they don’t feel comfortable talking about cancer with their friends or family. I know I fall into this category, because of how low I would get and what some statistics show for my cancer, I have in the past been quite dismissive about how long I’m probably going to live without even a hint of optimism. Lets be honest, talking about life expectancy or death with my parents probably wasn’t my brightest idea, but I felt I needed that conversation. I needed to not look at everything rose tinted for once and think “Okay, I could probably end up dead much sooner than I had hoped, so, how can I live my life ensuring that I’m happy even if I’m not gonna make it to 60”.
Because of the lack of teenage aftercare cancer support available, I’m trying to talk about cancer more than ever. It’s vital that cancer survivors are able and encouraged to open up about our mental health and worries + fears, just as much as we should be prompted to look at all of the positives in our lives.
The final point I’ll raise is that I can’t describe the comfort I initially felt talking about cancer with other people my age who have also had cancer. This goes for all support groups for any illness. In my head it wasn’t me trying to explain my thoughts and feelings any more, it was just “Wow, they just get it!”. This is why I cannot stress the value of CLIC Sargents Young Persons Reference Group and being able to meet like minded and similar aged cancer survivors. Much like the Teenage Cancer Trust and Teens Unite, the groups gave me and others the confidence to talk more openly about my diagnosis with strangers, and I couldn’t be more thankful for the friends I have made in them. We all struggle, but we struggle together.
I hope that everyone is enjoying the sunshine, this time last year I was bald recovering from not eating for 8 days.