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A is for Attitude

Attitude is key to coping. I have said before that reaction is everything – you can rarely control what happens around you but you can always control your reaction to it. Attitude is much the same and I have very consciously tried to maintain a positive attitude at all times even when life feels just that little bit too hard.

I am very much a person of 2 halves – I am naturally quite an anxious person yet to use my mum’s words, I am also “courageous”. In other words I am scared shitless of most things, most of the time but I tend to do them anyway! Imagine a duck – calm and serene above water but paddling furiously beneath the surface…that’s me!

I’ve met people who, following their diagnosis, are bitter and angry – “it’s not fair” and “why me?”. These are valid and understandable emotions, which I imagine most people have felt at some point irrespective of the cause of the issue but they are not emotions that feel very healthy to me and I don’t want to feel sorry for myself or that it’s not fair. It’s a waste of energy and time – it won’t change anything and it is a very easy spiral downwards if those feelings take over. My cancer is no one’s fault and moping won’t make it go away.

How each cancer patient reacts to their diagnosis is unique and there is of course no right or wrong, so I can only talk about how it has affected me and how I deal with it. Also, I caveat this further by saying that I am 2.5 years into my latest diagnosis and 10 years past my initial one so I have had a lot of time to process things before writing this. I am also feeling healthy and strong at this moment….again, this may be a very different rambling if I was feeling unwell, tired and generally over the treatment process.

If I let myself dwell too much on my situation and the bigger picture I tend to feel sad and anxious but overall I do feel a great sense of gratitude. That might sound very odd but one thing cancer has given me since my original diagnosis in 2013 is perspective (see L for Living). My attitude to life or at least what is important has changed and I am grateful for that – it has definitely made me happier.

There’s a myth that happiness is a perfect life all of the time and that if life isn’t perfect then we aren’t “happy” but I don’t agree. Life is very far from perfect most of the time but it is my belief that happiness is much easier to achieve and I find it when I focus on the small things and all of the things that I do have rather than those that I don’t.

I do of course get overwhelmed with sadness at times; I’m sad that I will miss out on aspects of Ruby’s life; sad that I won’t grow old with Ryan (or drive him crazy for longer 😊), sad that I probably won’t get to take Ruby to Disneyland or that we won’t be able to choose and buy our forever home (drug costs means that we can’t now get a mortgage) but rather than focus on those things for too long I don’t allow those things to take away what we do have. We have a beautiful home, in a stunning village and our lives are full of love and laughter (most of the time!).

Being sad is valid and important to process so I do wallow sometimes and allow the tears to flow but I hate that feeling of being low so I have found ways to push that negativity away that work for me.

The same goes for fear. I am afraid, of course I am. I am afraid of suffering, afraid of the world Ruby will grow up in, afraid of what will happen for Ryan and Ruby if I am not here…as with most mums the usual day to day responsibilities fall to me so I have no idea how they will manage to coordinate school, uniforms, activities, food shop, bill paying, cooking…..the mind boggles! Hopefully one of my friends will manage Ryan and Ruby for on top of their own families! I joke….Ryan is more than hands on – he’ll be fine but the fear for them is there.

Facing mortality is weird – I’m actually not afraid of dying – I won’t know much about it I expect, but I am afraid of suffering, being unwell and not being where I want to be but most of all I have major FOMO! There’s too much to life that I want to do, see and achieve with my family and personally and I do not want to miss out! Hence trying to pack in as much as possible!

I am afraid that each scan will show up something negative and that life will change or I will become unwell or weak – “scanxiety” is very real. Around the time of each scan I can suddenly develop a range of symptoms that worry me and I convince myself of illness from chest pains, to headaches to sore underarms; I convince myself my heart is deteriorating, the cancer has spread and that I should prepare for bad news. So far this has turned out not to be the case and miraculously the symptoms disappear following the results only to reappear in a few months ready for the next scan sequence!

It is easy to let the sadness, fear and anxiety creep in but I work hard to keep them away. I feel the clouds coming and I move…I have found things to do that make the sun shine again…

I would say that I often get the compliments “you are so strong”, “I don’t know how you do it”, “you are always so positive” but believe me – you would be too and actually I don’t have a choice. Life goes on around me so I have to jump on with it! Plus I love life! To be honest, I haven’t actually met anyone who has cancer or any other illness that isn’t on the whole strong, positive and hitting it with everything they have.

Exercise for me is fundamental. I have never naturally loved exercise for the sake of excerise and I despise running wholeheartedly (but its free, easy to do anywhere and surprisingly therapeutic). I have, however, always loved sports like rowing, sailing, windsurfing etc so fitness is key but I have never really loved the gym. Now, however, I need to move everyday or I struggle mentally. I will do yoga, pilates, sailing, boxing, run, some weights with a PT and tap dancing every single week. This is a release and a distraction but also the drugs and the menopause mean that weight gain is real!.

I also imagine that the exercise is flushing my blood and therefore ,the drugs, faster around my body and zapping any mutant cells as it goes! I’m manifesting the killing of the evil f***ers every time I move and get my heart pumping!

Water is also so so important for me. It calms and revitalises me at the same time. Even in the UK if I needed time out I would drive (over 2 hours) to the beach just put my feet in the sea (yes I know I am a little odd). Suddenly I would be balanced again. Rowing, kayaking, sailing – I crave them and feel so much better when I feel and see the water. Living by the sea has really brought this home to me – just being able to walk 2 mins to the beach to stand in the waves, breathe in the sea air and take in the calming influence…I don’t know what I would do without it.

I do have a tendency to go a little manic (I can hear those who know me laughing at that). I will be very busy and fill every spare moment with something. This is part of my desire to live life to its fullest but also if I am busy I do not have time to think and therefore I don’t have time to worry. I can only be in the moment rather than worrying about what the future holds.

On the whole I try to focus on what is happening in the moment and how lucky we are. We are living a good life and I am able to work to enable us to do things that we like to do. We try to make the most the weekends, holidays and freetime but I do like to set some goals to aim for. They are achievable, relatively short term goals that aren’t too far ahead and ones that I can win. Since my diagnosis I have set milestones – Ruby starting school, getting admitted to the Bar, showing Ryan my favourite places back in Europe…… I find it hard to look too far into the future as I immediately think that I might not be there. It isn’t negative, it is just real and I want to focus on things I know I can tick off.

The attitude of others can bolster or destroy mental health so surrounding ourselves with awesome people who support us and who we can support in return is crucial. My tolerance for things that don’t make my family feel good is reduced. I won’t allow hurt, upset or stress to destroy our state of mind. Our time is too precious for unnecessary negativity or unkindness.

The majority of people have been incredible to us and beyond supportive. I have written a post (“O” for Others) that is about these wonderful humans and how I wouldn’t be able to cope without them.

Sometimes people will say “ I shouldn’t be complaining to you about….” But please do! Everyone’s problems are in context and mine might appear worse than yours but to another my situation is a dream so it is just context. I don’t want anyone to avoid telling me things just in case – I am here to support as much as I am being supported.

So, in summary - my ways of coping with the worst news possible – be like a duck – stay calm on the top, paddle away underneath and enjoy the water….sounds like a perfect recipe doesn’t it!? In all honesty I just get by each day with a smile and finding the small things to make the most out of. Focusing on the here and now and the physical world makes me feel grounded and safe. The world is crazy enough to make us all a little insane but being on my bit of sand with my feet in the water I will be ok.

Ruby – I can’t tell you how many nights I have woken up scared and upset and gone to your room and snuggled into you. Holding your hand, listening to your breathing and feeling your heart beat saves me, calms me and reminds me that your Dad and I are here for you. You ground me and I hope one day you will know just how much you saved me in so many ways.

You already have an amazing “can do” attitude and will give everything a go. You work hard and I know that you have determination and are strong willed. I am so proud of you but I want you to know it is ok to falter, to worry and to question but never give up – you can always find a solution. Enjoy what you have, look forward but don’t rush – you will miss the journey. Remember, if you are stressed or anxious just go and jump the waves – I will be right there with you.


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1 Comment

Jul 08, 2023

So wonderfully written and so inspirational! Love you , my little girl, with all my heart. Mum ❤️❤️❤️❤️

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