This week I spent an evening helping my mum finish decorating the ginormous Christmas tree which now sits in her living room. Once it was finished we settled down in front of the fire and put on a firm festive favourite, White Christmas. One of the many songs sang by Bing Crosby has the line:
‘When I’m worried and I can’t sleep
I count my blessings instead of sheep
And I fall asleep counting my blessings.’
Despite seeing this movie countless times, including a stage adaptation, I never realised how true these words are. Counting my blessings is something I find myself doing frequently.
A number of people – friends, family even my medical team often ask me ‘How do you cope?’ It is impossible and unrealistic to expect myself to not have negative emotions: Cervical Cancer at 27 was pretty harsh. Losing my fertility, being catapulted into menopause and managing the ongoing side effects has been a challenge too. Brain cancer four years later and discovering not one but TWO tumours with their own set of life-changing side effects. It is a simple reminder that life sometimes is just not fair. That being said everybody faces hardship and I doubt anyone will walk this earth experiencing no form of heartache. Another sad truth is regardless of how tough I think I have it there will always be someone who is worse off.
So, how do I cope? Three steps:
1. I have to accept that at times I do feel anger, heartache and fear. As an optimistic person these feelings – despite being perfectly natural – are somewhat alien and something I hate to admit.
2. More importantly, I give myself the space to feel those emotions. I allow myself time to release whatever I feel rising inside. No sugar-coating, no BS just ‘how do I feel?’ My ways of expression take various forms – sometimes it can be as simple as a lengthy rant, a solid cry or even taking the dog for a walk on my own whilst mulling things over internally. Once again Maggie’s have been an endless source of support. I prioritise a fortnightly visit which is where I do most of my emotional ‘dumping’. But for all of this to work I have learned I need be honest. I have also found since I have started ‘allowing myself’ the space to be sad, mad or angry , the time required gets less and less. On some days a 10-minute rant about my frustrations is all that is required, on others a 5 minute cry will do the job. A daily dog walk without my mobile phone is probably my favourite way to achieve this which leads me onto the third and final step.
3. I always take time to appreciate the good things in life – or as Bing Crosby put it ‘counting my blessings’. I regularly talk to Parsnip on our walks about how lucky we are. Yes, my health may not be great but I am blessed in so many other ways. It is through these blessings that I am not just ‘coping’ with cancer but I actually enjoy life.
So to finish here are just a few of the blessings I am thankful for…
My surgeon and the whole medical team who make me feel supported, safe and grateful for the NHS. For the Maggie’s Cancer Centre in Edinburgh, and in particular Yvonne, who I sometimes think knows me better than I know myself.
For friends who drive for over an hour at 9pm at night with a homemade lasagne so my family are well-fed whilst I’m in hospital. The Friends who insist on picking me up before our night out because they know how tired I get and want me to save my energy so we can enjoy ourselves. Friends who send Christmas trees in the mail and organise group Skype chats. Friends who write me an exercise programme because they know how much it means to me but more importantly so I can exercise safely!
The neighbours we call friends who turn up at our door with plates full of roast chicken dinner and are always up for a game of UNO.
The colleagues who go above and beyond to make me feel included. Who have an early Christmas lunch so I can attend before my second operation .
For our lovely postman who took the time to introduce himself and offer his support.
For my amazing family who simply do too much for me to even begin counting.
I’ll finish with the wise words of Mr Crosby and should anyone ask me in the future how I cope I’ll remind them to do the same:
‘So if you’re worried and you can’t sleep
Count your blessings instead of sheep
And you’ll fall asleep counting your blessings’
As always, #FUCANCER