Finding your inner calm
How do you find your inner calm in the face of a cancer diagnosis and treatment? Avril de Beer suggests a few ideas.
You can listen to this article below, or by using your favourite podcast player at pod.link/oncologybuddies
Being diagnosed with cancer is a life-altering experience giving rise to distress, emotional turmoil, and feelings of helplessness. Fear of the unknown is ignited when your doctor explains your treatment plan with its unfamiliar terms and the odd-sounding names of different types of chemotherapy. It takes time to work through your emotions and to accept that you have cancer.
Ways to find your inner calm
Appreciate your strengths
Think back to a time in your life when you had to deal with a difficult situation. How did you cope with this situation? What strengths and skills did you use to help you overcome hardship in the past? What have you learned about yourself during your most difficult times?
Maybe your love of learning enabled you to read up on your specific situation and to understand it better. This skill will certainly help you when learning more about your cancer and the side effects of treatment (ask your doctor for a list of reputable websites where you can access reliable information).
It would be helpful to make a list of your strengths, and to think about how you can use them to your advantage while receiving treatment. A strength such as persistence (the ability to continue doing something despite difficulty in reaching your goal) would be useful when your aim is to complete treatment despite difficulties like unpleasant side effects.
Rely on your community
Ira Byock, an American physician, shares the story of anthropologist Margaret Mead’s answer to the question of what she considered to be the first sign of civilisation in a culture. She said that the first sign of civilisation in an ancient culture was a femur (thigh bone) that had been broken and then healed. Mead explained that an animal can’t survive with a broken leg. They can’t run from danger, get to the river for water, or hunt for food.
No animal survives a broken leg long enough for the bone to heal. A broken femur that has healed is evidence that someone has taken time to stay with the one who fell, has bound up the wound, has carried the person to safety and has tended the person through recovery. Helping someone else through difficulty is where civilisation starts.
Your community are those people who form your network of support. The people who take you to your chemotherapy sessions; the ones who provide meals when you feel weak after treatment; and the ones who phone to find out how you are doing. Some people find it helpful to form a community with the people who undergo treatment at the same facility or with the people who attend the same support group.
Connect with nature
According to the World Wide Fund for Nature, there is a lot of research exploring the link between time spent in nature and a reduced risk of mental health problems. If you aren’t able to visit a nature reserve or a park (with your phone switched off), you could plant herbs or flowers in your garden or buy houseplants.
Forest bathing, a Japanese practice known as shinrin-yoku, is a simple method of being amongst the trees, enjoying the sounds, smells, and sights of nature and letting the forest in. A study, carried out by King’s College in London in 2018, found that exposure to trees, the sky, and birdsong in cities improved mental well-being.
Be gentle with yourself during treatment; treat yourself like you would treat your best friend.
MEET THE EXPERT – Avril de Beer
Avril de Beer is a social worker at Alberts Cellular Therapy in Pretoria. She is constantly looking for new ways to connect with patients and to learn more about their unique needs. She also has a private practice in Centurion where she counsels individuals who are experiencing major life changes.
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