I realised this week just how lucky I have been over the last few months. The workshops and support groups I’ve been a part of and the people I have been fortunate enough to meet through them have helped me in ways I never thought imaginable, but things could have worked out very differently indeed.
We all have very different cancer journeys and I realise that workshops can either work or not depending on what they are about, when they come in to your life, who is running them, who else is attendance and how you are feeling at that particular time, but I also know that if the workshop I went to this week had been my first experience of one, I would have found the journey unbearably hard.
Im not going to mention which group it was, that wouldn’t be fair because whats right for one isn’t necessarily right for another. So I wont push my opinions on that one on you. Suffice to say that I knew within minutes of being there this particular course wasn’t for me. I gave it a good 3 hours, although to be fair I would have walked out a lot sooner if I’d had the opportunity.
Here is where in my opinion it went wrong…
- The two organisers both wore top to toe shades of grey, didn’t smile much or make us feel warmly welcome.
- The chairs were incredibly uncomfortable, so much so half the group asked for a different one, me included.
- The two organisers read mainly from work sheets like they’d never done it before.
- The rest of the session was simply watching DVDs on an overhead projector with very poor sound quality.
- The healthy food demonstration (on DVD) used ingredients I’d never heard of and were really complicated to make.
- The group weren’t engaged.
- It was run like a classroom and we were talked to as if we were children.
And so the list goes on.
If nothing else cancer teaches you that time is precious and that how you spend it is important. Quite simply, if something’s not working for you, leave it and move on. Life’s too short.
So, we’ve covered some of the stuff we really don’t want to hear, but let’s be fair it’s really difficult for people to know what to say for the best. I know that if the shoe had been on the other foot I wouldn’t of had a clue what to say to a cancer patient. So I thought I would share with you some of the most wonderful things people have said to me that really made a difference during my darkest hours.
In no particular order…
- Whatever you need, day or night just call me
- I don’t know what I can do but if there is anything just let me know
- I would do anything so you didn’t have to go through this
- You are always in my prayers
- Let me come over and do the housework for you
- Where do you want to go and what do you want to do? Whatever it is we’ll do it
- I don’t want you to worry about work, we’ve got it covered
- Your health is the most important thing, let us worry about everything else
- I’m going to bring over some frozen meals
- We want to do a charity run in your honor. Is that ok?
Of course one of the most important things anyone can do is to be there to listen when we need to talk. To not judge us on the difficult decisions we need to make at probably the most stressful time of our life but to just be there to support us no matter what. If you don’t know what to say, say that! We will understand. Sometimes we just want to talk about anything other than cancer so please do treat us as you always have done and share what’s going on in your life with us too.
I was recently asked, as a part of group workshop, to think of a side of my personality right now that I don’t like and to then decorate a mask to represent that character trait. Initially thrilled at the thought of doing some ‘Art Therapy’ I quickly became very apprehensive.
It didn’t take long for me to identify the part I dislike the most though. Its quite simply all the worry, fear and anxiety that I carry around with me and that has taken a hold of my life for the last 4 months. I had no idea how that would transpire on a mask and then it dawned on me – it was manifesting itself in my head, through my thoughts and was working its way down through the rest of my body.
I grabbed some wrapping paper, tore it up and started to glue it around the forehead, sprinkling over some sequins to represent the hundreds of thoughts I had day and night that were uncontrollable. All the “what ifs” and “whys” that went round and round, all the hundreds of lists of things I needed to try and remember about what I should and shouldn’t be doing, how my life was, and what it is now, why this had happened and what was going to happen to me, to my life and how that would affect the people I love around me. Millions upon millions of thoughts that were mounting up and weighing me down.
The black areas below my eyes then became the weight that worry was having, causing me sleepless nights and huge amounts of pain and anxiety.
Tearing up pink tissue paper I covered the rest of the face. Keeping the seems open and tattered to show the effect this was having on the rest of my body and how it was tearing me apart.
The shiny, smiley sticker faces above the eyes are for all the times people ask me how I am. “Yeah, everything’s fine thanks. How are you?” had become the standard response but it was just too far from the truth for me to feel comfortable to share. The smiles are quite simply the faces I wear to make everyone else feel better.
The whole exercise was very telling and explaining it all to the rest of the group was incredibly emotional. It made me realise though that I am only hurting myself by worrying and letting my fear rule my life.
This was my face, the fear.