When cancer visits… 8 lessons from an unwelcome guest

Jaime Yeo, a counsellor from Parkway Cancer Centre, shares some lessons from journeying with cancer patients and their family members.

1) Human beings are adaptable and resilient

While the initial diagnosis and treatment may seem terrifying and beyond what they are able to handle, most patients usually adapt well. What may initially seem overwhelming eventually becomes manageable, as they become familiar with the changes and learn to overcome each hurdle, taking small steps at a time.

2) Be open to new experiences and feelings

One of the most difficult things for many people is dealing with unpleasant feelings, such as uncertainty or sadness. Often, it is the uneasy feelings that seem more unbearable than the actual situation itself.

Yet, there are also people who allow themselves to be open to experiences that are new, unknown or uncomfortable. Instead of fearing what may be uncomfortable, they process them, and adapt and grow from their experiences. They have a mindset: “When I get there, I will be able to handle it as it comes.”

3 There are things worth letting go of

There are battles worth fighting, and battles that are not. Choose your battles wisely so you don’t waste energy needlessly. A patient once shared that she learnt how to prioritise her relationship with her children rather than their performance, and that helped her let go of frustration and anger when her kids did not do well in school.

4) Don’t forget to live right now

In worrying about the future or being fixated on treatment outcomes, it is easy to forget to make the most of every present moment. Don’t miss out on the precious moments now, be it having the company of loved ones or doing an activity that relaxes you.

5) Relationships take on a different depth

There might be added stress in your relationships after a cancer diagnosis, as you and your loved ones adjust to a new routine. But apart from possible frustrations or disappointments, there will also be opportunities for these relationships to grow to a depth unlike before. Keep communication open and honest. Learn to be vulnerable, yet respectful, in your sharing with each other. Many patients have shared how cancer has brought their families closer, or evoked deeper conversations and connections.

6) Look for the good around you

Instead of getting caught up with negative situations, take some time to ponder over the good in your life. A major event such as cancer can colour your perspective and make it look as if you have experienced only bad and “unlucky” events in your life.

Upon reflection, some patients have learnt to be grateful for a range of good things, such as how the cancer was unexpectedly detected so that treatment could begin, how wonderfully supportive their spouses and families are, the time away from their work to focus on something different, etc. Take time to be grateful for the little things each day.

7) The shift in perspective is immensely valuable

Almost every patient I’ve met has shared how his or her cancer experience has resulted in a shift in life priorities or perspectives. Some patients describe this almost like a rebirth, and they become motivated to live life differently. This has a significant impact on their values and how they go about setting goals and living life daily, and they feel more rejuvenated and purposeful in life.

8) You don’t need to do this alone

Support from the people around you can make the journey more bearable and enriching as well. Whether it be family, close friends, someone who has also been through cancer, nurses or counsellors, it can be helpful to talk to or share your burdens with others.

While cancer is not anyone’s choice, many patients also experience growth through their journeys. Perhaps, it helps to see cancer not just as an unwelcome guest, but as a teacher imparting many valuable life lessons before taking its leave.



Tags: cancer counsellor, cancer positive thinking, cancer quality of life, cancer tips, experience with cancer patient, managing emotions