7 mindset hacks when dealing with cancer
Cancer: A diagnosis everyone will fear. But one in two apparently will have to face that at one time in their lives. As did I in autumn 2022. Not just one diagnosis for ovarian and womb cancer, but a second one a few weeks later for breast cancer.
As a life coach/psychotherapist, I knew how big a role my mindset would play in this process, and I wondered if I was able to walk my talk in challenging circumstances.
My journey started with some tests, diagnoses, two big operations a few weeks apart, radiotherapy and medication. Luckily, no chemo and nearly one year later, I am clean and nearly as fit as I was a year ago.
I know that my mindset and my way of thinking have helped my process - during and after. This article aims to share the mindset hacks I applied, which will hopefully help you or a loved one in similar circumstances.
1. Create a story without emotions
Before you decide to share what is going on for you, draft the storylines and make it as emotionally detached as possible. That is easier for you and others. People react usually highly emotionally to cancer news, which isn’t helpful for the patient. I created the storyline: "I have good and bad news. I have two cancer diagnoses, but it seems that the treatment is straightforward. Two operations and maybe follow-up treatment, but we will only know further down the line."
2. Take control of the communication
I discovered how easy it was to talk to one friend and how awful to another. I became selective of what I shared with whom. I had standard answers to not talk about it, such as: "I am doing OK. Just waiting for the next results in a few weeks." Regardless of the truth, it stopped the topic and we could move on to something else. I communicated the ‘stories’ about the next steps (see point 1) via WhatsApp. Not in a group where everyone can read anybody’s responses, but on an individual basis. So I was in control, preventing myself from being overwhelmed by loads of messages.
3. See it as a job
I never realised how busy life becomes when you are on the treadmill of the medical circuit. Once you have a first diagnosis, which takes a few visits and tests, you will be invited to a range of other tests and scans, followed by meetings about the results, then treatments and follow-up appointments. Life becomes full-on and your cancer becomes a job. See it like that, expecting that it will take up a lot of time.
4. Take it one day at the time
One day at a time. We all have good days and bad days. I changed my language and said to people: "Today is a good day, but I hope tomorrow is a better one." In other words, I didn’t allow ‘bad’ days. Every day was a good one. I only focused on that day and didn’t spoil it by thinking about the potential message I could get during next week’s visit to the clinic. Every day you are alive and feeling OK, you have a life to live.
5. Normal life
Before my operations and during the recovery, I lived my normal life as much as possible. After both ops, I needed four days to adapt, but then I started seeing clients again. I had given up my extensive marketing activities with weekly blogging, social media posts, and networking. I simply wasn’t in the mood. Also, I had less energy, so I had to be selective. But dog walking, going to the shops (not lifting anything) and having friends around made me feel happy.
6. Don’t ask why and why me
These questions are unanswerable. Sometimes, the why might have a connection with genes, but in a lot of cases there is no suitable answer. And is it relevant? Does it change anything in your situation? The "why me" is putting yourself in the position of a victim: powerless. In any health scare situation, you are sort of a victim, but not necessarily helpless and powerless. A victim mindset is not helpful, so don’t get yourself into that.
7. Don’t become your cancer
You are a person who at this moment in time is overcoming a disease. Make sure there is more to your life than your illness. If you allow your cancer to take over, you are losing yourself. You are a friend, maybe a parent, a professional, an artist - don’t let all that be overshadowed by your cancer.
A cancer diagnosis and treatment takes a long time from start to finish and most people go back to healthy, but with regular health checks. For me, it was a life-changing experience. A confirmation that living in the moment, feeling gratitude for each day, and doing what I really want to do without waiting offers the highest quality of life I have ever experienced.