3 – Cut yourself some slack and go take a nap.
Several of my close friends are also cancer survivors – I will be forever grateful for their support – but they are geographically distant and their support during my treatment was via phone and computers only. A few months after my treatment ended, the friends who lived nearby began to say things like ‘I thought they got the cancer,’ and ‘Aren’t you cured now?’
One weekend afternoon, I was instant messaging with a survivor friend, bemoaning the fact that I was unable to do what I’d been able to pre-cancer, and that I felt like people around me were starting to get fed up with my inability to get myself sorted. In that moment, she gave me one of the best pieces of advice I have ever been given.
‘You’ve got cancer,’ she typed. ‘Cut yourself some slack and go take a nap.’
Now, that may not seem particularly profound to you. But let me explain why it was.
I am not someone who asks for help easily. I’d been supporting myself – and my mother and brothers as well – for nearly twenty years. Even after my diagnosis, I tried to remain strong and independent. Everyone expected that.
With those two sentences, she’d given me permission to be tired. To admit, as much to myself as anyone, that I simply can’t do it all. I can’t be everything to everyone, as I’d tried my whole life to be, and I definitely wasn’t weak, or otherwise lessened, by admitting it.
It was all right to be tired. It was all right to say no, if I needed to.
It was an epiphany.
My energy levels are better now, after nearly a year as a survivor, rather than a patient, but they’re still nowhere near where they were pre-cancer; maybe they never will be. I’ve learned to prioritise better, to say no, to save my spare energy for the things I love. I still get very tired, but close friends have learned my limits. Although it does get difficult trying to explain the problem to new friends and acquaintances, people who may not be familiar with cancer’s challenges.
Even that’s gotten easier – I was recently introduced to the ‘spoon theory,’ which is explained in perfect detail in this PDF. I take no credit for this theory, but Christine Miserandino has come up with, I think, a brilliant way of explaining to healthy people what it feels like to live with a disease like this; one that I intend to use indefinitely.
People understand immediately; you can see it in their eyes. One friend asked me, very quietly, how many spoons were routinely used up on the time I spend with her.
‘A fair few,’ I admitted. ‘But I choose to spend them on you.’
And THAT is the third lesson that having cancer has taught me.