According to the Canadian Cancer Society, the incidence of developing cancer increases after 50 years old. However, approximately 10% of people diagnosed with Cancer are young adults. They are falling victim to cancer as well, and they are faced with a slew of unique challenges as a result.
When I was in the hospital, I met a 31 year old man named Mat. He was a father of two and a police officer who was diagnosed with Acute Myelotic Leukemia a month before my own diagnosis. He was physically fit, went to the gym regularly before he fell ill, ate healthy, was not a smoker and didn’t drink. Yet, there he was. After two failed rounds of chemo, he had a stem cell transplant in April 2018. In January, we lost Mat due to complications with his Leukemia treatment. How could someone so young and healthy be lost to us so young from cancer?
I don’t think anyone can imagine what it’s like to have cancer until you are faced with the reality of it. I never would have guessed that the predominant emotions I would be dealing with are shame and guilt. However, as a mother, I can’t run around and play with my kids the way I used to. I lose my temper sometimes and if I can control a mood swing, I might be able to keep my cool until I can be in my bedroom alone riding the wave of whatever I’m feeling. This is always followed by a feeling of inadequacy. As a partner, I feel like I’m failing my fiancé. Newly engaged, we should be on cloud 9, making wedding plans. I should be helping more with household responsibilities. After all, we do have two children and we both commute for our thriving careers. Depending on the day of the week and the meds I’m taking, I’m told I can’t even kiss him. As a dedicated member of a management team with my employer, I should be there for my team and my clients. Instead, I use the good hours of the day to get grocery shopping and laundry done. I usually crash by midday. Sometimes to the point of incoherence.
If beating yourself up isn’t enough, there is the barrage of opinions, judgements and criticism of others. I can remember someone saying to me, ‘You know, I really enjoy seeing you off your game’. I was mid-treatment driving 3 hours back and forth from the hospital everyday at that point. I picked a sweater that day that I would have to take off to reach my PICC for treatment. I knew it would be a cold day. Countless times, I’ve been mid-sentence describing (likely) a horrific experience when I’m told, ‘But that’s over now and you’re better right?’. I think the absolute worse is ‘But you look great’. It’s possible I may have whipped out my phone a couple times to show people just how great I really looked.
I don’t really think that any of the people who have made these statements meant to be malicious. They simply can’t relate. They don’t know what to do or say and sometimes, though good intentioned, just say the wrong thing.
At a time in our lives when we feel so powerless, we can really stand to be more kind to ourselves. Self-judgement isn’t going to do us any good. In fact, it can be detrimental to both our mental and physical health. So we can’t play with our kids the way we use to and maybe the dishes sit on the counter a little longer. Maybe your employees or employer can call you at home to ask for advice and input once in a while to help keep you connected. Whatever the case, there are strategies to help you regain some control.
Here are a few things that may help:
- No matter how much you dwell on the past, you’ll likely never know why you are in the position you are in. You may rather re-direct your precious energy on how you can help yourself fight or heal from your battle. That could be in the form of exploring your diet, hobbies you may be interested in taking up or exploring your feelings. In fact, having a positive attitude can improve your quality of life during and after cancer treatment.
- You are NOT a bad parent, partner, employee, daughter, son, cousin, aunt, friend, because your life has changed. In fact, you have an opportunity to teach your kids how important it is for them to love themselves by putting you first.
- Tell people what you need from them. They may not know how best to support you. Also, be kind. Being angry and pointing fingers is a great distraction but it won’t make you better. Try to have compassion for others and you may find they have more compassion too.
- Celebrate your wins. If you were able to get up and go for a walk today, even if it was one kilometre and it took an hour, you did it! Celebrate with a protein shake!
- There are tons of support groups out there where you can talk about how you’re feeling and the people listening will actually understand. I’ve included a list of some resources below and in the resource menu above.
- Mindfulness and meditation can help soothe your mind and your body. Check out the Calm website where you can download the app specific to your device. It has exercises that can help you get started with meditation, deep breathing and more.
- Above all else, give yourself a break. You deserve it.
At the end of the day, it’s up to us to keep our own minds healthy by loving ourselves. Below is a list of some Canadian organizations that offer a variety of services to help us do just that. Most of these organizations have Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media accounts but their email addresses are linked below for your convenience.
- Wellwood – Hamilton, ON and surrounding areas – Supporting cancer patients, their families and caregivers by providing information, programs and peer support.
- Pink Pearl – Ontario, Canada – Pink Pearl is a non-profit organization that provides community based support to women dealing with cancer.
- Young Adult Cancer Canada (YACC) – National – Dedicated to helping young Canadians with cancer. They provide peer support, information, host annual retreats and conference and share information for people 40 and under.
- Canadian Cancer Society – National – The Canadian Cancer Society runs free support groups including professionals, survivors and others facing diagnoses like your own. Visit the below website for contact information.
- Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Canada – Canada – Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Canada provides information, resources and support to patients, caregivers and professionals.
- Cancer Assistance Services of Halton Hills – Halton Hills, Ontario – Cancer Assistance Services of Halton Hills offers various forms of help such as transportation to and from appointments, financial support with equipment, house cleaning services and even Reiki and Reflexology. This organization is near and dear to my heart as they have helped me tremendously though my journey.
- HopeSpring – Kitchener-Waterloo, Cambridge, Guelph, Ontario and surrounding areas – An independent community organization that offers an array of services including nutrition, family support, coping skills, relaxation programs and even free yoga, among other things. All their programs are free of charge.
- Georgian Bay Cancer Support Centre – Communities of North Simcoe, Ontario – Georgian Bay Cancer Support Centre offers programs to patients, their families and immediate care givers free of charge.
- Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation – Ottawa, Ontario and surrounding areas – Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation offers one on one, group, nutritional coaching among other services to cancer patients.
- Canadian Organization for Rare Disorders – Canada – Focuses on arming Canadians with rare disorders with information and access to resources specific to their disorder.
If you are familiar with any organizations which provide support to cancer patients, feel free to reach out to me and I will gladly add them to the resources menu.