Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Weekly Discussion Summary ~ Seeking Perfection

Our Sunday topic this week was perfectionism: the already strong pressure to be perfect and how it may be intensified following a diagnosis of breast cancer. As always, our lovely ladies identified common themes but also confirmed that everyone's experience is unique.

As women living in today's busy world, the media tells us that we should strive to be perfect mothers, sisters, partners, daughters, friends, even perfect patients. All around us are airbrushed images of beautiful women juggling careers and children, smiling through every kind of adversity. Often after cancer we look much like any other woman on the street, well and glowing. We hide our vulnerability behind our positivity, we don't want to upset anyone by mentioning our big secret. Even those who have secondary breast cancer and face a lifetime of treatment and monitoring report striving to maintain the brave faced smile. Fear and vulnerability take a back seat so that we can appear strong for our families. Thank goodness for groups like ours where we can share our feelings and thoughts!

Having breast cancer may force us to make difficult decisions that scupper our long held dreams: for those who have children, we may feel we can't be good mothers, as we may have to hand over their care to others while we are unwell for example; for some, cancer puts paid to having more children; others may not get to have children at all. Careers get put on hold; some ladies choose to stop work, others just aren't well enough anymore so they have to stop. We feel we fall short, that the life we thought we were going to have is ruined. Physically and mentally it's tiring having cancer, fearing cancer, and many ladies can't do as much as before their illness (but it's unlikely that you would know that: they hide it well.)

There are lots of things we feel we ought to be doing. One is running a marathon, or at least a 5k race for life, as soon as we finish our last radiotherapy session. Some achieved this and did well, others succeeded but exhausted themselves, and some didn't have the energy to get out of bed, much less bake for the biggest coffee morning in the world. However we feel though, we do get up, do our best, smile and get on with being positive, almost every day. And if occasionally we succumb to feeling tired and low, and we take to our sofas or our beds, we feel guilty and weak. Not good enough.

Having breast cancer can teach some valuable lessons too. Many ladies report becoming softer, calmer, more relaxed, more approachable. Many ladies have learned to say No, and to seek out what makes them happy and not live to please others anymore. Many care less about what other people think of them. With messy reconstructions, one boob, lumpy bumpy lopsidedness, many learn to dress for comfort not glamour. Our new normal may surprise or upset our friends and family as we relinquish roles we thought were carved in stone, realising we have more choices than we thought we had. Our inner strength, the resilience we build, starts to shine.

Many report that they have been able to let go of high standards and high expectations in favour of enjoying life. We commonly discard housework! We take pleasure in the simple everyday things like walking in the autumn sunshine, enjoying a coffee with a friend, or reading a book. Perhaps for some, particularly those ladies who are older, breast cancer brings an opportunity to take stock, to decide what's important, and to live life our way.

However our breast cancer affects us, none deny that we are changed. Some feel guilty that they got off lightly with treatment or surgery; some feel they've let themselves and others down; some feel like failures, as if it's somehow their fault. Not only can they not achieve perfection, they feel less than good enough. And that's a subject for another discussion.


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