Saturday, 9 February 2019

Weekly Discussion Summary ~ I'm Sorry

“I’m sorry.”

Why do so many of us feel the need to apologise for having breast cancer? 

This week in our discussion we thought about how much we find ourselves saying sorry for our situation and our needs.

Why do we say sorry for needing to practice self-care? For not being able to keep up with a hectic social life? For needing a little extra support at home or at work? 

Anyone would think that we got cancer on purpose, that somehow it’s our fault. 

We wonder if we're wasting the time of our medical team, being a nuisance. We apologise.

Many of us ask what we did wrong - did we drink too much, eat too much, stress too much? If we'd lived differently would we have escaped the disease? 

We reassure people around us when cancer is mentioned, telling them we're fine, OK, even when we're not. We play down our side effects, and do more than our fair share to make sure no-one thinks we're “using” our cancer diagnosis as an excuse. 

We don't voice our needs because we don't want to appear vulnerable, we don't want to hurt our loved ones by allowing our fears out into the open. We apologise if we want to talk about our cancer, feeling that others must be bored of it by now. 

Once we've had a breast cancer diagnosis, it's always there in the background, and, for those of us with secondary cancer it's right in the foreground, as treatment is ongoing. We don't want to be a burden so we tell our loved ones we are sorry for being ill. 

Naturally, we experience intense feelings of distress. We apologise for tears or outbursts. We apologise for not being on top of the world, for living life to the full. We feel guilty if we allow our sadness in, even more so if we dare to express it or let it get us down. 

I'm sorry to ask......(for a lift for the kids, for a bit of help with the shopping, for a listening ear, a hug.) 

I'm sorry......I'm always so tired, so forgetful, not up to going out today. 

I'm sorry.........that I look so scary with no hair, I'm sorry I can't wear skimpy tops and high heels anymore, I'm sorry I'm so fat and ugly. 

I'm sorry, boss, that I need to ask for reasonable adjustments in order to continue working for you. 

I'm sorry, dear partner, that our intimate relationship is affected by how I feel about my appearance and by the physical changes in my body. 

I'm sorry kids, but mummy can't take you to the park today because I need to rest. 

Self-care becomes a critical task to avoid collapse, and apologising for it all the time can spiral us down into feeling very low and depressed, and it can be self-destructive. 

We say sorry when we break the news of our diagnosis, we're sorry to be the bringers of bad news and sorry for our families and friends who now have to worry about us.  We're sorry that our treatment means activities are put on hold, work may have to manage without us, holidays may be postponed.  Once we finish treatment we apologise for not being able to do everything we did before, as treatment will have changed us. Our energy levels and priorities may be different and we modify our lives accordingly. This is frustrating for many of us, because as we adapt, so others around us must fall in line to accommodate those changes. More guilt, more apologies.

Sometimes other people say hurtful things, such as suggesting that having breast cancer is lucky because it's a 'good cancer' to have. Some are dismissive, as if cancer is a bout of flu, we're better now, so how about we just get over it and on with it? This kind of attitude can be very upsetting. We try to counteract it in our minds, as logically we know that it isn't our fault we got ill, but so many of us feel we fall into victim mode, saying matter-of-factly that we are sorry for any inconvenience caused. 

Some of us have learned not to start every sentence with “I'm sorry.” We've started to accept that we can't control everything and everyone. We do our best and we shouldn't ever apologise for that. 

Perhaps we should try different vocabulary, maybe saying 'I'm sad I can't join you for that day out in the city but my energy levels just won't support it'. This has a different feel. Some of us are learning to accept that cancer ‘chose’ us and we can't control its spread and that's that. Cancer doesn't discriminate, we didn't ask it along for the ride. We accept we may feel sad, angry, fed up. We understand that the only thing we have control over is how we react and behave in response to what happens to us. 

A good tip is to notice ourselves saying sorry, perhaps to count to 10 before we apologise. We could imagine what we might say to our best friend if she were going through the same thing: would we blame her and expect her to apologise? 

No, we wouldn't, in fact we'd be more likely to offer tea, cake and a big hug!  

Our need to apologise comes from inside us, not from others, and we can help ourselves by realising that our loved ones want to help us to be as well and happy as can be. Our apologies don't help us to feel better, in fact they reinforce our vulnerability and lack of self-worth. They can become so habitual that we start saying sorry for existing. 

If you are a woman living in the UK with a cancer diagnosis and you'd like to join our private group please send us a private message via Facebook.

No comments: