Saturday, 1 June 2019

Weekly Discussion Summary ~ Post Traumatic Growth 2

Post Traumatic Growth

“We think of resilience as toughness, but it is not. It is sensitivity, it is the ability to shape and grow into a new being.”

This week’s discussion explored post traumatic growth, a concept which refers to the possibility of 'growing' and learning from the trauma that we have endured as a result of (any) cancer diagnosis - we re-evaluate our priorities, our values, and find a deeper gratitude and appreciation for life.  

We thought about the way that our experience of primary or secondary breast cancer had changed us. Many of us felt our lives had changed positively, for example, we have a greater appreciation for who we are and ‘our lives' feel 'better', 'richer' and more meaningful. Overall, there was broad agreement that we had discovered a new and deeper appreciation for many of life’s simple pleasures, things we had taken for granted before our diagnosis, maybe being in nature, or, in the company of our families or good friends.
Some of us felt we were kinder, more self-compassionate, wiser and empathetic. We stop “sweating the small stuff.” We become more assertive, more confident and less apologetic. We shared examples of speaking up, setting boundaries in a stressful work environment, changing and leaving toxic jobs, or toxic relationships. Some of us had developed new interests and skills; maybe we had found ourselves wanting to learn and study or we had found ways to express our creativity, perhaps taking up new interests. Friendship and the chance to make new friends was particularly valued as an opportunity for pleasure and growth.

Many of us shared that we had reconnected with our values, perhaps finding a greater appreciation for 'normal life', home and family, whilst others had experienced a shift in values, perhaps becoming more adventurous or willing to take risks. We open ourselves up to new experiences, doing new things, including things we have never before had the courage to do. 

Resilience, Naz told us, is a concept that is derived from growth post trauma. We think of resilience as toughness, but it is not. It is sensitivity, it is the ability to shape and grow into a new being. A being that is not like the ‘old’ person we were, but where we find an acceptance of the changes, the losses that we endure as a consequence of our trauma. Naz told us that she finds it helpful to see vulnerability as an opportunity, a platform to fly from and to explore what we can make of the changes, the restrictions and the fears, to find what we can reclaim.

Not surprisingly some of us felt more cautious about attributing gains to our experience of cancer - particularly, but not only if our losses are still raw and painful. We reject the idea that cancer is a gift or a teacher. We all know that there is nothing positive about any cancer diagnosis and its impact on us is profound, and for many of us, long lasting. It takes courage to face out trauma, and we need to do this in our own time. Here at BRiC, we do not turn away from the harsh realities of our experience and our treatment. We know all too well that we are tired, fatigued, and our cognitive functions are running low. We also recognise the ongoing challenges women with secondary breast cancer face. Could we, some of us wondered, be at risk of placing unrealistic expectations on ourselves to 'grow' and learn from trauma in light of these challenges?

As one of us has said before, there is a crucial difference between recognising that we can come through the crisis of cancer, resilient and strong, and, coming to the view that we are resilient and strong because we had cancer. It is what Naz termed, the ‘clever me’ which is inside each of us and can turn the experience around to our advantage. Even though we have less control as a result of our breast cancer, we can use that vulnerability as a stepping stone to take back control where we can. It is even possible that post traumatic growth might help us, it might make our journey through trauma easier. 

Our discussion highlighted the importance of avoiding a prescription or a blanket definition that applies to everyone, and we should instead strive towards our own path. Post-traumatic growth does not mean that we will be entirely free from the painful memories of what has happened to us. Our experiences and grief and the challenges we face are part of who we are, not something to be pushed away. But, we can talk to ourselves kindly, and we can learn to accept and understand the significance of our experiences and feelings in ways that validate our responses so that we live our lives more meaningfully. We can learn to see ourselves, and I mean, really see ourselves, in all our flawed and imperfect beauty.

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

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