Saturday, 25 January 2020

BRiC's Collective Voice: Uncertainty, and how we cope with it, Jan 17, 2020

‘Confronting, accepting, even embracing fear, according to research, can lower uncertainty. ‘

This week we talked about uncertainty since breast cancer: how it can affect us and what strategies we’ve found useful in managing it.

A key flash point for uncertainty is once active treatment for primary cancer is finished and we are no longer attending regular appointments which give us momentum in attacking our cancer. We have time to reflect and to worry. The enormity of what we’ve experienced sinks in and we wonder what we can do to prevent recurrence or spread. Cancer does not discriminate, it pounces on those who run marathons and eat their five a day just as regularly as it seeks out those who are not as healthy in their diet or as active. We realise that our future is outside our control, and this brings feelings of guilt, why me? And what if? If we are living with secondary cancer, as many of our members are, then stability versus progression becomes our uncertainty.

One of the most uncertain times in a breast cancer diagnosis is when waiting for test results. We have all experienced the agony of this, and a few days or weeks can seem a very long time. Once we know, the uncertainty of what’s next reduces and we can get on with whatever treatment our medical teams recommend to us. Some of us like to take control by questioning and researching our treatment plans, seeking the very best way forward for our particular situation.

How can we minimise the effect of uncertainty on our mental wellbeing? For some, distraction is the key, keeping busy, with work or other activities. The downside of this is that relaxation may become difficult as intrusive thoughts ruin any attempt at taking a break. For others, peaceful reflection, mindfulness and living in the moment helps. Walking in nature and creative hobbies are absorbing popular pastimes. To realise that everything is ok in this moment, right now, works for some, but for others the uncertainty simply overwhelms the present moment. Talking about our fears and sharing experiences helps many of us. Confronting, accepting, even embracing fear, according to research, can lower uncertainty. The brain is so powerful, and the more we allow our vulnerability in and think of it as an opportunity rather than a threat, the more we can shield ourselves from the anxiety inducing effects of uncertainty. For those of us prone to anxiety, the added uncertainty of a breast cancer diagnosis has the potential to be be crippling, but many of us take a pragmatic approach and ‘just get on with it’, not allowing fears related to cancer to add any extra weight. Some of us feel angry and bewildered, and increased anxiety can lead to depression. If we can turn these strong emotions to our advantage we can find a strength and determination to change our lives for the better.

Self-care is an aspect that we embrace in our group, and members report that this attention to our own needs and wants is key to our wellbeing. Some of us make a lifestyle change following cancer, as this can help us to feel that we are doing the best we can to look after ourselves. We might eat healthier, exercise more. Some of us throw ourselves into life with renewed zest, with a feeling that we want to make the most of every moment. Some of us have the urge to give back to life, and take on charity projects or volunteer. Some of us seek out help from professionals to improve wellbeing, this could be a counsellor or a cancer support group or course. Others talk to friends (although many of us find we don’t get adequate support from those who have not had cancer, and we often stay quiet with family as we want to protect them from the worry) and spend lots of time with loved ones, and still others prefer lots of alone time and make time to relish their solitude.

If you are a woman living in the UK with a breast cancer diagnosis and you would like to join our private group, please leave your name in the comments or send us a private message.

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