Monday 7 June 2021

Things that get us excited and put breast cancer on the back burner: BRiC's Collective Voice

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A recent Sunday discussion of ours focused on “Some of the things that get us excited and put breast cancer on the back burner. Have you found something that reignites your joie de vivre?”

Naz started off by saying that she has used work as a distraction to her breast cancer, but that writing grants, publishing papers and supporting her students mainly gives her a “sense of happiness”

Other members could relate to Naz on the issue of work, it distracts, gives them some normality, and by stretching themselves, gives them a sense of accomplishment too. Also, “being around my colleagues was very helpful to me, they were great”. One member is a tattooist, and, once she was allowed to work again post covid restrictions, has found a real buzz about her work, enjoying the creative process and doing what she loves.

A long term project has also helped one member, a project to convert a horsebox into accommodation. The project will allow her and her husband to travel, and afford them adventures, and make memories. This “happy project” gives a sense of accomplishment too, with a long term goal.

Creativity has been a great go-to for many of us, we have taken up art, written poetry, made jewelry, miniature flowers and renovated dolls houses. Activities such as knitting or crochet have proven links with mindfulness and improving depression so it is no surprise that this sort of creative process is something we reach for in various guises. Cancer has helped us push the boundaries of our abilities, and encouraged us to experiment and learn different techniques and skills - given one member a “self confidence I never had before”. We feel that sense of accomplishment again, and are surprised and pleased by it as many of these activities were initially taken up to distract us from our dark thoughts when we were on active treatment. We have found we want to carry on with them because of the joy they give us, in the process and the end result.

Being outside in nature was another common theme for us, how being outside helps us still our minds, looking at the space around us, the countryside, the colours, the expanse of space. Nature, animals, the night sky, camping and being with friends around an open fire makes us happy, helps us feel calm and chases away anxiety while we are in the moment. It allows time to reflect and get motivated by our own thoughts and theories.

We exercise too, if we are able to within our physical limitations: yoga, horse riding, dressage, running, long hikes, exercise classes at the gym. Setting an exercise goal, and hitting it gives us a natural endorphin high, and keeps us challenging ourselves. Or just having a dance to our favourite playlist!

For some members, they are still searching for something that “clicks”. Reading a good book can provide escapism, but if our minds are wandering then we may not remember what we read. Sewing and yoga can give some temporary distraction but may not fully “excite or engage”. Our concentration and focus may have gone and anxiety has replaced it, we may struggle to look forward to events that gave us a joie de vivre before cancer, and that can block us from those activities that may have excited us before.

However, we should be mindful of not using whatever gives us joy and excitement to help us avoid thinking about our breast cancer. It is healthier for our minds to not suppress our emotions, but give them the attention they deserve and when they deserve it. We are aware of pushing cancer to one side with the things we enjoy doing, but this can only be temporary and the darkness can return. We have to learn to live with the darkness we may sometimes fear and learn what we can do to excite us, what makes us smile and the world seem a little brighter.