Embracing Loneliness as a Gift
One particular thing I have noticed about Cancer is that it can be a lonely disease. I felt like I was suddenly thrust into a strange parallel universe. I tried surrounding myself with people, but sometimes that felt worse. I had wonderful and thoughtful friends who I love and who genuinely meant well, but who didn’t truly understand what I was going through and I didn't really expect them to. How could they unless they had been through it? I have always been a sarcastic, jokey kind of person, so keeping that aspect of my personality alive and well was important to me, but I noticed that I did not particularly want to be around people as much after my breast cancer diagnosis. Especially at work, it felt like there were all these people like me, going about their day, but without the Grim Reaper following them around. It’s true that you don’t always know what others are going through, but all I could see were people worrying or talking about trivial stuff. Non-life-threatening stuff that I used to worry about, like whether to go out for lunch or choke down a Lean Cuisine. I felt as though life was going on all around me and I was frozen in time.
I am not a loner by nature, but I found that I do relish alone time more than I used to. I live with my husband and 15 year old daughter in a three bedroom house with our dog and cats, so there isn’t much quiet time, but when there is, I savor it. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I noticed I became much more introspective, and in turn I felt encouraged and emboldened to spend more time by myself. Many other patients brought a friend or family member to their chemotherapy sessions, but I found I was usually not interested in entertaining someone else. I would rather sleep, watch TV, listen to music, read, or just close my eyes and imagine I was anywhere else. Increasingly, I wanted to be alone with my thoughts, and sometimes my tears, for a few reasons.
I needed time to contemplate my fate, my future, and my life. I wanted to feel my feelings and not be distracted away from the pain and terror of what I imagined was to come. In my mind, I felt as though if I did not let myself feel the raw fear and accompanying emotions, they would be stuffed deep down inside only to explode at some unexpected time in the future. I am usually an ostrich when it comes to facing unpleasant or scary things in my life but I realized I could not do that with cancer.
I didn't really want people (other than my doctors) telling me over and over it would be okay. You don’t know if it will be okay. Very often, it is NOT okay. “At least it was found early.” Um, no. Actually, it wasn’t. I realize people mean well and believe that making positive statements is helpful, but I honestly did not want my fears to be minimized.
It allowed me to dig deep and find the strength I would need to fight. There is no right way or wrong way to go about handling a cancer diagnosis and I wanted to face things my way, free from outside influences telling me how I should feel and what I should be doing. It also gave me the opportunity to face some personal demons long buried. (https://www.ihadcancer.com/h3-blog/01-08-2019/cancer-is-no-gift-but-it-b...)
It forced me to take care of myself. During treatment, so many of us want to keep “doing it all.” We feel as though we do not wish to impose on others or be viewed as weak. And I had to accept that I could not. I focused on what I needed to care for myself, whether it was a long hot bath or a nap. My body had specific needs that I had to focus on.
This is not to say I did not need support. I did. A LOT. I had friends bring meals or offer to just sit quietly with me. My husband took over much, if not all of the household chores. My daughter, 12 at the time, stepped up and really pitched in. My employer allowed me to reduce my hours to accommodate my physical limitations. I am extremely grateful for the outpouring of support I received but I am also glad I took the time for introspection, to get to know this new me and now, this new normal.
Image courtesy of author.