This weekend Shine Cancer Support held the UK’s first one-day conference for people in their 20s, 30s and 40s who’ve experienced cancer. Here are 4 things I learned:
We talk sh*t…literally, and a lot!
Coming from someone who had bowel cancer, I ask your pardon for the pun, but I’ve never heard a room more open, casual and, well, sweary about this thing called cancer. I love this – it breaks the ice, makes it funny and even a bit ridiculous and those things are really important for such a serious, difficult topic. One of the attendees commented that they hadn’t expected it to be so much fun and down to earth. When you’ve been through it, you know it’s super tough, stressful and confusing and yet we still manage to find places and spaces where we laugh, see humour, and find the OK amongst the crap.
The gaps are huge
We’re probably aware of the statistics around topics like mental health (a quarter of the general population will have a mental health diagnosis at some point in our lives) and employment rates amongst millennials (lower and less permanent than older age groups), but when you add on a cancer experience it blows those stats out of the water – we’re more likely to have a mental health diagnosis (e.g. depression or anxiety) following cancer, a huge 75% of working age adults with cancer are working in a different way than before their diagnosis and confidence and self-esteem amongst those dating and in relationships following a cancer diagnosis plummets. What can be done? Well, awareness is key, so talking about it openly and honestly amongst hundreds who’ve also experienced it is a massive first step.
This is like my NCT
At the time when most of my friends were having babies, and siblings for those babies, I was experiencing cancer, with surgeries, drugs, side effects, stressors and, to coin a phrase from the conference, de-trajectorisation. I missed out on that really special time of starting a family with my friends. When I realised I’d be a good deal older than my peers if it does happen, it was another loss to face up to. With the beauty of time I have perspective, and see how many new people are in my life who haven’t always been on the same trajectory as others either (cancer or not). I also see how important it is for me to have people who truly get the unique experience of cancer when you’re not retired, haven’t completed your family yet and were expecting to be somewhere else at this point. Being in a room full of hundreds of people who get this is like nothing else – it’s empowering and one huge relief. I don’t tend to go as far as to say I’m grateful for my cancer experience (one whole blog post in itself!) but I can say that my work, home life and peer group is shaping into something pretty exciting, more creative and perhaps even more in-line with who I am than it ever would have been otherwise.
You’ll know when you’re ready to get in touch
When something challenging happens in life, we’re usually encouraged by others who care deeply for us to try certain things out – have you tried yoga/mindfulness/that forum/support group/speaking to my friend who also went through it (delete or insert as appropriate). It’s meant well but it’s also really hard to decline if you’re just not ready to try those things out. Rightly or wrongly, I felt like this about meeting other young-ish people with cancer when I was first diagnosed – why would I want to be in a room full of people who are all miserable (like I was!) and talking about cancer the whole time (which is all I could do!).
Well, not only were they not miserable nor could only talk about cancer, 5 years on from my own diagnosis, seeking out this group is what I actively pursue and am all the better for it. I found Shine about a year into my cancer experience, and had just started working at Macmillan Cancer Support also, so something must have been telling me it was important to follow this need.
If you’ve experienced cancer and you haven’t been in touch with many other people about it yet, know that you will when you’re ready – that might be today, in 3 months, next year, whenever. I can say that you’re likely to feel a massive relief if you do it sooner rather than later, and if and when you do there’s a tonne of us who are going to be like you; a little scared, confused, pissed off it’s happened but finding ways every day to live with it, move on from it and go forward despite it. Oh, and sweary :-).
Get in touch with me about your own cancer experience and we can talk more about how to access the support you need. I’m a Health Psychology Specialist and Coach, supporting people through challenging times in their health, life and self.
ALSO – You can now sign up to the ‘Moving Forward from Cancer‘ webinar on 23rd May. It’s 1-hour online where you’ll hear about great tools and techniques on moving forward from your own challenging time.