Does it seem like every conversation you have ends up being about your lung cancer? Is it the first thing you think about in the morning, the last thing you think about at night? Are your social media feeds one cancer related item after another? Do you wish sometimes that you could just live, and not think about lung cancer at all?
You are not alone; I think that everyone who lives with a serious disease goes through periods when the disease seems to dominate everything in life. When we are acutely ill, it may be difficult or impossible to focus on anything else, but in periods of relative stability, we could benefit from a better balance between our illness and everything else that is going on in our world.
With that in mind, here are some ideas for finding that balance, and perhaps a bit of peace.
Empathize with others first. When talking to family, friends, and acquaintances, open the conversation by asking about them. Really listen, and engage with their stories about their lives before talking about what is going on with yours. We all experience difficulties and joys, and paying attention to other people’s might help us put our own struggles and triumphs into better balance.
Have some friendly, non-detailed responses on hand for the question, “How are you?”. We don’t have to go into when our next scan is coming up or any of the details of our current treatments every time someone asks us this. “I’m doing well at the moment, thanks for asking” works when you are stable. Handling this question when your lung cancer is changing can be more difficult if you don’t want to get into a long conversation. Perhaps you can say. “I’m in transition right now, but my doctor and I have a plan.” The idea is to stay away from words that relate specifically to cancer, like oncologist or chemo.
Keep up with your usual interests and hobbies. Keep loving your family, friends, and pets. Read a novel, go to a concert, watch television. If you followed the news before, keep doing so, and don’t let the latest cancer research dominate the news you read. Feed your interests other than lung cancer by spending time with them, so that you have new things to talk about other than your illness.
Go on vacation. I find that I think about my illness the least when I am having fun in a place other than where I live.
Keep right on looking your best. When I was first diagnosed, one of my first thoughts was that I shouldn’t buy myself new clothes any more, but should use what I have. Since then, I’ve lost and regained weight and spoken at public events, and I have bought some clothes. Having clothes that fit me well and that are up to date helps me to feel more normal, which means I’m not thinking about my illness as much.
Ask the question: What am I getting out of the the attention I give to lung cancer? In my case, when I do lung cancer advocacy work - writing articles, speaking publicly, responding to other people’s questions - I feel better, not worse. I’m the kind of person who wants to fix things, and advocacy is a way to help improve things for lung cancer patients. Other people are going to have different answers to this question.
Volunteer as you are able. Many people no longer work after their lung cancer diagnosis, and their days may have more unstructured hours. Some kind of work, even if only a few hours per week, may help reduce brooding and compulsive internet surfing. Helping others is a great way to spend less time thinking about your own situation.
Can you take a step away from lung cancer from time to time? What is the most effective way for you to put your illness aside?
Photo credit: Pixabay picture by Wokandapix, CC0 Public Domain