This is the desperate letter from my friend, Chris, that started it all (used with her permission)
This is just a very quick email to ask for your help. Since I have had the news of the cancer I am a wreck and in tears at the drop of a hat, which is definitely not like me. Then again, I have never had such devastating news, so I guess, to a point , it is understandable.
But I think about how brave you were, how you soldiered on and didn’t let the condition keep you from doing anything and I really need you to give me some advice on how I can try and cope with all this.
All I can see is the bad things, the op, the treatment and the constant worry. Obviously I am in no pain at the moment, but the anxiety is making me constantly nauseous and I can’t concentrate on anything. I cannot even talk to my children, because I just break down – how selfish is that??!!
So, Aldyth, please, if you have any “tips” on how to get a grip on this whole thing I would be really grateful to hear from you.
Love to you and Ian
My reply to Chris
All this is quite normal and to be expected. You’ve had a huge shock, and a completely life-changing one at that. The thing is though, that once the mind has adjusted to this new information, things DO settle down. I think it may be helpful to you if I tell you about my own reactions. Did you read the article I wrote for JOY! magazine? I have attached it here FYI.
As I said in that article, I cried for two days when I heard that I had to have chemo. I had been more or less okay until then, through the op, etc. I have NEVER in my life been so distressed!!! I just could not believe that this was happening to ME. It was a huge cloud pressing down on me. Cancer and chemo happened to OTHER people!
On top of all this, Ian was leaving for Ghana and we had to go to church for Ian’s last Sunday. I didn’t want to go because I couldn’t stop crying, but Ian said I couldn’t absent myself on that day of all days.
It was at that point that I went into the bedroom, fell to my knees and BEGGED God to help me. The whole story of how God spoke to me is in the article I’ve attached. From that point on my tears dried up and I felt more able to cope. I was still terrified of the chemo though—see article attached again.
Ian left for Ghana two days before I started chemo, and I don’t know when last I’ve ever felt more miserable, terrified, or ALONE. It was so hard at the airport when Ian left, trying to be brave in front of the kids!
My one prayer through all the weeks prior to this point had been, “If I die, God, please help me to be brave in front of the children and honouring to you! I don’t want to be cowardly, or whining.” You say in your letter that you can’t talk to your children about this. Well, let me re-assure you—I have never been able to talk about it to the kids! They were terrified of having to look after me and needed reassurance themselves.
Simon told me many months later that what Ian said to all of us at the airport had stuck in his mind and been a great source of comfort to him. Ian had said, “Remember now, that we’re all in God’s hands.” I had no recollection of this at all, just the awful feeling of having my pillar of strength and support torn from me.
To make matters worse (when you’re a cancer sufferer) people thoughtlessly tell you about someone they knew who’d died of breast cancer—I don’t think people realise what they’re doing, but it’s distressing in the extreme. The fear rises all over again every time you hear another story. I also knew, that if I did give in and start crying, I’d not be able to stop.
I used to sit at Eastgate, looking at people walking past me thinking, “It’s so weird that life goes on for other people while mine’s come to a complete, dead halt! I have cancer.”
All this to tell you that what you’re feeling is NORMAL and you are not all the things you’re saying about yourself.
When the initial shock is over, the op is over, and the treatment commences, you’ll find that a certain internal equilibrium is reached and it does become easier even though you’re tired, etc. It’s that shock in that first month or so that’s making you miserable.
The mind does have a way of adjusting to the ‘new normal.’ I found that quite amazing.
Here’s my advice:
- Get alone with God and ask/beg Him to speak to you. Have an open Bible in front of you when you do this, and do it regularly. You need to hear from God and get His comfort—that’s real comfort!
- Read encouraging Christian biographies about God’s care, healing, etc, to build your faith.
- Thank God for His comfort, presence and care . . . He DOES care deeply about you and where you’re at at present.
- Try not to listen to negative stories people tell you . . . the success rate with breast cancer is wonderful!
- Focus on getting THROUGH the treatment and make sure that you go out/away/to movies/read books/anything to take your mind off yourself. Friends are a great encouragement—you girls certainly were! Nothing is worse for your mental health than to mope at home and hide from people. Plan for things to look forward to.
- It helps to talk with someone who understands because they’ve been there. There is a certain internal/existential loneliness that only someone who has had cancer can understand. Even with my closest friends I could never truly open up because I was afraid of breaking down; thought that they didn’t really understand; felt such a sense of isolation that I couldn’t even express it to Ian. So ask for tips re coping with treatment, etc, from people who’ve been there.
- Decide that you’re going to cope. Just realise that thousands of people are going through what you’re going through and decide that you’re going to cope, be cheerful, and trust God. The one thing that we CAN control is our mental attitude.
- Your biggest battle is always the fear, and just when you think it’s under control, something happens, or you hear a story, and it takes you by surprise again and you literally have a physical adrenalin rush—it was my biggest battle in all those months. You HAVE to learn to beat it . . . pray, ask God for His peace, pray with a friend, quote scriptures to yourself to encourage yourself, listen to Christian music . . . anything to conquer it! And that is something that you’ll have to do time and time again.
I hope this hasn’t come across as preachy, but this was genuinely what I experienced, and I’m trying to be really helpful here and not just give you platitudes.
LOTS of love