Today is a particularly poignant day for me and my husband Rob. We celebrate a significant anniversary with a story of its own – Rob is two years cancer free today!
Our story taught us the importance of adopting a solution focused mindset and of holding on to your best hopes when the future feels uncertain. We decided to share our ‘notes to self ‘ in the hope that you might gain in some way.
Here goes …
Our fabulous family of six
Pursue positive thinking
Assuming that the best outcome is possible and believing in silver linings is essential. This will carry you far and help you to dig deep into your reserves on tough days. Rob decided that he had a chance to change the family cancer story into a survival story. It created a ‘can do’ way of thinking for us and fed a positive mindset. Overcoming ‘a touch of cancer’ seemed like a positive re frame of what felt like a devastating story.
Keep forward planning
Choose to forward plan and imagine life beyond your treatment. Ask yourself what you want from your life once treatment is complete. Assume it to be possible and plan for it. Acquiring the map for a bike challenge and beginning the research into it’s viability was a mission that I delegated to Rob. He was also tasked with finding and planning a fabulous holiday in the sun as a post treatment reward.
Focus on what’s possible
Rather than assuming that treatment will wipe him out, Rob decided not to jump to conclusions and listen to his body. Where possible he would resume everyday routines that boosted his sense of self. This included going to the gym and work when he could. Regular walks, fresh air, bike trips, coffee catch ups and time with uplifting positive people also made a difference.
Be your competent self
Rob described the importance of keeping busy with his most important role – being a great dad. This was a life saver. Looking after our children, being humorous, mischievous and brave around them mattered most.
Keep a sense of humour
Humour was a significant psychological factor in Rob’s ability to remain resilient throughout the course of his cancer story. He intentionally encouraged the children to do the same. Given that treatment had involved surgery to remove a testicle, his ‘one ball wonder’ nickname was born.
‘Chemo date night’ was also invented. This involved smuggling Thai food, and DVD’s to Robs hospital bed. Rob’s hair loss, created an opportunity for mischief too. The children appeared for hospital visits wearing wigs. Since this and other childish jokes brought laughter to the family, it helped everyone who cared to
Create moments that matter
Where possible, embracing everyday events, enjoying life as always and creating moments of mischief was a must for us. We saw live bands, visited new places and enjoyed family events. Rob recalls a sympathetic response from nursing staff on the ward where he was being treated, who assumed that he was struggling from the side effects of chemotherapy treatment. When he confessed to a hangover following his brother’s wedding celebration, their sympathy faded. Yet his fun-loving nature seemed to come as a pleasant surprise to them.
Ditch the difficult stuff
We discovered the importance of having a strategy to help us ‘park up’ the sad, upsetting and difficult parts of the story. We aptly named it the F*ckit Bucket’. This allowed us to ditch the parts story that could otherwise get under our skin and create an upset.
Make healthy choices
During chemotherapy Rob learned that by removing coffee, citrus drinks, spicy foods and fried foods he did not suffer greatly from chemo indigestion. This made a massive difference to his management of this treatment. Embracing the health inducing activities that Rob enjoyed before treatment, albeit with adjustments, allowed us to enjoy bike rides, beach walks and other small adventures. Getting regular fresh air was a physical and psychological boost.
Manage your expectations
Giving yourself permission not to operate at 100% during treatment is a must. This is particularly important for those of us with high expectations. Power naps became a helpful daily routine.
The wet and wonderful Sandstone way
A shift in attitude to accommodate going slow, doing less and lowering the load helped massively. For Rob that meant shorter work days, more flexible gym routines and a gentler pace of life.
Creating space in the family home to discuss cancer, the treatment and prognosis was important. This enabled everyone involved to deal with fears, share thoughts and support each other. No questions were too silly. Being able to acknowledge the fear factor was important too. It took time for Rob to realise that it was okay to be scared, and to say that out loud to the supportive people in his life.
Diagnosis doesn’t define you
This was perhaps the most essential lesson learned that Rob shared with me. Whilst he still talks about his cancer story and what he experienced, choosing not to be defined by illness is vital. “Yes, I’m the guy who got cancer, I’m also the guy at the gym, the dad, the guy on the bike, the joker and the story teller”.
This is a story with a happy ending! Five months after treatment ended, Rob and I completed the sandstone way. This involved 120 miles of off road biking over three days, on the wettest weekend recorded that year. Rob experienced a gratitude at having the luxury of his health and the choice to impose this torture upon himself.
Reminded of the joy and uncertainty of life, Rob proposed to me on the beach in Spain last summer with our six kids. We had the most fabulous wedding this year.
It is my belief that knowledge is always transferable. I wonder how these lessons might help us manage future challenges with resilience.
Happy days celebrating our wedding
Rob’s told me that he wanted to share this in the hope that even one person managing a similar health challenge might benefit. Perhaps something that Rob discovered could help you in some way in your life. Maybe you share a similar story and are on that journey for yourself?
None of us would choose a story like this for ourselves or anyone we love. Yet it’s a glorious reminder that in life, we can’t always choose the outcome or the destination, but we can choose how we experience that journey.
We all have a story in us, and we can be the author of that story. What story will you choose?
I plan to dedicate my next blog to happiness in 2018.
In the meantime I wish you all a happy and energetic week. Want to know more about how to live your life’s adventure?
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