Cancer. Coronavirus. Lockdown. Dealing with life disrupted. Life can be thrown into disarray when we least expect it.
Rewind 2 years. We had returned to South Africa from a 6-year career-related adventure in India. Starting an exciting new job, I was a healthy, fit and active 52-year old.
Rewind 1 year. I was in the middle of a 6-month chemotherapy treatment programme, following a series of major surgeries for stage 4 colon cancer. This adjuvant therapy was intended to reduce the risk of the cancer returning.
Press pause. So far so good – I’ve been cancer-free since the operation and chemotherapy. I still have quarterly screening which is somewhat nerve-wracking but also a time which gives me perspective as I refocus on what matters most – life, health, relationships.
Whatever your situation – cancer, another chronic illness or being catapulted into a new way of life by this global pandemic – don’t allow the unexpected event to define you or your response. When life is disrupted, here are 4 lessons which helped me adapt to life unusual. They may work for you too.
Change the frame
Dealing with life disrupted… Change the Frame! The frame makes a big difference to how we see the picture. My sister-in-law helped me to change the way I see my scars. They are no longer the ugly remnants of surgery but a testimony to my courage.
Re-frame lockdown. It’s not being trapped at home but rather the freedom of time to focus on some of the areas in our lives that really matter but which we don’t always prioritise in our busy lives. Like reconnecting with old friends. Learning a new skill. Completing an online course. Or training our dog.
Reframing also helps you gain a sense of control. There may be many factors you can’t control, but the one thing you can is how you choose to see a situation.
Be brave. Reach out
We are hard-wired for connection. However, many of us have been socialised into thinking that showing vulnerability is weak. We might feel lonely, frustrated and scared in the midst of the pandemic. Yet we don’t reach out because we think that if we do, people will think us weak.
Reach out, not physically in the time of the coronavirus, but today’s technology offers many channels to reach out emotionally. During my recovery and chemotherapy, my most valued sources of connection came from friends and family overseas, mostly through regular WhatsApp messages and calls. Being vulnerable and connecting honestly takes courage as we need to trust. Reach out to those you believe you can trust. Although sometimes reaching out to people I didn’t know particularly well, like my hairdresser or nurses, yielded surprising results.
Arm yourself with reliable information
Proactively empower yourself with reliable information, about the situation and, if you are ill, your condition. Reliable, credible websites are a great source of information. Online support groups and other patients’ experiences and advice can also be very helpful. After my surgery, I had to learn to live with a stoma. I devoured information about the experiences of others with stomas.
It’s important to differentiate between generic and personalised information. Don’t always rely on Dr Google. Without the medical ability to apply general information to our personal situation, we can become overwhelmed and anxious. It’s important to check-in with your doctor who is qualified to contextualise the information relative to your personal situation.
Create healthy personal routines
Disease and lockdown disrupt the daily routines that give our lives structure and help us feel productive and fulfilled. Don’t fall into unstructured days that leave you feeling tired and depressed, even though you didn’t do much. Create a set of new, positive routines which address all aspects of your health – physical, emotional, mental and spiritual – and work in your personal situation.
If you are working from home during this period, a set of healthy routines will help prevent work from completely invading your personal spaces. The structure and security of routine is also really important for our kids. And a set of healthy routines helps us feel that we are still in control despite the many uncontrollable factors that impact on our lives.
Fast forward 2 years. What will we be saying about this time? Will our economy have recovered? Will I still be cancer-free? Might we be facing a Coronavirus 2.0.? How will this episode shape us and our children – tomorrow’s leaders?
We’re not wired to cope well and Dealing with life disrupted with uncertainty. But amid the uncertainty, let’s choose to emerge stronger and wiser, more enterprising and resilient, survivors in one of the greatest global challenges, ready to deal with the fall-out and rebuild a better world.