The Art of Thriving with Cancer- Part I: How to Feel Confident in the Face of Uncertainty

Too much certainty in life makes us feel bored but too little of it, and we’ll feel anxious and panicky.

For those of us given the cancer card, not knowing whether we’ll make it tomorrow, in a month, or a year can make us double over in fear.

It’s true that none of us knows how long we have left, because any one of us can be mowed down walking to the corner store.

But many of us don’t think about the ways that runaway bus can smash us to smithereens, do we?

It’s different with cancer, once diagnosed, we think about the big C every- single-day.

How to live with anxiety after breast cancer

We can easily get those overwhelming gut-wrenching panic attacks at the thought of what tomorrow brings - or not bring.

Maybe our treatment plan won’t work, maybe tomorrow will be the day that the cancer comes back. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

We’re just not sure what’s going to happen next.

We anticipate with bated breath and not being able to exhale and release all that built up pressure - it’s an exhausting way to live.

How long must we wait? One, two, five or ten years to get the all clear?

To live like this isn’t really living at all, we’re merely existing, enduring a life with no forward momentum, or oxygen to breathe.

So how do we get over feeling afraid?

I don’t think we can ever live a life without fear, especially once we’re diagnosed with cancer, that fear will always be simmering in our bellies. But whether it’s a roaring flame or a pilot light ready to turn off at the mere whiff of air, is up to us.

Having been told we have cancer…

…We never want to feel blindsided.

…We never want to be caught unaware.

So is it any wonder that we’re playing a defensive game. Some of us feel so hurt we’re in the foetal position. Not wanting to feel that vulnerable again, we go back to our default - that is to anticipate the worst case scenario.

But what we need to realise is the fear is there to protect us, not to debilitate us. We can co-exist with fear just as long as its grip loosens enough so we can move forward and not let it paralyse us. So maybe, just maybe, we don’t have to disappointed with ourselves for being scared, but accept that being scared is human nature.

Of course it’s easier for me to say that, because well…I’ve had the gift of time.

Eight years on from my diagnosis, I’m able to see the aerial view.

I can see the big picture - It really is all about perspective.

Think about everything you’ve done in your life.

When you try and do something for the first time you always start off with feelings of fear and trepidation. Because we’re unsure of what the outcome will be.

It’s always the beginning that’s hard.

So it’s no surprise that the hardest part of this whole cancer thing, is the start. Your confidence in your health, your body and life in general is at an all time low.

You’re essentially beginning at ground zero.

Your confidence was blasted to ashes.

You’re not sure you’re going to make it.

But with tackling anything in life that’s hard, all you can do is take a small step forward. And as you take those quivering first steps forward, your confidence will grow.

The important thing to know and understand is that none of us woke up with a full tank of confidence.

We build our confidence layer by layer.

As each forward step we take, we’re able to take another, and another, and another. It feels hard, but sooner or later we will gain some momentum.

The art of thriving with breast cancer - how to build confidence

So rather than going through the motions and enduring the difficult times, we have to remind ourselves to stop and celebrate the small victories.

Because by acknowledging those wins, confidence can grow and fear then dissipates.

Let me point out, that in our journey there are two battles going on.

One is the battle of your body fighting to get rid of the cancer..

…and the second is the battle of your mind against despair.

I believe there are FOUR fundamental areas that we need to understand about ourselves so we can build and grow our confidence.

Conquering these four factors will help you move forward with poise, grace and dignity - despite what the outcome will be.

These four factors are:

  1. Your Beliefs - the unique experiences, memories and emotions that you’ve had throughout your life creates a lens through which you see and make sense of the world. It will be the driving force of your self-talk.

  2. Your Mindset - your attitude and what you focus on is going to be massive game changer in how you tackle problems.

  3. Advocating for Yourself - making sure your concerns are heard by your health care practitioner is important. Making decisions that is right for YOU will ensure you are in control of your health journey.

  4. Your Healing Journey - how well you recover from cancer treatment and determining your new normal will ensure you can move on with the rest of your life.

I’ll go over each of the four factors in the next series of posts, but remember that none of us woke up with a bucketful of confidence that we’re going to beat cancer.

It must be built with one small win at a time.

What victories have you made in your journey, no matter how big or small? I would love to hear about them in the comments.

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