Is cancer the best thing ever to happen to me?
The psychological effects of cancer
I read a lot of books about cancer survivors doing amazingly positive things when I was ill and when I was better I hated myself for feeling the way I did. Why didn’t I feel the same way that these other survivors felt and why was I so worried all the time. It turned out these were all entirely normal feelings and I wasn’t going crazy after all.
As many of you will know I suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after my second bout with cancer. This was without doubt the worst thing I have ever experienced in my life and my main reason for sharing my story. PTSD was far worse than the cancer itself. When I was ill I always believed I would get better but when I was better I didn’t believe that I was. As a result I was gripped by the thought of cancer returning, I suffered from severe anxiety, insomnia, night sweats and skin problems. I stopped being myself, I didn’t want to go out, my relationship with my girlfriend ended and I saw no future for myself.
I tried all sorts of therapy and even resorted to taking anti depressants. I knew I had to do something because I felt like I was going crazy. The thing that got me through this horrific period of my life was planning this trip and having something to look forward to.
I recently did an interview for a New York Times journalist called Jim Rendon who is writing a book on something called ‘Post traumatic growth’ whereby researchers have found that as many as half of the survivors of life-threatening traumatic events report positive changes in their lives as a result. It was a really fascinating interview and ever since I received his fist email I haven’t been able to stop thinking about some of the things he said.
I’ve often say that I ‘cured’ myself of PTSD by having this trip to look forward to. After reading this email it really got me thinking about whether or not I am indeed ‘cured’ of PTSD and if I am truly happy.
There was something that Jim said that I really identified with. He said that:
“For many, post traumatic growth can be more wisdom than happiness and for some can lead to entirely new life pursuits”
It made me realise that I am a lot wiser and I have changed my life for the positive but I am certainly not happier than I was before I got ill again. I am more grateful, yes, and I appreciate things far more because of what I have been through but I still find myself worrying a lot. Long bus rides and periods on my own give me a long time to get lost in my own thoughts.
The good thing is I can always bring myself round to happy thoughts now which is what I couldn’t do before. Sometimes I get a pain in my stomach which is food passing over the scar tissue in my bowel and straight away I think ‘what’s that?’ I then calm myself down and go through all the other possibilities it could be and then I think about all I have achieved lately:- Climbing volcanoes, trekking over mountains and waking up in the morning and feeling good.
Cancer is not the best thing ever to happen to me. I will never say this. I am more grateful than you will ever know but the scars of my memories will always be with me and for those I offer no thanks or gratitude to cancer. I’d rather wake up in the morning and have something else as my first thought of the day.
My reason for sharing this with you is to tell you that it’s ok to feel like this. You are not going crazy and you are not being negative. You’ve had a scare and sometimes it takes a long time or some kind of big change to help you get over that.
My advice to you is to do things that make you happy. Don’t be afraid of experiencing happiness. We are not put on this planet to have a horrible time but many people do and it’s very sad. I believe the meaning of life is ‘joy’. Joy of doing things you love and joy in helping others. Enjoy every second of the time you have and use every second for all it’s worth.
Thank you to my friend Kiki for taking this picture. We were in Ecuador at the time and I remember being lost in a world of good thoughts looking at the incredible Quilatoa crater thinking about how beautiful the world is. I usually have to ask people to take pictures of me so in most pics I am posing for the camera but this is one of the few natural pics where I am just sitting and taking it all in.