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Breast cancer and the emotional roller-coaster that comes with it: why not drop the boxing gloves?

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April 25, 2017

That’s an intriguing title, isn’t it?

I chose it because, after receiving a cancer diagnostic, we often hear phrases like:  “you have to fight”, “be strong “, “stay positive” and “you will win”. Cancer hits hard, it destabilizes. We are talking about eradicating cancer, then about destroying and killing cancerous cells.

Staying strong and getting ready to fight, at a time when we feel so vulnerable and disempowered, is asking quite a lot from us.

Of course, I well understand that these notions are related to the desire of living and getting through these difficult times. But the concept of “winning” or “losing a combat” puts lots of pressure on our shoulders.

Breast cancer comes with its share of intense emotions.

I know.  I went through it twice.

At this level, we virtually all experience the same stages: the initial chock, the denial, and the obligation to admit that this is really happening. We are angry, sad, helpless, and often hopeless in front of this ordeal.   And the swirl of emotions doesn’t stop there! Fear, stress, uncertainty, they all grab our mind and shake up our brain. Emotions reach their peak! They drain lots of energy…

And then, we are being told that we must fight. Phew…

That’s what I did the first time.  I was 30. I really fought! My whole day was a battle. I was spending all my time thinking of cancer. My goal was to find the best ways to fight and to win the battle. I was extremely determined. Then, when the evening came, I was having a hard time to calm down and fall asleep. Yes, I passed through it, but in a very stressing and exhausting way.

The second time, many years after (I was then 48 years old), I tried a new approach.

Why not drop the boxing gloves

I dropped the boxing gloves. 

Well, don’t think that I was not determined to pass though this ordeal! This time however, along with my wish to survive, was a commitment to not letting cancer take over my life.  So I concentrated on actions and events that I was able to influence, and I didn’t lose time on situations that were out of my control. For example, we can’t change a diagnosis.  We may cry, be mad and drive ourselves crazy, nothing will change.  Yes, I cried a few times, but I tried not to stay in this emotion for too long.  Instead of spending all my energy that way, I concentrated on the best ways to go forward.  This concept is the very essence of a citation that inspired me and that I adore: “I can't change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination." (James Dean). My goal is to have this quote touch and inspire other women, as for this note actually.

What came out of my two experiences of apprehending breast cancer?  I lived so much better through the second one.  Instead of concentrating on cancer, I kept it in a small corner, and concentrated on ways to better live this difficult period.  Really, I was more serene, more positive, less crushed, although I had to go through chemo and a less reassuring prognostic than the first time.  I was also sleeping better.  My goal was to get the better of my day. That was my main motivation: continue to live fully during this turbulent period.  Not survive.  And it made a huge difference for me!

How about you? Are you tempted by this approach?

Come on… just drop the boxing gloves…

Julie Faucher

CEO

The Quebec Breast Cancer Foundation is proud to host guest editors on its website.