Originally posted November 30, 2018. Link to post.
One of the biggest changes, after having gone through my life saving surgeries and treatments, has been the appreciation and gratitude for, what could be viewed as, small and simple things.
Yes, even things you tend to take for granted, such as taking a walk in the nature or spending time with family and friends. My priorities and focus have also shifted towards here and now, and not putting off activities for "some day". I see this clearly when looking at My Survival List, where I have listed several fairly simple activities, such as having the opportunity to hang out with good, old friends or doing various activities with my family. My plan, certainly is, to make my listed things happen now and not in a distant future.
Post Traumatic Growth
Last week, I learnt that there is even a medical term for, what I am experiencing: Post-Traumatic Growth. The psychologists Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun developed this theory, explaining a positive transformation following a life threatening trauma, in the mid-1990s. According to Tedeschi "People develop new understandings of themselves, the world they live in, how to relate to other people, the kind of future they might have and a better understanding of how to live life".
I definitely agree, this is what I am experiencing! I learned about Post-Traumatic Growth from my psychiatrist, saying that typical traits for people more likely to experience Post Traumatic Growth are openness to experience and extraversion. It is of course positive to know that an extremely negative and traumatic experience such as a severe cancer diagnosis, could lead to something positive. Regardless of that, I would trade my cancer diagnosis every day, every hour and every second.
Yesterday, I got to do one of these simple, but so precious things: Christmas baking with my eight year old niece and nephew.
We baked the Swedish sweet rolls (lussekatter) that are a must for every Swede during the Christmas season. The rolls are flavored with saffron and decorated with raisins. A traditional lussekatt is S-shaped. The fun part of baking with kids, is that they do not follow any traditional way, they shape the rolls the way they feel like. This time my niece and nephew made hearts, turtles, snowmen and many other different shaped rolls. We had a lovely afternoon and completed action 42.
Originally posted November 23, 2018. Link to post.
The mental impact
Cancer affects your body, but no matter where you have your cancer it will eventually get to your mind. A cancer diagnosis turns your life upside down and it is a nightmare to be confronted with a potentially deadly disease. The mental impact of cancer is something not so often discussed, as the focus is mostly on the more obvious physical side with surgeries, chemotherapies and other treatments.
In my case, being a fact based, target focused, optimistic person, I did not think too much at the start of my cancer journey. I was so focused on doing, doing and doing, which consumed all my energy. Having a major surgery, recovering, going through chemo cycle after chemo cycle, staying strong and trying to get rid of the cancer cells destroying my body from the inside.
It was not until the end of my chemotherapy treatment that I had energy to spare, and could allow myself to think and grasp what my situation really was: stage 4 ovarian cancer. That was a tough realization and I got scared of what would happen, whether the treatment had been successful, if I would survive and for how long.
This led to a lot of pointless googling, which only made things worse.
My head was spinning, but I took two, for me, very important decisions:
1: seek help and talk to a psychiatrist
2: view myself as a cancer survivor, even though treatment had not been completed
Many people find it difficult and almost tabu to talk about psychological matters. I consider myself a mentally strong person and have lived a relatively easy and straightforward life, not needing psychological support before. I have no problem openly saying that I needed professional support in how to handle my new reality. My loving family has been the best in all aspects, and I have discussed the whole cancer shebang, especially with my husband.
Nevertheless, I concluded that I needed to talk to somebody, who did not know me inside and out and who was an expert in the field. My oncologist recommended a psychiatrist specialized in psycho oncology, i.e. focused on supporting cancer patients. My psychiatrist turned out to be excellent and of tremendous help for me to process and come to terms with my new reality.
There is no scientific evidence that optimistic and positive persons have better chances to survive cancer. However, I believe hopefulness and a positive mindset are important components for quality of life during and after cancer treatment. A strong sense of hope is also a prerequisite to live with a disease like cancer, to get through the rigors of treatment, to navigate the complex health care system, and to fend off society’s negative views about cancer as a death sentence.
My treatment had not been finished, and I did not know whether it had been successful or not, but I decided to view myself as a cancer survivor. I know it might sound silly, but for me it was a mental game changer, as I, in my mind, had survived. It did work for me and I felt more optimistic about the future. I decided to search for inspiration to see what other cancer survivors had done to live a fulfilling life. I found Greig Trout's webpage, realized that was the right approach also for me and started compiling My Survival List.
That I would start a blog was not self-evident, as I normally do not like to share my private sphere. However, having family and friends all over the globe, I viewed it as a good way to give updates of my situation. In addition, if my story and thoughts during my cancer journey could serve as inspiration or motivation for one person only, that would feel exceptionally good and rewarding.
Support cancer research via Lena Wäppling's Foundation:
Lenas Lopp för Livet (Lena's Run for Life) is arranged in September every year. In 2019 100.000 SEK was raised for ovarian cancer research.
Hi, my name is Lena and I am a cancer survivor. I hope you enjoy reading my blog posts. If you want to subscribe, click on Contact.