Today we’ll continue to look at resilience and how when things get hard, we can bounce. We will look at 4 ways a shift in perspective can make a big difference in our lives as we face cancer (whether our own, or cancer in the life of a loved one).
Avoid seeing crises
A shift in perspective doesn’t mean going into denial or sticking your head in the sand like an ostrich (which by the way, they don’t actually do). It just means that you reserve crisis mode for a real crisis, rather than situations that might someday turn into a crisis.
Some people are natural worrywarts. They do what a former pastor of ours called horriblizing. They find the drama in every situation and amplify it as much as possible. They don’t realize they are doing it, but it only makes things worse. There is so much that we can’t control. A shift in perspective is about taking what you can control, what you choose to focus on, and reining it in.
I’m not minimizing the worry that accompanies a cancer diagnosis. There’s plenty to be concerned about. Every test and scan can have you on the edge of your seat. But don’t dig your own grave yet. Even the prognosis your doctor gives you is only an estimate based on statistics. While they are good at their jobs, doctors don’t have crystal balls.
My husband was given a prognosis of 6-9 months (of course we heard the worst—6 months). They couldn’t have guessed that he would have a mutation that researchers were beginning to understand and for which they were formulating new treatments. Six years later, he is still doing relatively well.
Focus on solutions
At the beginning of our journey, I felt like our world was falling apart. I was afraid to make plans and every decision filled me with anxiety. A pastor we knew gave me some good advice. He told me to focus on what I have rather than what I could lose. That shift in perspective made a tremendous difference. There were still times when I worried, but I was more in control of those fears, rather than letting them control me.
Making decisions based on fear is never a wise thing to do. Once you have a shift in perspective you can make a decision, based on the reality you are experiencing in the here and now. This is especially helpful when you are making treatment decisions.
Our shift in Perspective
In 2015, Dan had his first metastasis to the brain. That was particularly scary. Most people can imagine living without a limb or even losing one of their senses, but when it comes to the brain, it’s a whole other matter. We see our brain function as who we are as a person, rather than part of who we are. Our brains control our intellect, our creativity, our moods, even our personality. So when something threatens to affect our brain, we get worried.
I heard horror stories about the effect of radiation on the brain. When we spoke to the radiologist, he put our minds at ease in an unusual way. He told us that the effects of radiation on the brain usually aren’t seen until a year or two later, and the truth of the matter was that Dan likely wouldn’t live long enough to experience those effects if they did happen. That might not sound reassuring, but it gave us a shift in perspective. We would worry about today’s problems today and leave those belonging to tomorrow, alone, until we get to tomorrow. It turns out, his brain is still doing well, 14 mets (and radiation treatments for the mets) later.
“Mindfulness” seems to be the new buzz word in health and wellness circles. But, that doesn’t mean it’s a shallow concept. Mindfulness is about being present in the moment. When you are present in the moment, you don’t horriblize. Your mind doesn’t race to every potential pitfall. Instead, you say, “right now…”
- “Right now…things we are okay.”
- “Right now… insurance is covering these treatments.”
- “Right now…the cancer is stable.”
- “Right now…we are able to make our house payments.”
- “Right now… we can make memories.”
Sometimes you may have to search to find a positive “right now” statement, but there will be something that you can focus on.
Breathing for a shift in perspective
Have you ever noticed that when you get tense, you stop breathing? Sure, you take in enough air to survive, but by concentrating on how you breathe, you can actually thrive. Check out a post I wrote about progressive muscle relaxation. It’s an easy technique that can help give you a shift in perspective. It will relax you and allow you to breathe, lowering your heart rate and improving your ability to focus.
I have also written a post on a breathing technique. This is something you can do anywhere, at any time. The post was originally intended for people with breathing problems related to cancer affecting their lungs, but it is helpful for healthy people, as well.
As you practice either of these techniques consider a positive “right now” statement that you can focus on. At first, this will be something you have to be intentional about doing. Eventually, this will become a reflex.
My 16-year-old and I were recently talking about driving on Minnesota roads in the winter. She had recently hit a patch of ice and spun out. She was able to completely relax when it happened. This is the best thing to do to minimize injury in case of an impact.
The same thing is true when stress impacts our lives. We will be much better off if we have a shift in perspective and make our next move when we are relaxed, rather than out of a tense, reflexive state of mind. Our decisions will be better and we will be more open to living well in the present moment.
What Are Your Thoughts?
What helps you make a shift in perspective? I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!
In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.
My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com
Also, put your memories into words with The Memory Maker’s Journal.
I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker