Category Archives: Cancer survivor stories

WORDS OF WISDOM

Today I came across this old article written by Nina Lamparski in the Wentworth Courier, 21st March 2007

Counsellor Jane Gillespie’s book “Journey to Me” openly talks about her battle with cancer.

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Author Jane Gillespie had just finished her chemotherapy when she decided to run away. “I’d bottled up all my feelings about having cancer and once the treatment ended I suffered a breakdown,” she explained. “I just had to pack up and leave.”

The Canberra mother of three had been diagnosed with a malignant lump in her breast in 1994, a “harrowing experience” that would turn her “whole world upside-down” & push her to flee to Sydney.

In the autobiographical Journey to Me, to be published on 24th March 2007, Ms Gillespie recounts how the pressure to shield those close to her from the emotional trauma became impossible. “Cancer is not just a physical illness,” she said. “It literally eats you up from the inside. You feel like you can’t share it with your family and friends. You want to protect them and not burden them even more. Eventually I couldn’t stand this anymore.”

But her impromptu move interstate did not provide the relief Ms Gillespie had hoped for. “I thought I could leave the past behind and yet it followed me. Imagine my shock when I discovered I’d brought myself with me.”

In the end, “I believe it was joining a Life Force Cancer Foundation support group that saved my life”, Ms Gillespie said. The not-for-profit organisation, which has support groups in the Eastern Suburbs and Inner West, helps cancer survivors deal with the emotional aftermath of their illness. There is also a separate Inner West group for carers.

Ms Gillespie, who now works as a Life Force counsellor, said she hoped her book would fulfill a similar role.

“I really want people to understand that there’s life after cancer but also that it’s okay to be down and feel negative at times,” she said. “Being open about what’s going on inside of you is a vital part of the healing process.”

Jane Gillespie is one of Life Force Cancer Foundation’s Counsellors. Life Force is a non-profit organisation, providing emotional/psychosocial support for people dealing with the experience of cancer, through a range of support programs and therapies including group work and meditation, counselling special and retreats. Support groups are held weekly in Sydney’s metropolitan area.

More information about Jane or Life Force can be found at these websites;

www.janegillespie.com.au                         www.lifeforce.org.au

 

CAN COUNSELLING HELP CANCER PATIENTS AND THEIR FAMILIES?

Receiving a diagnosis of cancer is a traumatic experience. One minute you’re ‘normal’ and the next your entire life has been turned upside down.

despairIt can be hard, even impossible, to talk to family members or friends about the roller-coaster of emotions that you have been commandeered into riding. When someone is diagnosed with cancer, they and their family can feel shocked, disbelieving, frightened, without direction or simply numb. Talking things through in confidence with someone who understands the emotional challenges of cancer can be extremely helpful.

Speaking individually to an experienced cancer counsellor can ease the sense of isolation you may feel and help you to find ways of facing the challenges ahead. This also applies to family members, friends and colleagues. By talking privately to a counsellor they can explore their anxiety, grief and any other emotions openly and honestly without needing to shield the person who is ill.

Why cancer counselling?

Research shows that counselling can be significantly useful in helping individuals and families face and meet the many challenges that a cancer diagnosis brings with it. This has been demonstrated to improve their quality of life.

During counselling, patients and families can learn how to cope more easily with their emotional issues. This helps them to communicate their needs better when speaking to Health professionals.

Counselling helps in easing any tension in relationships with family and friends. Optimistic but realistic outlooks replace the burden of positive expectations. Just saying “I’m being positive” doesn’t actually mean much, although being optimistic can always help you to enjoy life more in the here and now. However, if fears are present (and why wouldn’t they be?), then it is healthy to talk about these and get them out into the light of day.

How might you feel?

Some responses that people may feel when they are told they have cancer:

  • Shock: “What?? No!”
  • Denial / Disbelief: “It’s a mistake, those aren’t MY test results.”
  • Withdrawal: “I can’t/don’t want to talk to anyone.”
  • Feeling isolated: “Nobody understands.”
  • Anger: (“*#@^!!!”)
  • Loss: “But I’ve so much more I want to do with my life.”
  • Body image issues: “Will I look like a freak?”
  • Fears associated with sexuality and intimacy: “No one will every desire me now.”
  • Fear and uncertainty: “What’s going to happen to me?”

Anything you feel is valid and deserves to be acknowledged, not only by those around you, but also by you, yourself.

Seeking individual counselling or becoming part of a support group may be where you can find this acknowledgment.

After a cancer diagnosis, you might feel as though you have no control over what is happening to you and this can be very frightening. Uncertainty is often one of the most difficult things to deal with. You might feel as though cancer and its treatment have taken total control of your life and this can lead to feelings of powerlessness.

Counselling allows you to take back some control over your life and provides you with some semblance of security again. It can help you to enjoy your life despite the illness.

While it can be terrifying to think about it, it is natural to want to know what is likely to happen to you, so that you can plan for your future.

Sorting out your affairs so that everything is in order can be very confronting but it can also be helpful. Even though it’s likely to be painful for you and your family to talk about dying, it can also provide an opportunity to talk about what is important to you all and develop deeper levels of intimacy with each other. Regardless of how long the cancer patient lives, everyone benefits by being open and honest about what they value in their relationships.

Many cancer patients feel as if they have lost control of their lives. Talking to a counsellor or others going through a similar experience can help you to regain a level of control over how you cope.

To find out about support groups go to http://www.lifeforce.org.au

© Jane Gillespie

 

How joining a cancer support group can help you in remission

It can be distressing trying to tell people who haven’t had cancer how it feels, no matter where you are on the journey.  However, this can be especially true for people who are in remission.

Popular mythology is that you’re okay now, you’re better, so why aren’t you celebrating?  Even the survivor often thinks this way and then feels guilty because this isn’t their truth.

The reality is that as more people survive cancer, it has become apparent that survivorship has its own challenges.  Often there are lifelong side effects as a result of treatment and while it’s great that you did survive, your new life can be very different to your pre-cancer one.

Even if most side effects eventually disappear it can take a long time to recover your energy and feel up to tackling the most mundane tasks.  The shock felt after receiving a diagnosis of a life threatening illness and the uncertainty about whether it will come back can take years to come to terms with.

Cancer treatment isn’t something anyone would volunteer for and the various regimens for it can be brutal.  The onslaught of surgery, toxic drugs and being burnt by radiation very often leaves psychological as well as physical scars.

The best way to deal with this is to talk with others who really do understand – fellow survivors.  By being able to express all your feelings about your cancer journey to people who have shared that experience is a valuable way of making sense of it.  This can be a great help when trying to work out what your new normal is and finding ways of accepting that.

With the best will in the world, it is impossible for people who have not been through it to really understand. Join a support group as soon as you can; you will find help and encouragement throughout the whole process.  However, it is never too late to join a group.

One member of the organization I work with (www.lifeforce.org.au) came to us 16 years after his diagnosis and discovered why he hadn’t felt truly alive for all that time: he had never had anywhere to process what he’d been through.

This quote says it all (from Bill W, one of the founders of AA):

“All we have to share is our experience; what we have not experienced, we cannot share.”

This is not only true for cancer patients, survivors and their families but for anyone who has had life throw a curve ball at them.

Never be afraid to ask for help.  It isn’t a sign of weakness but of strength, and shows a willingness to do whatever you can to get your life back on track.

www.janegillespie.net

HAVE YOU BEEN DIAGNOSED WITH CANCER?

Receiving a diagnosis of cancer is a traumatic experience.  One minute you’re ‘normal’ and the next your entire life has been turned upside down.

It can be hard, even impossible, to talk to family members or friends about the roller-coaster of emotions that you have been commandeered into riding.  When someone is diagnosed with cancer, they and their family can feel shocked, disbelieving, frightened, without direction or simply numb. Talking things through in confidence with someone who understands the emotional challenges of cancer can be extremely helpful.

Speaking individually to an experienced cancer counsellor can ease the sense of isolation you may feel and help you to find ways of facing the challenges ahead.  This also applies to family members, friends and colleagues.  By talking to a counsellor they can explore their concerns and anxieties openly without needing to shield the person who is ill.

Why cancer counselling?

Research shows that counselling can be significantly useful in helping individuals and families face and meet the many challenges that a cancer diagnosis brings with it.  This has been shown to improve their quality of life.

During counselling, patients and families can learn how to cope more easily with their emotional issues. This helps them to communicate their needs better when speaking to Health professionals.

Counselling helps in easing any tension in relationships with family and friends. Optimistic but realistic outlooks replace the burden of positive expectations.  Just saying “I’m being positive” doesn’t actually mean much, although being optimistic can always help you to enjoy life more in the here and now.  However, if fears are present (and why wouldn’t they be?), then it is healthy to talk about these and get them out into the light of day.

How might you feel?

Some responses you might have to receiving a diagnosis of cancer:

  • Shock: “What??  No!”
  • Denial / Disbelief: “It’s a mistake, those aren’t MY test results.”
  • Withdrawal: “I can’t/don’t want to talk to anyone.”
  • Feeling isolated: “Nobody understands.”
  • Anger: (“*#@^!!!”)
  • Loss: “But I’ve so much more I want to do with my life.”
  • Body image issues: “Will I look like a freak?”
  • Fears associated with sexuality and intimacy:  “No one will every desire me now.”
  • Fear and uncertainty: “What’s going to happen to me?”

Anything you feel is valid and deserves to be acknowledged, not only by those around you, but also by you.

Seeking individual counselling or becoming part of a support group can help you to find this acknowledgment.

After a cancer diagnosis, you might feel as though you have no control over what is happening to you and this can be very frightening.  Uncertainty is often one of the most difficult things to deal with.  You might feel as though cancer and its treatment have taken total control of your life and this often leads to feelings of powerlessness.

Counselling allows you to take back some control over your life and provides you with some semblance of security again. It can help you to enjoy your life despite the illness.

While it can be terrifying to think about it, it is natural to want to know what is likely to happen to you so that you can plan for your future.

Sorting out your affairs so that everything is in order is often very confronting but it can also be helpful.  Even though it’s likely to be painful for you and your family to talk about dying, it can also provide an opportunity to talk about what is important to you all and develop deeper levels of intimacy with each other.  Regardless of how long the cancer patient lives, everyone benefits by being open and honest about what they value in their relationships.

Many cancer patients feel as if they have lost control of their lives.  Talking to a counsellor can help you to regain a level of control over how you cope.

http://www.janegillespie.net

Cancer survivorship

As a cancer survivor it was a huge shock to find that once treatment was finished my life didn’t just go back to normal.  I had no idea what normal was anymore and it didn’t help that everyone (including me) expected me to go back to being the person I was before my diagnosis.  I ended up having a breakdown because all the feelings that I’d pushed down finally burst through the dam wall I’d built once I no longer had the security of knowing ‘something was being done’ about my cancer.  I had also resigned from my job after I’d finished chemo so I had nothing else to focus on.

While I was undergoing treatment I didn’t want to worry my family by telling them how scared, angry, despairing, ripped off and generally devastated I was feeling.  I thought they would be so upset that I’d have to worry about them as well as myself!

I moved to a different city and my new oncologist recommended that I attend a support group.  I’d tried this in my home town but everyone there was so damned upbeat and ‘positive’ all the time that I thought there clearly must be something wrong with me.  The message I got was that I had to be brave and cheerful and positive and just get on with things – the implication being that if I wasn’t then I wouldn’t get better.

However, the support group that my oncologist referred me to was run by a counsellor who’d had her own cancer experience and we were encouraged to express everything that we were feeling.  I cried at every weekly meeting for six months and nobody ever told me to get over it, pull my socks up, move on, cheer up.  Nobody tried to fix it or tell me what to do.

I learned that I was grieving the loss of my pre-cancer life and often an event that causes grief in the present will bring up unresolved grief from a person’s past.  So all the tears I shed helped me to bookcoverheal a lot of stuff going back years and years.  Being allowed to be a mess was the best possible medicine for me at that time.  My fellow group members supported me to eventually find a new normal for myself.

If only more people had access to this kind of support; a place where they don’t feel they have to edit what they say and where everyone else there in the room understands.  With the best will in the world, those who have not been there can’t understand, and that’s why I found it so helpful to be able to talk freely knowing that I didn’t have to justify myself.

A lot of people seem to think that talking about death hastens it.  When someone is terminally ill, talking about dying doesn’t make it happen any faster.  I believe that talking openly and honestly about our fears around death well before we are actually facing it can create depths of intimacy that enriches all our lives.

I wrote a book about my time during and after cancer and this was really helpful for me.  It helped me to put down on paper just what the whole experience had been like and with some distance from it I was able to let go a lot of the angst that I’d suffered.

These days I work as a counselling facilitator with the Life Force Cancer Foundation,  the organisation that I truly believe saved my life because if I hadn’t had the safety of my support group to experience all the grief and loss I felt at having to face my mortality decades before it might have felt normal, I think I would have pointed the bone at myself.   I’m now 22 years down the track and cancer-free.

http://www.janegillespie.com.au