Surreal external ‘normal’ life vs internal deciding strategies and planning
Whilst in the holding pattern of waiting for results, ‘normal’ life continued on the kind of external and public levels. On the internal and private level, I was doing a lot of work in terms of priming myself, deciding strategies and planning some management techniques. It was quite surreal in many ways.
I kept working, the house we were renting had been put on the market and our first open for inspection was scheduled for May 01st 2021. I had a dental appointment for finishing work on a cap. Our application for another rental had been accepted, so we had started the process of gas safety checks, smoke detector checks, arranging amenities, and so on. ANZAC Day fell on Sunday and the public holiday was on Monday. I had an old friend from school visiting from Sydney with their spouse and we had lunch. We have been friends for 30 years; they were a great safe space to discuss the experience I was having with the additional tests and waiting for the follow-up appointment.
ANZAC Day is normally quite meaningful for me as it marks the real start of the cooler weather in Melbourne as we are in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s an important commemoration for many military friends and family, my family also has a military past.
April and May also have some anniversaries of significant deaths. It is also the time when I normally start my Samhain practices.
As an aside, I’ve never blogged deeply about my Samhain practices, so I refer you to the more Goddess focused work of Dr Glenys Livingstone, who is also a personal friend and who has been very influential for me in terms of how I use Sacred Language. Her work is excellent. I will create a blog piece about Samhain, maybe even this year :-). Samhain is about transformation through Death, amongst other things.
In the Northern Hemisphere, it equates to All Soul’s Eve, and Halloween. In the Southern Hemisphere, it is in May. I use a calendar to calculate the actual ‘Sacred Moment’ as opposed to the traditional date of April 30th / May 01st.
From the conversations with trusted friends, I had come to the conclusion I needed to decide upon some strategies. I needed a plan for telling people regardless of the finer details of the outcome. If it was breast cancer, I needed both strategies and boundaries. I also needed protocols, if you will, for my social media policies.
Psychology for me, was a logical next step once I had spent some time considering the philosophical aspects of where I was at.
Preparing for diagnosis
I started to consider the psychological aspect behind communicating a diagnosis. How information is framed is incredibly important – and the same is true for your own mindset when receiving a diagnosis. I wanted to be open-minded. It was also important to ensure that whatever the information was, I was able to absorb it.
In terms of background, I have a psychology degree. Funeral celebrancy has taught me a great deal about grief and death. Being part of the Peer Support team at my place of work has kept my psychology skills well honed. In addition to working in the health emergency sector for 13 years, I am also a trainer and an instructional designer. It was reassuring to me to consider the practical and professional skills I had at my disposal.
On a personal level, I have also done my best to support friends through various health crises, including cancer. I have stood beside friends as they navigated the inevitability of their deaths due to disease. I have attended to friends as they piloted their transitions from healthy to disability and maintaining independence, sometimes functioning in an unofficial ‘carer’ role.
On a purely pragmatic level, I had a very good toolkit to work with.
I started to think about the role models and frameworks I had, to ensure that I was conscious of what biases I may be holding.
Unconscious biases – or ‘the stories we tell ourselves’
For example, my stories around cancer typically involve medical complications, mental struggles around fear and ignorance, emotional isolation, it being a topic that isn’t discussed, reoccurrences, and death.
This is because in my line of work, I see acute emergency situations, end of life crises, and death. In my personal life, more people close to me have died of cancer than those who have lived.
This forms an unconscious bias in terms of my experience of cancer, and one that I needed to unpack with a view to dealing well with the prospect of my own diagnosis.
The follow-up appointment was on a Wednesday. I arranged to take the day off work, my manager was very supportive of that.
My best friend and housemate offered to drive me to the appointment and to pick me up afterwards. We freely acknowledge that sitting through in-depth medical appointments is not in their ‘wheelhouse‘*. They also offered to keep their day free so that we could do ‘whatever’ afterwards, and that was also an offer I accepted, with the understanding that I didn’t know where I would be at emotionally or psychologically.
*I will do a much more in-depth post about expecting more than people can give and all the bullshit around “you find out who your friends are”, blah, blah, blah. I have no time for it. Different people in your life have different strengths and capacities. Mature relationships accept that – and friendships are relationships, some of the most significant you will have.
I asked another friend to accompany me to the actual appointment. This friend is very practical and has relevant personal experience to bring to the table. They also have excellent emotional regulation – so I wouldn’t end up in the situation of supporting their well-being; because baby, this was *all* about me.
Again, pick your team, right?
The third person on my “first response” team was my sibling. Although interstate, they have relevant professional expertise, and additionally, my situation might have repercussions for the rest of the family as a whole, so I wanted my closest family member in on the ground level, so to speak.
In hindsight, my first response team is a great example of my values, needs, and priorities when I am in crisis and need support. I place great importance upon personal lived experience, professional expertise, and practical assistance. This has been a consistent theme throughout my cancer experience.
Social media: deciding strategies
Breaking bad news is challenging, and having to repeat it is exhausting.
I use social media to connect to my community. My community is not a traditional proximity-based one, it is global, diverse, sprawling organism* that would probably struggle to get along if I put many of the members in the same room.
*Random shout out to my Beloveds who are fungus enthusiasts – when I wrote that, I thought of you, and your passionate interest.
Communication, transparency, and asking for help
My reading indicated that isolation was not a positive way to deal with a significant crisis, despite my introverted inclinations towards extreme privacy. So I decided that whatever happened, I would honour the concepts of transparency and communication and I would ask for help. That last point was something that my inner circle of people I told in the week between the further testing and the follow-up appointment all emphasised in various ways. The people I told know me well, and for them all to say that one thing independently of each other – well, I can be stubborn, but I’m not completely obtuse!