I want to share with you this email that we received 3 days ago from Truus Hooijen. Truus is the mother of Samirah’s best friend. She works as a healthcare worker and has many years experience with patients going through cancer.
I have found her email inspiring and would like this message to reach other people who are going through a similar time. The original email is in Dutch so I hope to be able to translate it as truthfully as possible.
“Suddenly there is a big obstacle on your life’s path…
I would like to tell you something based on my knowledge. If you unexpectedly find yourself on a roller coaster, it is very intense. Hope and despair alternate. You feel sad, but you keep going. It is not easy. You are faced with a very big job. And you have to do it. Fortunately, you don’t have to do it alone, you wouldn’t be able to. A team of specialists will be by your side. And last but not least, your loved ones. They will support you. Near or far, it doesn’t matter, the important thing is the contact.
Personally, I think it’s important to emphasize that Veronica is not just a cancer patient, although we’re always talking about cancer patients. No. A piece of cancer has been discovered in Veronica and she is going to receive very tough treatment for it. But Veronica is much more than just that piece of cancer. The mistake that many people make frequently, – without bad intention, by the way – is to overindulge the person in question. If you treat someone like that, you make them very small.
Take time together to rediscover what your core values are. What makes life worth living for you, for Veronica in particular? Try to live life according to those values, even with that piece of cancer. And then, quickly, I arrive to the subject of acceptance. By acceptance, I mean, allowing the uncomfortable and unpleasant thoughts and feelings that are part of this moment. We are not in control of our thoughts. If you knew that we experience up to 50,000 thoughts in one day, you would know that we have no control over them. Know that thoughts are only thoughts, and not real threats. It doesn’t matter how frightening they may be.
You can do an exercise: Take a full glass of water. That full glass of water represents everything you don’t want to live: maybe pain, sadness, fear, lack of control, etc. Extend your arm out in front of you as far as you can while holding the full glass of water. Basically, what you are doing is pushing all the problems away from you. You will notice that after a while your arm will be very tired. Now hold the same glass close to your chest. People I do this exercise with always say, “Ah, that’s better! In other words, stop resisting and avoiding, be honest with yourself and let those thoughts come up. Notice them and then let them go. This is what Mindfulness is all about. Feel what you feel.
You’re going to have a busy and full schedule for the foreseeable time. Try to maintain a structure each day, to express your feelings honestly to each other, and don’t try to spare each other the pain. Unfortunately, this still happens a lot. If you try not to make each other suffer, you will not be able to be honest with your feelings. Feel free to express yourself if you are scared, share that feeling. It is very important to do something ‘of value’ every day. Even if that is watching TV, walking, playing a game, reading, writing a journal – whatever works best for you!
If I understood you correctly, Samirah, Veronica will start chemotherapy first? This also depends on the receptors. My neighbor also had a similar treatment and after the chemo there was no longer a visible tumor. She had surgery and then was given radiation therapy. Normally, these protocols are the same in the European Union. If there is something that is not clear, ask again, record the conversations by asking permission first, so that you can listen to everything at home again. If you have time, Google ‘Acceptance and Commitment Therapy’. This is a bit of what I have been telling you about above. It’s a third generation behavioral therapy. It’s not about changing thoughts (or having a positive thought all the time because you can’t keep it up), it’s about the best way to deal with unpleasant thoughts and feelings. Therapy relies on games and many metaphors (like the glass of water). You can look up more about this therapy in Time to ACT! or ACT in Actie by the authors Tim Batink and Gijs Jansen. It can be downloaded for free.
Samirah, feel free to ask questions or to vent. I am here for you. Of course, this is strictly confidential. Neither Inge nor anyone else will know about our correspondence. There is no stupid or weird question. For now, I wish you a lot of strength, peace and confidence. Spiritually, Veronica will certainly take a big leap forward after this intense threat. And you will grow with her.