Expert Advice and Support

finding your inner voice after breast cancer

Posted by Sara Liyanage on 21 January 2022

This article is by Kate Emberson of Airhead Coaching. Kate coaches individuals and organisations to build positive, human approaches to live and work. She works outdoors as much as possible, walking, talking and harnessing the positive impact that nature has on our minds and bodies.

You’re the driver in a head-on collision

For many, the moment of breast cancer diagnosis happens amongst a cacophony of noise; overbearing career, active family life, self-improvement projects, financial tightrope walking, and promises of finding downtime, committing to mindfulness, getting to yoga more than once in a blue moon… Our lives didn’t revolve around being cancer free, and, even in the wake of that most feared of diagnoses, our lives still don’t revolve around being cancer positive. The world, and our place in it, goes on.

So as the driver in this head-on collision between normality and cancer, how can you emerge from the wreckage and get back on the road? There is little doubt that cancer changes you. It terrifies you, disables you, focuses you, leaves you altered. It is deeply personal and few relate 100% to another’s story. Talk of a ‘similar’ journey told in sympathy, can be triggering and terrifying in its subtle unfamiliarity.

Words of comfort uttered by a friend can leave you stumbling, guts churning and heart racing. The stories of others are fraught with danger and because of this, we become acutely aware of how to tell our own story. We learn to express our reality without prompting a volley of oversharing or well-meaning platitudes, managing not only our own words, but how to dodge or digest the words of others.

A new voice

Within this complex, emotional maze, a new voice emerges. For some this may be subtle, for others it is transformative. We can begin to have confidence in breaking unhelpful or toxic friendships. We actively seek the company of those with whom we connect and whose presence enriches us. Duty, obligation and FOMO take a backseat as we realise that the world really won’t end if we just don’t turn up.

Enforced absence from ‘normal’ life through the ravages of active treatment, teaches us that we can thrive with a small band of tireless supporters, and we can be surprised by who enters and who drifts from that inner circle. A sense of self emerges that may have been woefully absent before and we see how critical self-care can be not just for us, but for those we love.

Take note and notice

To take advantage of this shift in our priorities, we do well to look for it. Take note of those moments where you decline an invite you might have previously felt obliged to accept. Notice the way that you are less responsive to text messages and emails, choosing instead to put yourself first. Commend yourself on the conscious shift away from an individual or group who you just don’t feel understand who you are or what you stand for.

Applaud that brave decision to start a hobby that’s always appealed to you, or join a club where you find like-minded people. Savour those feelings of ‘grasping the nettle’ or ‘seizing the day’ that can be the unexpected upside of not taking life for granted. You don’t have to go swimming with dolphins or climb Everest to notice the change in yourself, small changes and quiet decisions can speak volumes about how you want life to feel in the future.

Deep cuts

So wherever life has taken you since that dreadful day, if you are years out and cancer free, or knee-deep in active, lifelong treatment, consider how the experience has changed you. Those deep cuts suddenly bring what you care about into sharp focus, and you are right to make changes in your life to ensure you have your priorities straight. The words uttered carelessly, without compassion, that are just as helpful in understanding who is for you, and who you can let go.

The simple pleasures that deserve attention, and the big hairy ambitions that need dusting off. It will look and feel different for you all. But we all deserve to be heard, to speak up and ask for what we want, to kindly but firmly rebuff the things we don’t, and to feel the power of our new voice. Because we are all powerful, and self-knowledge is a wonderful way to harness that power.

December 2021

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Claire diagnosed in 2016
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