Coping with uncertainty and vulnerability
This story was written when people with blood cancer were shielding across the UK. For up-to-date information on current restrictions and guidance during the coronavirus pandemic, see our information on staying safe and government guidance.
Life is, and will always be, uncertain. It’s easy to forget that – I did.
When I was 25, I was diagnosed with stage 4 Hodgkin lymphoma. I had chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Now, aged 26, I’m a year out of treatment and still in remission.
I’ve lived with uncertainty. I’ve felt the illusion of control being ripped away from me. I’ve felt incredibly vulnerable.
I did all that with blood cancer. I thought I’d had my go. But the thing is, life will always be uncertain.
Compared to a lot of people I know, I feel more mentally prepared to deal with what’s happening in the world due to the coronavirus pandemic, because of my experience with blood cancer. It forced me to go to some dark places. But because of this deep self-reflection, I feel more connected to myself and therefore more confident to make decisions to support my mental health. It’s that which is helping me navigate these crazy times.
I’d be lying if I said coronavirus hasn't brought up past emotions of going through cancer.
It’s surprising how the emotions are similar. What I learned last time, which is relevant now as well, is that we may not be able to control what’s happening to us or around us, but we can control how we respond.
We can work towards having control and freedom in our minds. There are times when this is more difficult than others (we’re only human), but why not give it a go? What’s the worst that will happen? It could help.
I’ve spent time working on myself.
Since my diagnosis, I’ve seen a counsellor, started yoga and meditation, questioned and re-evaluated a lot of aspects in my life, and I’m trying to set new boundaries. Obviously, this remains a work in progress, and I’m still learning a lot.
Instead of worrying about the uncertainty of what may happen, I try and live in the present.
I always thought that when I finished treatment, went back to work and was a year out, that’s when I’d be ‘healed’. However, there is always another test coming up.
Be thankful for the good that we have in our lives. Let’s practise gratitude and feel the wonderful emotion that comes with it. It’s powerful and freeing. We’ll never know what’s around the corner, so enjoy the small acts of kindness and moments of wonder that are here now.
It’s okay, not to feel okay.
I choose to see anxiety as a sign that I need to listen to my body. What need am I not meeting? Do I need to set new boundaries? Am I putting others' needs before my own?
What helps to return to a state of calm? For me, it's walking, breathing, meditation or yoga. Sometimes just noticing, feeling and letting the emotion pass is enough.
I choose to view the current lack of control over our lives as liberating. I found this incredibly difficult throughout my treatment as I felt cheated that others were still living their lives and had freedom. But we can try to control how we respond to situations. Now is a time to re-evaluate our daily routines and beliefs to find what feels right for us. Our mindset is so powerful.
I see vulnerability not as a weakness, but courage in spite of uncertainty.
Being labelled as ‘vulnerable’ by this pandemic can be scary. I’m taking the precautions needed, but I won’t let others place their connotations of what being ‘vulnerable’ means to them. As Brené Brown says in Daring Greatly, ‘Vulnerability is life’s great dare. It’s life asking “Are you all in?” despite the uncertainty.’
These times are tough and we’ll be tested. But let’s acknowledge that we have an opportunity to grow and be ‘works in progress’. My 16-year-old self would be incredibly proud of the challenges I’ve faced in the last 10 years; and I want to make my 36-year-old self as proud of me now.
Cancer was my first wake up call to put my health first; coronavirus is the second.
I’m focusing on making sure that I’m calm and looking after my health. For me, that’s enough. I experienced, through having cancer, how vital it is to be kind and forgiving towards myself. That’s what we need to do now. Look out for ourselves, mind and body, and those around us.
This too shall pass, and we shall come out of this stronger.
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