Cancer’s Quicksand of the Past

I have learned that there are many things that change after being diagnosed with cancer. Of course, there are the obvious changes: a sudden realization that health is not guaranteed and a shift to a different mindset of being a patient, learning about the diagnosis and what needs to happen from that moment forward.

Many people find that cancer tends to rob them of very important things, like health, contentment, security and happiness. But one of the under-recognized elements that a cancer diagnosis sometimes steals from us is the very important ability to live in the present.

After a jolting diagnosis, it can be quite difficult to deliberately and mindfully live each day in the here and now. All too often, even well after cancer treatment is complete, our thoughts tend to wander. Certainly, there is the very understandable tendency to ponder the future. How will my diagnosis affect my future? Will I be able to do the things that I always envisioned that I would be able to? Do I have the time that I expected to accomplish my goals and enjoy my life? These are questions considered at one time or another. For me, despite my very good prognosis, relatively speaking, these questions still were at the forefront of my mind. This is, of course, quite natural in these circumstances. Especially in the period following diagnosis and during treatment, these thoughts tend to be very prominent.

However, there can also be what I tend to refer to as the “quicksand of the past,” which is the trauma of a cancer diagnosis, a complete upheaval of the comfortable trajectory of life, and a very-much-unwanted propensity to return to that jarring and emotionally damaging moment in time when one’s life was forever changed at the time of diagnosis. The disturbing and repeated thoughts about cancer tend to breed anxiety, stress and doubt.

The end result of this can be that cancer — even a past cancer diagnosis that is not a current active medical issue — has a tendency steal someone’s ability to live in the present and enjoy life here and now. For instance, it is extremely difficult to enjoy pivotal family moments if celebrating birthdays or holidays dredge up thoughts of how cancer stole these in previous years, or if there is overarching anxiety about this potentially happening again. The quicksand can rapidly smother current happiness and joy. I have heard these stories over and over among my cancer support group.

Certainly, recognizing this is the first step in trying to combat this tendency. Being aware of this and very intentionally trying to reframe the situation is necessary to prevent the mental slippery slope back into this destructive emotional vortex. Cancer steals too much from us as it is, so being diligent in not allowing it to take away more moments, more security and more joy, is truly worth the effort.

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