As I sit at home, reflecting on the bad news the doctors have given me, I feel a little embarrassed. Even with my experience and knowledge, I had simply taken what this doctor had told me as fact, without question. The truth is that when our perception of our safety, health and well-being are challenged and compromised, rational thought flies out of the window. It is almost as if a protective fog swirls around us and acts as a protective blanket. The blanket only lifts when we are ready and willing to let it.
Indeed, my reaction was not uncommon. It is common for people to:
- Feel shocked
- Find it hard to believe what they have been told
- Find it hard to believe what is happening to them
- Express and share their emotions with others
- Need information to be repeated to them in a way that they can understand
A stranger in an old land
My fog started to lift a few days after the accident. I was going stir crazy at home and needed to get out of the house. It is fair to say that I am a lousy patient! My partner and I met up with our cycling buddy for lunch. Two things happened during lunch. I remember saying something along the lines of, ‘no one has mentioned metastasis (when cancer has spread elsewhere), but these lesions in my lungs must have originated from somewhere else.’ My friend said that his wife, who is a doctor, had mentioned this possibility to him. At that moment, my worst fears were confirmed, and another healthcare professional agreed with my assumptions. We usually want people to agree with us; this statement came as a bit of a reality slap across the face.
So, whilst it was lovely being out with the boys, I was having quite a complicated (internal) conversation with myself. I was joining up the dots of an imaginary picture and making a terrible hash of it.
Besides all of this, the boys started to talk about something in the future (I can’t remember what). It suddenly struck me that I might not be present in their future and couldn’t join in the conversation. I didn’t know if I had a future or how long it might be. Everything suddenly felt very surreal and dreamlike, and as Nelson Mandela once wrote, ‘I felt like a stranger in an old land.’ Similarly, I didn’t want to dwell on my predicament but didn’t quite know what else to do. For the first time since receiving my news, I felt despondent and wanted to cry.
Time for reflecting on bad news
Rather than cry and feel sorry for myself, I sat on our patio at home with a good, strong cup of tea and surveyed my surroundings. The sun was shining through the trees, and our kittens were trying to play with our gorgeous German Shepherd, Ruby. She was so gentle with them, and it warmed my heart. At that moment, I really learned that materialistic things didn’t matter at all to me. What was important was observing, really observing, listening, reflecting and absorbing feelings of love and warmth. Thinking positively in this way helped me transform my thinking and has continued to do so.
Spurred on by this experience, my partner and I sat and created a ‘fearless grid of your life’ paper exercise, which features in ‘The little book of confidence’ by Susan Jeffers. You draw a large square on a piece of paper and divide it into nine boxes. Each box represents an area of your life, for example, relationships, spiritual growth, personal growth, career, etc. In each box, Susan suggests looking at each aspect of your life and writing down what you want this to look like. Make a list of your thoughts and create step-by-step instructions to help you move forwards.
Why do this exercise?
It made me re-evaluate what was important in my life and how I wanted to grow as a person for whatever time I had left. I didn’t want to waste a minute! In some small way, I think it helped me think about what decisions I might be prepared to make moving forwards based on what quality of life meant for me.
When my story comes up in conversation, people often gasp in horror, and their jaws drop. On reflection, though, receiving bad news was not a bad experience for me. In many ways, it re-awakened me and gave me a kick up the…., which is something I probably needed (well, who doesn’t from time to time?). It has really influenced my decisions since, and I have made significant changes to my life.
Despite this, I was agitated when I saw a specialist doctor a couple of weeks later to tell me what happens next.
Jeffers. S. (1999). The little book of confidence. London. Random House.
Mandela, N. (1994) Long Walk to Freedom. Great Britain. Abacus