I’m pulling together a few blog posts I’ve been thinking about writing for a while, expecting each of them to be simple sections – probably with a lot of embedded content, not necessarily deeply profound, maybe waffly, but we’ll see …
In some ways cancer has made me rethink a whole lot of things, in many other ways it’s just solidified a whole lot of other thoughts … if life is going to be shorter, and/or living with more fatigue and side-effects, then how do I find ways to live with that, whilst feeling that my life has purpose, but doesn’t have to be all about ‘doing’… reminded by this:
It feels weird to think that I’ve been ‘living with and beyond cancer (LWBC)’ for 16 months already, and for the last 12 months, I’ve been using ‘Selfie a Day‘ to capture an image each day (of something ‘ordinary’, although if there’s something particular on a day, I’ve tried to capture that). In line with my oft quoted desire to get people to share the ‘reality’ of life – good and bad bits – hopefully with wisdom (against oversharing, although everyone has a different definition of this) and humour (people LWBC tend to develop quite a black sense of humour!) there’s a real mix, and it’s weird what shoots through your head as you look at the images zip past from the last year:
I realised years ago that ‘New Year Resolutions’ are really a set up to fail. I’d rather think about (small) changes I can make as life goes on, and not wait for a particular date (especially one associated with the idea that a week later no surprise if you can’t stick with it) – especially not now.
As a historian, I remember in my degree also looking at the fact that months/years/decades are all:
happy social construction of time
— Shit Academics Say (@AcademicsSay) January 1, 2019
This I like:
However, come January 1st, we get a whole load of this:
In some ways, it says a lot about the culture we live in, that Christmas/New Year break is the only time that people feel they have a chance to think about what they want out of life, and suddenly there’s a conviction that everything can be changed with just doing a few ‘of the right things’!
Though maybe #AcademicJoke:
“It’s not the resolution I would have made.” – Reviewer 2
— Shit Academics Say (@AcademicsSay) January 1, 2019
A particular one that gets to me is the weight loss resolutions, and the obsession with calories:
This is one of my favourite cartoons ever:
There’s a whole lot of content and literature around the no-diet culture (and we’re not including Weight Watchers rebranding as WW – the wellness brand), including developing academic literature – I’ve got a couple of bookshelves full (not that I’ve read them all yet!):
A couple of really helpful hashtags I follow on Instagram are #HAES (Health at Every Size) and, more recently, a friend has encouraged the use of the tag #InstaImperfect to challenge the over-curated-ness of many Instagram feeds. Another friend for the past few years has encouraged #ThePeakAndPitCollective, which I love (although haven’t participated in) as it encourages that sharing of ‘reality’, but also a focus on being ‘thankful’ for something!
I came across Beyond Chocolate in 2009, and have posted about it occasionally, as it’s become a core part of my life. As a BeyondChoc volunteer, I post something on the Beyond Chocolate Facebook page pretty much every day (quite often in advance), posting stories like this:
It’s all nonsense and we need to remember that diets do not work, however guilty we’re made to feel. We will see the same advice as last year dressed up in new clothes but they’re all essentially just the same books, DVDs, blogs and diet plans. Even fun, zesty lifestyle changes which have weight loss as a goal are just diets in fancy new trousers. Independent
People pop into Beyond Chocolate looking for a quick ‘weight loss fix’ like anything else, and are often shocked that that’s not what’s on offer – there’s no miracle cure, because:
Typically, most people eat for reasons other than hunger, and ‘diets’ don’t teach you to reconnect with that. Beyond Chocolate is challenging, both within a culture that assumes that it is licence to eat yourself sick, and individually, because it forces you (gently, and slowly) to face the many things in life that make you feel uncomfortable and stuff down with food, and the battery of numbers, scales and stats that come at you (especially in the middle of cancer treatment, where you get weighed at all kinds of appointments, although most appointments were really good at respecting the fact that I don’t find the numbers helpful, and just wrote them on the forms).
Over the past few years, I’ve settled into a much healthier lifestyle, finding foods that are enjoyable and make me feel better (mentally and physically), chocolate and crisps can sit in the cupboard for weeks, finding activities that I enjoy and want to participate in (whether that’s Pokemon, cycling to work, hiking, karate, or the gym) – as you’re then ‘lapping everyone on the couch’, and seeking to be nicer to myself in a world that values appearance over everything else, and assumes that you can beat yourself into a ‘thinner you’… and you end up missing out on things because being fat and overweight if a very visible thing (often attracting the ‘it’s simple, less in than out’ – which doesn’t bring mental health and emotional eating in the equation):
There are concerns around cancer and it’s various side effects, associated with weight (although I didn’t feel that the Cancer Research UK Obesity campaign particularly helped – what did it actually do to help promote self-care and better behaviours?), but a focus on weight immediately brings unhealthy behaviours with it. The treatment I’ve had this year was expected to put weight on, but, with the work already done with Beyond Chocolate, I stayed the same (so far as my clothes will tell me), and in fact, without the distractions of going into work, etc. and taking time to declutter and sort things out, and with my body super-sensitive to different foods, etc. I found myself listening to my body in a way I’ve not before … within the style encouraged by Beyond Chocolate of gentle exploration .. rather than “I’m now going to do THIS forever”, to try something once, and if it works, try it again… Got me out the door everyday, got me decluttering a few minutes a day, and also encouraged me to understand the value of sleep to enable everything else!!
So basically (especially if you’re suggesting that Kale will cure cancer):
Loving this that just popped up in my Facebook feed this afternoon:
One of the things I’ve been undergoing related to the cancer is counselling, using self-compassion therapy to deal with the realities of life with cancer, and life after cancer, and knowing that life before cancer still has an impact… and if you’re someone who lives in their head as much as I do – it’s exhausting! It’s been a challenging few months (I was due to finish before Christmas, but we’re keeping going whilst scanxiety continues).
Related is self-care, and the typical thing that one hears about self-care is bubble baths and all that… that’s not what we’re talking about – something with a whole load more effort such as:
- Focusing on getting plenty of sleep
- Planning food, etc. each week (flexibly) and preparing tasty food for the freezer in advance – and buying pre-chopped frozen veg
- Thinking more before I say yes, and trying to say no more (to the people-pleasing things)
- Turning off work (emails) evenings/weekends
- Being quite militant about getting to my gym sessions
- Got rid of National Trust membership and magazine subscriptions, so don’t feel the pressure to ‘do’.
- Making space for reading for enjoyment
- Connecting with people, possibly for shorter lengths of time, but trying to plan some in amongst the fatigue – means people have to make more effort to come my way
- Blogging about cancer, rather than dealing with individual queries as much as possible
- Asking for help and company with treatments – especially any with results or cannulas
- Getting ahead on things such as cards/presents so there’s time for delay
- Getting my head down on work at work time, because there’s no ’til the wee hours of the morning to catch up’ possibility, and have to work within my energy levels
- Going for things that I really want to do, putting the perfectionism to one side
- Declutter and getting house a nice place to be …
- Overpaying the mortgage to give a buffer in case of recurrence or mets
- Not forgetting, of course, my wonderful cleaner – frees up so much mental time thinking about cleaning!
I’ll probably think of more stuff later, and reserve the right to add to it…
Living Life to the Full
So, excuse the slightly self-indulgent waffle and reflection (before the work emails go back on tomorrow), but just trying to get some of the things flying around my head out. I’m sure I was going to write something more profound here, but I’m, in contemporary parlance, seeking to ‘Live my Best Life’ and:
Life is flipping hard work sometimes, but I like this reminder:
*Later that evening … oh yes, the other week @thecancerchrons blogged about living a life one doesn’t regret and I was thinking I’ve had some seriously tough moments in my life, but I’ve also done a lot of good things – pursued my passions in work, got a lot of friends, travelled a lot … and people tell me that when I say I want my headstone to say “She made a difference” – that’s already true – by being who I am, and by the work I produce!
Dr Bex Lewis is passionate about helping people engage with the digital world in a positive way, where she has more than 20 years’ experience. She is Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing at Manchester Metropolitan University and Visiting Research Fellow at St John’s College, Durham University, with a particular interest in digital culture, persuasion and attitudinal change, especially how this affects the third sector, including faith organisations, and, after her breast cancer diagnosis in 2017, has started to research social media and cancer. Trained as a mass communications historian, she has written the original history of the poster Keep Calm and Carry On: The Truth Behind the Poster (Imperial War Museum, 2017), drawing upon her PhD research. She is Director of social media consultancy Digital Fingerprint, and author of Raising Children in a Digital Age: Enjoying the Best, Avoiding the Worst (Lion Hudson, 2014) as well as a number of book chapters, and regularly judges digital awards. She has a strong media presence, with her expertise featured in a wide range of publications and programmes, including national, international and specialist TV, radio and press, and can be found all over social media, typically as @drbexl.