By Sam Alexandra Rose
Sam guest blogs regularly for Bowel Research UK, sharing her experiences with bowel cancer and Lynch Syndrome.
It took me some time to realise I was prone to unhelpful ‘self-talk’ after cancer.
I suppose it’s normal for people to let their thoughts do their own thing without questioning or trying to change them, but once I recognised that some of the ideas I had about my body and the ways I spoke to myself were not helping me live well after cancer treatments, I began trying more actively to influence my thought processes. While this is still a work in progress it feels very satisfying when I do manage to achieve it.
The process is about being more mindful about my thoughts and feelings and not allowing them to run wild. These days I question my thoughts more closely, and try and change them when they may be harmful. Difficult? Yes. Impossible? No. Let me share an example of what I’m talking about.
Many years after my first cancer diagnosis but before my second and third, I recognised that I was looking at my body like it was the enemy and not the cancer. I felt like my body had betrayed me by falling ill and that it couldn’t be trusted again. I think those are perfectly natural feelings, but it wasn’t helpful to think of my body as a threat. Not only that, I saw my body as something separate from my “self”. I thought of my body as the enemy when I should have been thinking of the cancer itself as the external threat, with me and my body – if we even were two separate things and not one and the same – being a team.
When I realised how my thought processes were shaping an interior narrative about my cancer experience, I engaged, as I like to do, in a little self-analysis. Why did I think of my body as being a different entity to my “soul” or my true self? Perhaps it was a way of dissociating or disconnecting myself from my body, or an attempt to get away from the cancer. After all, if I was blaming my body, and I thought of myself as something separate from my body, then I was blaming my body and not myself.
Perhaps it was a way of deciding it wasn’t my fault, while still blaming my body? I didn’t want to identify with cancer or as being someone with cancer, so if my body had cancer, maybe I wanted to disconnect myself from that. “Something is wrong with me” feels scarier than “something is wrong with my body”. Hence, my body gets the blame. It may also have been a way to separate myself from the anxiety of the cancer coming back.
What was concerning was how natural it had become to see my body as something separate from me, and to see it as the enemy rather than recognising the illness as the enemy. It shouldn’t be me against my body and the cancer, but me and my body against cancer.
In order to put things right, I felt I should forgive my body and I should reclaim ownership of it, and acknowledge that it didn’t do anything wrong. I felt I should also remember what I like about my body and lean into that more often. It’s not always easy to remember to challenge one’s thoughts and feelings but I have found I can recognise when they are unhelpful and manage to change them.
Over time, I’ve needed to do this less and less which I guess is a measure of success, and when it works, it feels very worthwhile.