By Sam Alexandra Rose
Our Patient and Public Involvement Manager Sam blogs regularly for Bowel Research UK, sharing her experiences of bowel cancer and Lynch Syndrome.
When I was a child, I would have these sudden moments of joy and clarity. My most vivid memory of this came when walking through our local shopping centre on a Saturday morning with my best friend when I suddenly felt that everything was perfect.
In that moment, I was completely worry-free and happy. I was happy with what I was doing right then – shopping with my friend – but more importantly, there was nothing in the future troubling me.
As a teenager at the time, that probably meant there was no PE lesson that day to worry about, no presentations to give in my English class, no falling out with friends to deal with. Nothing plagued my mind at all: I was happy and there was no end to that in sight.
I knew at the time that this feeling was fleeting, and that something to worry about would turn up sooner or later. I wasn’t naïve. But right in that moment, I could think of nothing to darken my mood, and it was a feeling of true peace to feel myself searching for the negative and coming up empty.
But today, living with an inherited genetic condition called CMMRD and Lynch syndrome that considerably raises the risk of cancer, it’s very easy to allow my memories of being treated for cancer and the perennial threat of new cancers to make me feel that I will never have those untroubled, completely joyous moments again. I will never again be able to say to myself “everything is perfect.”
But I have found ways of challenging my own thinking and worrying about the future and have reached an accommodation that enables me to function perfectly well in the ‘now’, at least most of the time, and I have tips and techniques for dealing with the anxiety that accompanies regular health scans.
These days I say to myself that “there is nothing to worry about in this present moment, and this present moment is all I have and therefore all I should consider.” Intellectually, I know this to be true. Spiritually, it makes sense and I believe it.
No matter how much this makes sense, it’s still a challenge to keep worries from resurfacing. It is much easier said than done, having to try to ignore the threat of illness, and to see the good despite that threat – or worse, despite the presence of illness should it return.
If the answer to finding those moments of peace is to live only in the present, how do you do that?
Buddhists would say through meditation and mindfulness, by simply being aware.
Perhaps it’s a constant checking in on yourself, like a concerned parent. Are you okay? Am I okay right now, sitting under a blanket on my comfy couch with my laptop on my knee? My partner is upstairs in the bath, the TV off, only the sound of my tap-tapping on the keyboard disturbing the peace. I’m at peace, shovelling Texas BBQ Sauce Pringles in my mouth, then licking my lips to find traces of flavour, and tonguing my molars to get the soft left-behinds out from between my teeth.
I am thinking to myself right now, does any of this hurt? Am I in danger? Is anyone or anything upsetting me? No! Therefore, I can say, at this very moment, “everything is perfect right now”. And I suddenly feel more content than I have in days, and all is well. And that’s an example of mindfulness, of meditation, of thinking, of awareness.
Growing older, I accept that I’ll never be as untroubled as the cancer-free teenager I once was. I am the same as anyone with years under their belt, and who has had to deal with life’s many ups and downs.
So I have set my sights a little lower: my new year’s resolution for 2023 is to take one day at a time.
This means less forward-planning, and much less forward-worrying. I might not be mindful every minute of every day, but when I do find myself fretting over the next scan or anything else associated with CMMRD, I can bring myself back to the present and remember my mantra: “I am taking things one day at a time”. So far, that’s helping this cancer survivor worry a little less about recurrence, and find a few more of those “everything is perfect” moments.