Surviving Cancer – Controlling the uncontrollable
Today is Sunday 3rd June 2018, which is National Cancer Survivors’ Day.
Today is Sunday 3rd June 2018, which is my 40th birthday; a day I would not have ever seen if I was not a Cancer Survivor myself.
Before I became a Solution Focused Hypnotherapist I was living a crazy lifestyle in an international senior HR role; working all day, travelling all evening, and partying all night. I was burning the candle at both ends; after all, if you don’t do that, then what has it got two ends for, right? WRONG – my body went in to shock, as my autonomic nervous system thought I was under attack.
I felt like I had been hit by a bus. I was given a diagnosis of M.E. and Fibromyalgia, but then when my sick note-induced bed rest didn’t resolve anything, doctors discovered my immune system had switched itself on to fight malaria after a safari holiday, and had then struggled to switch itself off, as it was on red alert, treating everything that came its way as a threat.
This released a constant flow of cortisol, which put huge strain on my body, and I was so exhausted that I could hear my voice in business meetings sounding drunk despite being stone cold sober. I went on to develop pneumonia, and then as if that wasn’t enough, I had a complete emotional breakdown when I was later diagnosed with Cancer. I literally fell to my knees and sobbed, and knew that my life had to change.
I had absolutely no energy, but I’m a stubborn and determined character, so I wasn’t willing to accept my GP’s offer of antidepressants to get through this tough time; surely there was a better way out there?
The doctors around me were spending a lot of time concentrating on my physical body being broken, but I asked them to help me also fix my mind and attitude simultaneously. My GP introduced me to a wonderful therapist, who explained to me what I’m about to explain to you.
It literally blew my mind, and I realised I was able to turn my life around. It changed my attitude towards my health and my lifestyle, and I’m delighted to tell you that I went on to get the all-clear from the horrid Cancer, which gave me a new lease of life. I was so inspired by what I had been taught that I decided to give up my career in HR and re-train as a psychotherapist and change my lifestyle, helping others change theirs too.
Here’s how I regained control of the uncontrollable:
- If you’ve ever had to go through the absolute hell of hearing the words, “You have cancer” you’ll be only too familiar with the scenarios that go through your brain. Within hours of my diagnosis, I had decided I was going to die (yes, the brain goes in to worse case scenario and can’t rationalise or be logical as it has the intellectual capacity of a toddler!) and I knew I couldn’t control the cancer, so had to decide whether to lay down and submit, or stand up and fight it. What I did know, from learning about neuroscience, is that I needed to focus on what I could do. So, I knew I had to do something that felt like positive action. I began by organising the filing cabinet in my study, so that in the event of my death (yup, I was still being irrational and emotional, but was working hard to regain control of my primitive mind!) my family would know where everything was kept; from random things like when my next MOT was due on the car, as well as where all my insurance paperwork was filed so that at least my funeral could be paid for. If I could have organised the buffet and the playlist for that funeral I would have, but I knew my brain needed to stay rational, so I just saw it as an opportunity to be more organised, ready for when I later regained my health.
- I was conscious that my brain was going in to “What If…” scenarios, which of course is a natural protection mechanism. However, I knew that my brain couldn’t tell the difference between imagination and reality, so every time I imagined a “What if I die” scenario then the brain thought that was happening in real life. I realised I had to turn this around, and again take control (can you see a recurring theme here?!) so I then forced myself to only think about the positive “What ifs”, like what if I get through this, what if I do get to take my God-daughter to school when she’s old enough, what if I do regain my health? I decided to turn this around, focusing on what I did want, rather than on what I didn’t Before I knew it my brain felt stronger and able to imagine all the right things during such a dark time.
- I knew that due to our primitive brain not having evolved much since cavemen times, I knew that we operate better as a tribe. It was sooo tempting to retreat in to my cave and hide under my bearskin rug until the threat of the polar bear/sabretooth tiger/tumours had just magically disappeared. However, I knew I needed to feel oxytocin, our love hormone, so I surrounded myself with loved ones. I remember waiting for a phone call that was due at 1pm from the hospital. I gathered together my closest family, and we literally huddled for hours as a tribe in our cave, filling the time with mindless chatter, comforting food and Disney movies! Yes we cried, yes our hearts were in our mouths when the phone call came, but yes we were so much stronger together, than I could have been alone.
- The primitive brain, remembering that it has the intellectual decision-making ability of a 4-year-old, just couldn’t help itself from taking everything out of context. I knew that my intellectual brain had to take over to keep me sane, so I decided to look at some numbers to put things in to context. For example, I looked at the amount of days I had cancer and calculated that as a percentage of the amount of days I had been alive (this was hardly anything, remembering it’s my 40th birthday today, right?!)….I looked at the size of my tumours and calculated that as a percentage of the size of my whole body (I’m a tall girl!)…slowly but surely, my intellectual brain realised this cancer was literally nothing to me; merely a dot on the landscape of an otherwise brilliant life. I was not going to let this beat me!
- And finally, I knew that because my body was flooded with cortisol, our stress hormone that had kept my bruised immune system in fight or flight mode, I knew I had to detox this from my system. Remembering that our second brain is in our gut, I embarked upon a detox programme, in consultation with the medics, and literally within days my brain was flooded with water, which lifted the fog (seriously, go pour yourself a drink before taking a pill, it’s magical!) and my brain started to release the positive neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, as well as BDNF, which we say is like miracle-grow for the brain!
When I finally got the all clear, I made a pact with myself about all the aspects of my life that needed to change. Remembering that the brain can’t tell the difference between imagination and reality, I sat for hours literally designing what my new wonderful life would look like. Within 48 hours I had resigned from my well paid job, committed to building my Hypnotherapy practice, and had met the man of my dreams; all of which I would not have been ready for, had I still been living in my primitive brain.
National Cancer Survivors Day® is an annual, treasured Celebration of Life that is held in hundreds of communities nationwide, and around the world, on the first Sunday in June. It is a CELEBRATION for those who have survived, an INSPIRATION for those recently diagnosed, a gathering of SUPPORT for families, and an OUTREACH to the community. On National Cancer Survivors Day®, thousands gather across the globe to honour cancer survivors and to show the world that life after a cancer diagnosis can be fruitful, rewarding, and even inspiring.
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About the Author: Rebecca runs her solution focused hypnotherapy clinic in Thetford, East Anglia and works with clients suffering from anxiety, depression, OCD and phobias. She is also a motivational speaker, and travels the UK inspiring audiences with her story about how she rewired her brain in order to regain control of her life. If you need a speaker for your event, or wish to work with Rebecca to rewire your own brain like she did, then email firstname.lastname@example.org