my coping strategy

Being diagnosed with cancer – particularly when you are not expecting it is, err, tricky. People are different, people will have differing circumstances and levels of support available and each individual will have their own strategy for coping.

This is how I try to cope. I’m not suggesting this is how everyone should cope or that it’s the best method of coping. I may subsequently change or refine this method in the coming months. It’s just my method of coping.

I work as a technical consultant in IT. When I visit a customer with a difficult problem, I tend to perform a lot of research. I look at the specific issue I am investigating (obviously) but I also review all Service Requests they have opened in the last 6 months. I normally chat to the account manager and have a courtesy call to introduce myself and hear the customer describe the issues in their own words.

It would have been very natural therefore for me to spend hours on Google researching every element of bowel cancer and devour every available resource describing every last detail of this horrible disease. However, I didn’t really do that. Occasionally I visit the excellent ‘Beating Bowel Cancer‘ web site which describes every aspect (symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, support, lifestyle, recovery) in easy to digest articles.

However, I realised very quickly that the sheer volume of information was just overwhelming. Reading about everything and trying to absorb all that medical information simply tended to raise potential issues, pose difficult questions and introduced fear, uncertainty and doubt.

This may surprise people but I don’t actually know what my formal diagnosis is in terms of staging. Cancer is categorised into stages 1-4 (I think) depending on how far it has spread in the body. If the doctors choose not to tell me the formal diagnosis, then I probably don’t need to know (yet).

After a while, I decided simply to try to focus on my next, immediate hurdle. This hurdle might be trivial (consultation with a doctor) or more significant, an operation under general anaesthetic.

So, if I was having a Port-a-Cath line inserted into my chest, I would probably read up about that specific procedure, the benefits and possible side effects and I would jot down any questions I wanted to raise with the doctor.

When I had surmounted the hurdle, sometimes I would reward myself with a ‘day off’. Now this sounds stupid because I am signed off work completely and spend most of my day reclining on the sofa watching ‘Wanted Down Under’ and having an afternoon nap. Most people would view this as an indefinite holiday.

However, on my ‘day off’, I would just do I wanted and I would try to devote no thought or waste any energy whatsoever on my health issues and whatever the next looming hurdle was. This lazy, do nothing strategy suited me very well.

My wife is a nurse and has been incredibly supportive and understanding. She is able to articulate and translate some of the medical terminology and checks I am taking all my pills at the right time.

The single best thing she did for me was on the day after I was diagnosed. She said to me:

‘Listen – I’m not going to follow you around this house checking up on you. I’m always here if you need me but if you want to listen to music, mess around on the computer or you just need 5 minutes to yourself, just go into the bedroom and shut the door and I’ll leave you alone’.

Another thing I don’t do – or rather have done fleetingly – is to read blogs by other people who are blogging about their experiences with cancer.

This may seem odd given that is precisely what I am doing but – to be honest – a lot of those blogs are bloody depressing. Some of the longer established ones also record the passing of friends and fellow bloggers who didn’t make it and that is very upsetting.

Lots of people are battling cancer like me. However, no one has my exact diagnosis. It doesn’t matter whether 90% of people with bowel cancer recover (when caught early). It doesn’t matter if your Uncle had bowel cancer 7 years ago and made a complete recovery although obviously I am very pleased that was his personal outcome. It doesn’t matter if an email went round at work giving the funeral details of a colleague in the Edinburgh office who passed away after a long battle with cancer (although I’m desperately sorry to hear that).

It doesn’t matter if someone with a very similar diagnosis and treatment plan to me suffered loads of side effects or no side effects during his radiotherapy treatment.

It doesn’t matter because none of those people have exactly my symptoms, none of them have my body and none of them are being treated by the medical team responsible for overseeing my treatment.

Without being too callous, all that matters to me is whether I recover and, to a lesser extent, how long it takes.