This week I have been absolutely consumed by my work, the highlight being my session working with health professionals at St Georges Hospital in London. I was really delighted to be invited to attend some training days and help the staff understand better some of the psychological and emotional issues that people affected by cancer may face. It was a very lively session that we all learned from, and there were several suggestions that came from it, that hopefully may be introduced in the future. I have been working towards improving communication channels between patients and professionals, and although it has taken a long time I can see that we are heading in the right direction.
All of this has made me think that my own plan was to stop all of my active work, to concentrate on my writing and domestic life from the end of September! It is extremely difficult as the opportunities that are occurring are progress from my past work, and if I don’t do them the chance will be gone. I have also just received two very special invitations so it looks like I will be continuing until the end of November. I am extremely happy that these things are happening, but I am becoming aware that I really do have to draw the line.
I was asked recently if I had considered the effects of what I do on my own health and emotional wellbeing, and the answer I gave was “rarely.” Certainly when I started I gave no thought to it whatsoever, I just saw a need and tried to help. But that was before things really got going and only now am I realising what is happening. My ‘working life’ is starting to feel like a runaway train, with so many different opportunities occurring to help people in different ways. Of course it is the direction I have been working for so many years, and there were times I wondered if I was really going to make a difference in this vast world of cancer support, but it seems I am, and after all the years of ‘seed planting’ I am now starting to see the harvest.
But what effect does this have on my own well being, and for others like me, supporting people whilst going through their own treatment? Like most things in life, we will all deal with it differently, and I have got used to it now, having been doing it for many years. Am I really the best judge of how I am dealing with things though? My wife knows how strong willed I am and doesn’t argue with me, as she knows this is now my passion. My doctors also know how important this is to my life, but we are all quietly aware of what may happen. I tread a very fine line between staying well and getting sick, but why was I given a second chance of life if not to use it?
Logically I know, that with all the emotions involved in helping people affected by cancer day in and day out, I can be at times mentally exhausted, but I have never really done what I have been told throughout my life, and I guess I am too set in my ways to change now! What about my peers on social media, how do they feel? This is a relatively new issue, as the common use of the internet has enabled people to share their experiences with others, and online support communities have quickly formed. Of course you can do as little or as much as you are able, but even as you have your own treatment, it is difficult to switch off from the situation of others.
Recently I was contacted by someone because they felt they weren’t doing as much as me, which made me worry a little. There are so many wonderful people out there giving support and sharing experiences with others. Willingly giving their time, when they could be using it to look after themselves. But it’s hard to switch that emotion off once you have started, and there is no better feeling than knowing that you have been able to help someone. This area of support has become vital for many, filling a massive void in ‘official’ services, there is no doubt at all of the value that it serves.
But do we really see the down sides of ‘giving’ in this way? I imagine most people would feel how I do about it, but it is so important to consider our own health in all of this. I know there are many people out there much more disciplined than me, and I admire that, it is an area I really struggle with, although I am improving slowly. As the reach of my work increases I have a window into the issues of cancer support around the world, and I am increasingly shocked, as the financial reality of health care around the world is brought into my own life.
Cancer support means so many different things to everyone, and my experience shows me that we are all touched by cancer in our lives, directly or indirectly. It is a massive job, that we will all have to get involved in really, helping friends, family or dealing with it personally. It will be impossible to expect any service to provide what we require, as many more people survive cancer, but live with treatment side effects, and more of us are directly affected by it. However it is important that we all learn our own boundaries, in how much we can give of ourselves. None of us can change things on our own, but if we all do what we can, the world will be a better place.
Do you use your experience to help others, if so how does that impact on you? Would you like to do more, or do you think you do too much? Have you ever considered the impact on yourself, of what you do for others? Maybe like me, you can’t change the way you are, so I would love to hear your own support experiences.