Breast cancer lesson number 70: You can only play the opposition in front of you

I have always been one of life’s great worriers. Growing up, my favourite phrase (much to the frustration of my parents) was ‘what happens if…?’. If there’s an opportunity to obsess about something – from slugs and foxes to magazine deadlines – I’m there with my concerned face and (usually) my notebook!

That is, until now. Cancer, for all its flaws, has a way of putting life into sharp focus. It forces the mind to think about the only things that matter – namely life and death and how to enjoy one while avoiding the other. It certainly doesn’t eliminate worry, but it does have a way of helping you be a little more selective.

Cancer, and chemotherapy in particular, has given me a masterclass in a thing called ‘worthwhile worry’. This rather exciting strand of worry is related to concerns about events and side effects that are happening now and over which I have some control. There’s no ‘might’, ‘maybe’ or ‘what if’ in sight. Worthwhile worry, unlike 80% of the concerns that have filled up my diary over the years, is a good use of mental energy and it has a great way of pushing the unexpected phone engineer bills and missing parcels to the bottom of the pile.

Of course, I am not wishing life-threatening worries on anyone just so that they can let go of the empty washing-up liquid bottle and the overflowing laundry basket. But, I do think it is healthy to reflect on your existing list of concerns and challenge a few along the way. This year has already taught me that time is not for wasting. Time is not for throwing away thinking about things that might or could happen. Time is to be spent tackling the important obstacles that life has a habit of flinging in our direction. If it isn’t, you’ll look back and realise that you’ve got a few more unnecessary wrinkles and no time left to straighten them out!

As FEC chemotherapy cycle number two approaches, I am not worried about the side effects or just how pink my pee will be by 7pm this evening. I may not pass the pre-chemo blood test. I may react badly. But, the only thing I know will happen is that, whatever comes my way, I will get through it. I know about mouth ulcers and I have a stocked medicine cabinet to prove it. I have so little hair on my head, there’s not much more to take. I have a tub full of queasy drops and I’m not afraid to use them. By starting my anti-sickness meds at lunchtime, I am hoping I can stop the nausea in its tracks. I am prepared based on the experience of chemo cycle one. I will take it one day at a time. And, if other side effects wish to join the party, I will worry about them only when – and not if – they occur. Go into it relaxed and you’ll have far more energy to tackle those nasty little surprises.

Duncan was spot on when he said: ‘you can only play the opposition in front of you’. It’s something I plan to do today and for the rest of my life – and I hope you do too. Worry about tomorrow once you’ve got the real problems of today out the way. And, if tomorrow doesn’t look too demanding, don’t worry about it at all. That way, you’ll have more time to spend smiling and being productive and more strength for those worthwhile worries when they do come along. Because, rest assured, they will.

3 comments

  1. Hi Jackie, I like that phrase, worthwhile worry. We women are so good at worrying… so it’s good to pick and choose I suppose. Easier said than done though. Great to find your blog, so thanks for commenting on mine. Good luck with chemo. Maybe you’d be interested in my book about it, even though you’ve already started.

    1. Thanks Nancy, great to have found your blog too. Your scar piece has really touched a lot of people. I wish those invisible scars were easier to heal. Thanks for reaching out and have a lovely weekend. J x

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