We tend to have an idea of ourselves and who we are.  This includes our physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual aspects.  We tend to resist change, and more so when it’s sudden and not chosen like cancer.

It takes time to acknowledge what we’ve lost and to grieve in whatever way is right for us, and to develop as people so that our experience is something that has happened to us and we can find a new balance in our life.

For some the physical effects are the most difficult.  Many people are very upset by changes in their body and appearance and their confidence is severely shaken by these changes.  For some this is so extreme that they find it hard to return to work and social life.  Coaching can assist us in starting to take steps to accept what has happened and to step outside our comfort zone so that our confidence can begin to grow again.

For others the psychological effects are a problem as we struggle to cope with unhelpful thinking patterns.  This was a problem for me that I hadn’t fully appreciated before I was ill.  Luckily I had started training in life coaching after my cancer diagnosis and as part of this training I had my own coaching sessions.  My coach helped me to recognize my self critical thinking and to take gradual steps to begin to be kinder to myself.  I believe this had the most profound of any of the things I did to aid my recovery.

Sometimes it’s the emotional aspects that we are most troubled by.  We may have been someone who rarely cried or expressed our emotions but the impact of cancer has shaken us to our core and tears erupt at unexpected moments making us fearful of going out.  If we are able to accept this as an important and ‘normal’ part of our experience then these emotions whenever they arise will pass leaving us a little calmer.  However the more we fight to stuff them down the more they will plague us leave us tense and anxious and cautious of mixing with other people.  Through coaching it became evident that I struggled to allow myself to express my feelings fully.  I found that mindfulness meditation helped me really understand that avoidance didn’t work.  With regular mindfulness over time I really recognized the value and ease of allowing my feelings to come and to go.

Spiritually we are very likely to be changed by an experience that threatens our very existence.  Spirituality is something many of us feel is important and yet it’s often difficult to know what we or others mean by the word.  Essentially I think it helps to think of it as our connections in the world.  For some it’s religion, for others nature, mystery, or the universe, it may be connection with other creatures, or with music or art.  Whichever of these applies to us, it is about what really matters to us.  It is important to spend some time reflecting on this and looking at how we can live more in a way that honours the things that matter to us and working with a coach can be very valuable in this process.

Dr Jo Lee, Cancer Survivor, GP, Life Coach & Trainer and Co-founder of LYLAC: Live Your Life After Cancer,