After treatment : Diving gracefully into the new normal

Thursday 30 April 2020

Diving gracefully into the new normal  


This Blog from Lesley Maggie's Lead Psychologist  will be of particular interest to you if you have recently finished  or are near to the end of treatment.  It focuses on that transition period from being immersed in hospital appointments and treatments to  trying to find your new normal  - a time that many people find overwhelming  and confusing. The transcript is adapted from a session that Lesley usually  gives face to face in  Maggie's Dundee.

Find yourself a quiet space  and allow yourself some time  to read through  the  blog  and to try the exercises within it.  There are four sections each with a suggestion of how to  manage that transition.  Thesea re then followed by a meditation exercise.  You may want to try each  of the four section separately, to  allow yourself more time to focus on each one and then come back  and try the next one. 

Over to Lesley.....


Rather than tumble into the session, let’s pause to arrive, settle our minds, ready to reflect and refresh so drop down into your body and gather your awareness around the breath, following its natural movement, not trying to change this in any way, just being interested, being curious. The breath is always there as an anchor, where so much come back to when our mind wants to sweep us away.

Diving Gracefully into a New Normal 

When You’re Falling, Dive” is a title of a book on acceptance, freedom and possibility by the gifted meditation teacher, Cheri Heuber, 

Such a powerful image. transforming a terrifying tumble into a graceful drive but it’s not easy.

Many people say that the transition from being fully immersed in cancer treatment with a steady reassuring attention of your healthcare team to taking back responsibility for your life is surprisingly bewildering.

A terrifying tumble back into life but not the life you recognised from before cancer but a life that you have to accept as your new normal and diving gracefully into this new normal is challenging.

Turning a fall into a dive is not passive resignation or giving in. It’s about being willing to accept reality as it is for now and being open to it, adapt to it investing energy and seeing possibility and opportunity rather than exhausting yourself fighting against change or yearning to be exactly the person you were before the cancer happened.

How to dive gracefully?

Here are four suggestions for diving gracefully. They’re not always easy but they been used successfully by many people I know through my work as a psychologist who have had cancer or are living with cancer.

1. Turn towards and name the change.

Pause, turn towards and gently at your own pace, not all at once, identify and name the changes, positive or negative, in your body, emotions, priorities, relationships, work, money and the future you assumed for yourself.

Turning towards and naming last disappointment and pain with change is not easy for any of us. We naturally turn away or become caught up in ‘what ifs’ and ‘maybes’ so it’s recommended that you do this exercise in conversation with someone you trust or in a group of people going through some of their experiences.

Simply naming the change helps make it feel more manageable and with the help of others, it’s often easier to see your strengths and make best use of your natural resilience.

It’s also important whilst turning towards and naming difficult changes that you offer yourself compassion. 

This may seem like a strange concept even indulgent but self-compassion simply means treating yourself in the same way you would a loved one who is struggling by being encouraging, creative and kind and do not lose sight of what has stayed the same following your cancer treatment and perhaps even more importantly notice whether any aspects of your life have improved.

Post-traumatic growth as a concept is debated by psychologist. However, many people following cancer treatment say that they have grown through the experience. They have fresh perspective on life and a renewed sense of purpose.

2. Be open to new ideas and possibilities.

Throughout our life, we invest time and energy in developing as a person.

Frequently, we allow our identity and self-worth to be defined by our job or family role, a circle of friends, our standing in the community, our health and our achievements.

This is normal and important to our sense of fulfilment as a human being. However, problems arise when life brings unexpected change like cancer and we react by clinging too tightly to our previous self …believing it to be the only one of value and so we risk becoming overwhelmed by loss, anger and frustration and also self-doubt.

Where possible, be open to change with patience and curiosity rather than fear and in this way, you will see choice, doorways that remain open and indeed new ones that have arrived.

This excerpt from Roger Keyes’ poem "Hokusai Says" is a reminder that change actually brings the opportunity to become more the person you prefer to be. The poem reminds us to be open to change with patience and curiosity rather than fear. In this way, you will see choice, doorways that remain open or new ones that arrive.

Hokusai says look carefully.

He says pay attention, notice.

He says keep looking, stay curious.

Hokusai says there is no end to seeing.

He says look forward to getting old.

He says keep changing, you just get more who you really are.

He says get stuck, accept it, repeat yourself as long as it’s interesting.

He says keep doing what you love.

3. Use your values as a compass in this new normal. 

Your values are what defines you, the things that matter to you, the way that you prefer to be as a person.

Using your values as a compass means listening to what’s important to you and choosing to act accordingly but it can take a bit of detective work to figure out what you do stand for, what are your values.

Russ Harris in this book “The Confidence Gap” offers us exercise called the mind reading machine and it might be worth just taking this moment to actually reflect on it. So, imagine that you have invented an amazing device that enables you to read the mind of anybody on the planet.

You hop on and turn the dial. Suddenly, a picture appears on the screen. It’s the image of someone who’s very important to you in your life, in your life domain of love and relationships, and just pause for moment and conjure up an image of this person.

Now, pulling the lever, suddenly you can find that you’re reading the person’s mind who may just happen to be thinking abut you.

They’re thinking about your character about what sort of personal strengths and qualities you have and what you mean to them and the role that you have played in their lives.

They’re not thinking about the goals you’ve achieved.

They’re thinking about the sort of person you are and what you stand for in your life and so imagine if your dreams could come true then what would you love to hear that this person is thinking.

Please note that this is an exercise and imagination, to help you uncover your values. You’re not trying to realistically predict exactly what this person would be truly thinking about you.

You’re simply imaging what you’d love them to be thinking if mind reading magic could happen. So, close your eyes or fix them a spot and take a couple of minutes to imagine the scenario.

What would you love them to be thinking about you? And then write down a few words about what you’ve imagined.

Then choose someone else who’s important in your life domain of work, and someone for the domain of play, they then pop up on the screen and you do the same exercise again.

Then your body pops up on the screen and you hear its thoughts about how you treat it, what you do for it and how you look after it. If dreams could come true, what would you hear your body thinking and now write down a few words.

In this way, by imagining the few people and your body, it allows you to just gather together and start to reconnect with your values and these values play a key role in helping you to decide what you want to do in this new normal, how you want to be the person that matters to you and how you want to do what matters in your life for the people around you.

Your values can help you with small everyday moment-by-moment decisions but also about decisions in terms of new directions you may wish to take following your cancer.

It may be that you decide to take early retirement and train as a yoga teacher ….and this definitely has happened…. or it may simply be that you cannot be the rough and tumble grandpa that you used to be but you still want to be that fun-loving grandpa for your grandchildren but you have to choose different ways of doing it perhaps less rigorous and physical but still enjoyable for those grandchildren that you love.

Many people identify their values as generosity or friendship, kindness, caring, compassion, adventure. In the new normal, you can still serve these values, you can still be that sort of person but you may have to do it differently so you do have to give yourself some space for some sadness and that you’re having to make this decision to do it differently.

4. Use your values to truly commit yourself to doing the things that matter to you and being the person that matters to you. 

Here is a lovely metaphor taught to me by the well known mindfulness teacher and co founder of Breathworks, Vidymala Burch ….it helps inspire you to find the courage to really live your values even though you may have to do it slightly differently given physical, emotional and work related and financial changes in your life. Its called the lampshade metaphor.

Imagine that you are a lampshade, and the pattern on the lampshade is very intricate, unusual and unique to you.

As if the interwoven pattern are our values and intentions, our qualities,

and with this new normal rather than turn down the light inside of that lampshade,

open towards the new normal by turning up the light, illuminating your intricate pattern of values more brightly.

It may not be the pattern that you prefer, but nonetheless, it is unique and still of value and turning up the light means you are illuminated more brightly and you are actively

doing the things that matter to you once again. Rather than shying away, you’re walking forwards by deciding, “Right, well, okay this is my life. What am I gonna do with it? How can I still be me despite perhaps continuing physical problems or fears that my cancer may return?

And to bring the session to a close: a meditation

The meditation that we’re going to do is a very traditional one from Jon Kabet Zin called mountain meditation which helps you to feel secure and grounded in yourself rather than feeling swept away by fears around the new normal, possibly fears of recurrence and feeling of isolation from others who are celebrating that you’re cancer treatment is over whereas you’re feeling very bewildered about the future.

The meditation last about 16 minutes   Mountain medicine meditation

Get cancer support near you

To find your nearest Maggie's centre, enter your postcode or town below.

Sign up for our newsletter

Stay up to date with our news and fundraising by signing up for our newsletter.

Sign up