Cancer: How To Lose Friends And Stop Influencing People
Musing about feeling comfortable in my isolation ...
POSTED BY STEFFI LEWIS ON 24/08/2015 @ 8:00AM
My fight with cancer scared me to the core. It was the visions of lying in a hospital bed taking my last agonising breath whilst full of morphine and regret that did it for me. Seriously, who wants to experience something like that?
Once you're physically recovered and are back to work, Cancer can leave you with some interesting long-term side effects that can really affect your life.
Every cancer patient in the world is terrified that a similar scenario will happen to them. And every cancer survivor is terrified it still may happen. How long have I got left? Will it return somewhere else in my body? Do I have the strength to go through it again (and possibly again and again)?
"Wait, what was that pain?"
We may bury it behind a smile and an outgoing, happy demeanour, but look deep into our eyes and you will see that pure terror, hanging over us like the Sword Of Damocles, just waiting to drop. We never know if and when it will.
My own experience with that dreaded disease very nearly destroyed me. A late diagnosis, multiple Chemotherapy sessions and enough radiation to land me in hospital with a neck burned to a crisp from the inside out, makes me shudder each time I think about it.
I said in a previous blog post that I sat on the end of my bed one afternoon and just cried at what I saw looking back from the mirror. A grey, ashen, semi-transparent, completely bald androgynous blob with a mix of complete shock, confusion and fear in her eyes and tears rolling down her cheeks.
"I felt that everything that defined me had been stripped away by this terrible disease!"
At my lowest point, toward the end of January 2015, all I could pretty much do was sleep, vomit and chug Oramorph for the pain. I managed to keep editing blog posts for my clients each morning, but then I was done for the day and only just had enough energy to crawl from my office to my bed and cry myself to sleep.
Did you know I was considering ending it all in January? I'd visited my angel girl Kirsty one night for some company and (she told me recently) when I left, she prayed for some help for me as she knew I was about to give up. I really was at my lowest point and didn't feel I could go on.
I guess it sounds a little strange, but I was visualising my own funeral, hoping for a good turnout and the odd shed tear as my coffin moved behind the curtains. I hadn't got to the planning my own death stage and looking back, I'm quite glad about that.
"Help arrived on that dark, bitterly cold, winter's night in the form of Gimley!"
He was a lost kitten, no more than 8 weeks old, who I found under my car crying for his mother. I still have no idea where he came from, but I do know he wouldn't have survived the night out there on his own, and he gave me something to live for. This little lost orphan boy needed my help more than I needed my sorrows. My compassion kicked in and I knew I had to keep him safe.
8 months on and he’s a happy, growing boy with the longest tail I've ever seen, a love for catching the local birds and a purr so loud it can wake me up at night when he snuggles with me on the bed. I'm so proud of my little monkey, or ‘smelly poo face’ as his big sister Willow would call him.
"Yet, despite feeling healthier than I have in years, there are still some side effects from Cancer that affect my life!"
One of the biggest issues any self-employed or small business owner will face following an extended fight with Cancer is a knock-on effect on their finances. It may take months for it to cascade through, but it seems the usual 'come and go' flow of clients skews to one side and we lose more than we gain and spiral into the red.
It’s happened to me and it’s happened to many other entrepreneurs I've spoken to who've fought the good fight. We think it's because people have 'lost confidence' in us being around long term and wonder if we're a good investment.
But we all agree that despite the mountain of bills and threatening letters from suppliers, it’s only a temporary thing and some good old-fashioned focus, determination and hard work will get things moving again putting us back into the black.
"It may take a while to financially recover, but we'll get there!"
However, there is a side effect worse that the all financial issues we endure. That is the isolation we put ourselves under following treatment and our subsequent recovery and it's almost impossible to get out of it.
We simply get comfortable with being alone and withdraw from our social lives, only letting our closest friends in … and then only when it suits us. It doesn't happen to every cancer survivor, but it has happened to a lot of those I've spoken too.
I've thought about the reasons a lot and can't really put my finger on it, but I do know it’s not a weakness or vulnerability, it’s a super strong defence mechanism designed to give us time to heal on the inside.
Our shields go up and we get so comfortable in our protective shell that it becomes our norm ... we never step down from Red Alert and we never drop those shields.
In the business world, it can have a really damaging effect. We network less, we meet up with clients less and follow up with prospects less. We simply find it difficult to connect anymore.
I've had a few one-2-ones recently and felt very uncomfortable and self-conscious the whole time. I also did a 20-minute talk about my Cancer journey at a networking event last month. That was Ok because the audience were sitting 10 feet away from me, but I felt so awkward being around so many people that I had a small panic attack afterwards on the way home.
I do believe that our business withdrawal contributes to the ongoing financial issues we suffer - and it only gets worse and worse over time - so me being me, knowing it needs to be sorted out, have been upgrading my platform and strengthening my products during the quiet months of summer, giving myself a deadline of the beginning of September to face my fears and get out there again.
Oh, and one final thing: I need to put my hand up and apologise to my friends and business contacts for withdrawing from you all these past few months. Hand on heart ... I'm sorry.
When you see me on Facebook, you may feel everything is great in my world and as long as I stay in my solitude then it is good yes, but remember what you see on Facebook is never the real deal is it? Everyone tends to hide the bad and promote the good that's going on in our lives.
"So, my name is Steffi Lewis and I'm terrified of being around people right now!"
If you haven't seen me for a while and are wondering if maybe I don't want to be friends with you anymore (and the same goes for my business contacts too!) please do get in touch and there’s an open invitation to come up to my lovely little cottage in the countryside and have a natter.
I may not be able to afford much right now, but I do have tea, coffee, milk, sugar and sweeteners and any gifts of cake and biscuits for us to munch on would be greatly received. I really would love to see you again.
Cancer; the gift that keeps on giving *pfft*
Love, light and logic ...
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More about Steffi Lewis ...
Foodie, sci-fi nut, cat lover, brain aneurysm & cancer survivor, countryside dweller, SaaS entrepreneur, developer and networker.
I've also worked as a professional photographer in Los Angeles, USA and been a vision mixer and producer for live television in my time.
I live in a village north of Milton Keynes with my two cats, Baggins and Gimley, and a large planted aquarium full of unruly tropical fish.