by Martha Van Dam

The diagnosis is overwhelming enough, and then you find yourself suddenly needing to learn a whole new language and having to make decisions about your care and treatment when you don’t feel as though you have enough information to understand your options, much less make those decisions!

Whether your cancer experience is new to you or if you have been at this a long time, you will find that one of the overwhelming pieces of the IBC experience is the mental load that often comes from having to learn about this completely foreign subject and having to make so many life altering decisions while at the same time, facing and dealing with the emotional upheavals that IBC brings. It’s enough to make you feel like you’re losing your mind!

So, how do you manage it all while maintaining your sanity???

One of the quickest and easiest things we can do to help us work through each of the worries that come up with the IBC treatment journey is to continually ask ourselves…is this a problem-solving issue or a peace of mind issue?

Yes, most of the problems we find ourselves facing contain elements of both, but it can be incredibly helpful to determine which you are working on at any given time so that you can throw all of your resources into the situation you are actually working in that moment.

Maybe this personal example of when I did not initially manage this well will help it be more clear:

My initial appointment with the surgeon who was going to perform my mastectomy had to be postponed because my last chemo also had to be postponed due to a low neutrophil count and she wouldn’t see me until my chemo was finished. I had worked very hard to maintain my private psychotherapy practice, so when there was a change of schedule, that meant I would need to reschedule clients, which I always hate to do to them.

After all of this rescheduling and then meeting with the surgeon and scheduling surgery, I received a call from the surgeon’s office, informing me they had changed the surgery date, which…you guessed it…meant I had to reschedule all of my clients again as well.

In the context of life and death cancer treatment, rescheduling clients might not seem like such a big deal, but it was the push that sent me over an edge.

From this example, you can see the tangible issue was the challenge of rescheduling clients (which, in reality and under the circumstances wasn’t that big of a deal) but the mindset piece was the fact that rescheduling all those clients again “felt” insurmountable. It triggered my fear that I wasn’t going to be able to save my business. Add to that, the fact that I feel a great obligation not to add extra stress to clients who are already having trouble, and you can see how that mess of emotion became a tidal wave. You can also see how my mindset was completely running the show…believe me…there was a sizeable meltdown that really didn’t make sense in the moment.  My poor mother who had to witness the implosion!

So, before I could begin to pick up the phone and get to the task of problem-solving, what was massively important was that I dealt with the emotional piece FIRST. For me, and in that moment, I needed a good cry, something to eat, a laugh with my mom, and I was ready to get those calls done.

Not every mindset change comes as quickly, but the pattern of *accepting, *grieving, *giving ourselves care, *changing focus for a moment, then *problem solving, will go a long way to working through the seemingly-endless challenges you are facing.

So, as you move forward, either in treatment or in navigating your life with the changes IBC has brought to you, I would suggest you add in a little question to your mind when you find yourself feeling overwhelmed:

  • Am I dealing with a problem that needs problem-solving right now or
  • Does my mind-set need some gentle nurturing first?

Then, take that deep breath and address whatever mindset pieces are tripping you up first. Be sure to open yourself to help from others, both as you take care of your heart and mind and as you sit down to problem-solve.

IBC brings with it so many fears to face and upsets so many aspects of our lives that if we are not careful, those fears and upsetting worries can completely take over…and we really do not want that.

Most likely, you will find that the problem-solving pieces of your situation have solid and creative solutions and even if you don’t see those answers straight away, they will be easier to find when your mind is in a more settled place.

So, the ending moral to this story is, there will be many difficult challenges to face and many decisions you will need to make. Caring for the health of your mind will go a long way to helping you through this journey. Please take the time to do that first!

*Watch for the next edition of “Walking on Quicksand” where I will include suggestions for creating your own Mental First-Aid Toolkit.

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