When people ask me whether I find it hard working with people affected by cancer, I smile.
How can I find it hard when I am inspired by them every day?
How can I find it hard when we are all part of the same team?
‘Friends that have been together for a decade or a day, but are loyal, loving, honest, and fun-loving. The Tribe is made of people that you expect to grow old together with, and by sharing amazing experiences..’
- Urban Dictionary
I have had three breast cancer diagnosis in the last eleven years and can honestly say that the various groups of people who I have had around me have been an incredibly special tribe without who surviving cancer would have been possible.
Cancer has given me a huge purpose. It has become a part of my life, but for the better. Not only have I beaten it more than once, but I decided to use my experiences to support others and build a tribe, a real community of incredible survivors, to illustrate there can be life after fighting this disease.
When we are faced with adversity and we inadvertently discover our own strength and courage, we can feel a natural sense of duty to give something back. We have a tendency to ride a wave of virtue and hero like status but, after being diagnosed with clinical depression after my first diagnosis and then Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after my second, I gradually began to realise that my mental state was suffering more than my body, post cancer and yet, there was no one there who could relate and I felt utterly lonely and vulnerable. So, if the mountain will not come to Muhammad, then Muhammad must go to the mountain!
I have spoken to far too many patients and survivors who, after reaching the milestone of the end of treatment, and feeling incredibly supported by friends and family, have then suddenly felt winded and low, appreciating the lack of structure, support and motivation as they adjust to life again and take those steps forward.
After a life changing event like this, it is natural to want to be more proactive and change certain aspects of our lifestyle, but today, you hit the Search button on Google and wham! You feel overwhelmed and daunted and retreat to your bed, like a defeated soldier running for cover! It can feel disheartening and frustrating.
What can we do to help ease this sense of uncovering a new identity? Who is this amazing person who has just gone through that horrid time? Why don't I feel amazing?
There is a new landscape to familiarise ourselves with. Where do I want to be now?
There is a need for time to process and heal. What does my body need now? What makes me feel good emotionally?
While all about us, friends and family want so desperately to help us get back to ‘normal’, we sit and contemplate what normal even is!
I set up the Samspace website to firstly offer a resource for patients finishing treatment and offer a safety net for them as they moved away from physical treatment and began to readjust and nurture the new self-awareness that can wash over us.
Then, as this tribe grew and the after cancer awareness became a more highly regarded area, I set up A Daily Space to offer a strong online and virtual community of wellbeing professionals as well as other survivors, so we had something viable to tap into as and when we needed it.
Recovery is a hugely personal time. There are days we want to hide from the world. Days when we want to forget it ever happened and days when we want to shout and scream while others we simply want to celebrate the amazing thing that is life and proclaim our never ending gratitude!
But wouldn’t it be reassuring, knowing that there were others out there who totally got that and could be there to offer you positive words of encouragement when you wanted them, silent support when you needed it and could join you in celebrating those days you wanted to jump for joy?