Quite a few people on the Brain Tumour Charity Facebook group have asked me how I have been so cheerful through the whole journey from diagnosis to recovery of my brain tumours; so I thought I would share how I approached the situation. I think most people on the group have benefited from the thoughts and advice of fellow ‘Warriors’ (as we call ourselves) and I hope my experience might help someone whatever situation you find yourself in.
At the risk of a collective groan, what helped my family and I was discovering ‘Stoicism’ or more accurately being led to it by our eldest daughter, Rebecca.
I would describe Stoicism’s philosophy as “bad stuff happens, how are you going to handle it? As a victim of circumstances or master of your destiny?”. Very much my words not the Stoics but I think it sums it up for me.
In essence Stoics don’t focus on what they cannot change, that’s where frustration and sadness come from. They turn the negative around by finding something no matter how small in the circumstances that they can control, giving a sense of being in control, whilst accepting that we cannot control everything. You can only control how you react to events.
The key thing is ‘Gratitude’, gratitude for the wins, no matter how small.
In the case of brain tumour sufferers and our collective situations; we none of us deserve, caused or wanted our tumours, but here they are. That’s the bit we can’t control but how we approach the journey ahead is in our control. We can and will weep but then we need to sit back and think OK, what about this can I improve, what can I not change.
The things you cannot change become in a way irrelevant as you will be along for the ride with them.
Once we figure out what we can affect, that is our ‘must do’ list and from where we derive our gratitude and “you can hurt me but never beat me” attitude. For those amongst us who know that physically the tumours will shorten their lives, the focus is to deny the enemy victory over your mind, to find joy in the life you have and the life that you’ve had and not dwell on the end. If your life is already being stolen by your tumour don’t reward it by giving it more of your precious time!
I love this quote from Dr. Suess;
“Don’t cry Because it’s over, SMILE because it happened”
Lots of us are left dealing with punishing symptoms even after the tumour has gone or been reduced, like my Glioma, which can never be fully removed, so every day carries the risk of being the day it fights back. Through Stoic thinking though, I refuse to give any control to my tumour. If it fights, I fight, but I am not giving up a single second of my precious time to my tumour until I need to act.
Let’s say you came into this a runner like me but afterwards you find you cannot run but you loved being out and about, you loved your freedom.
A stoic will think
‘OK, I can’t run, can I change this? No.
Can I walk far? No.
Right I’m getting a mobility scooter!
OK, I confess, this is me. As it happens there is now no reason that I will not be able to run again but not for a long while and I have been advised that walking any distance will be a long way off but I refused to miss out. £300 later I have a used bright red mobility scooter with alloy wheels!
It makes me laugh that I have it, smile that I bought it and excited because as I write I can barely make the front door, but the scooter is at the front door which means that I can go 10 miles through the beautiful Harrogate scenery. Or I could sit at home and sulk about running….no thanks.
My last car was a beautiful big Kia plug-in hybrid Optima Sportswagon, big, sturdy with massive wheels, but I don’t mourn for a machine, I laugh at the ludicrous contrast with the 4” alloy wheels on my scooter and its breath taking 4mph top speed, it is a regular source of giggles and joy!
So why did I need Stoicism?
Before my diagnosis we had moved in with my elderly mother-in-law who amongst other things has rapidly developing dementia. Life became extremely stressful, a depressing daily grind and on top of this, COVID19 happened and prevented us from being in New Zealand for the birth of our grandkids.
Some of you might have read my first ‘self-help’ (literally helping myself) blog which is called ‘Notes from a Care Home’ detailing some of the problems of living with Mum in law through humour. When my diagnosis came through my priorities changed of course.
It was stoic thinking that kept me going and really led to me blogging. I was going to try journaling but thought that if I shared my experience, someone else might be helped too.
Whatever I have to sacrifice to get the most time with my family is a win, and if I lose abilities along the way through no action on my part, they are small losses compared to the big win of life with my loved ones!
Stoicism has been around for about 2,000 years and was created by the Greeks and developed by the Romans. My introduction and ‘go to’ is a book by a guy called Ryan Holiday, called ‘The Daily Stoic’ and he also has a daily stoic podcast. The book has just one page for each day of the year with a quote from a famous Stoic and then a modern spin on the theme of it. It takes up almost no time each day, we are not talking about some big deal learning effort (although you might soon find that you want to know more) but builds you up in very tiny chunks.
My daughter bought us our copy and we in turn recently sent a copy to friends going through a family crisis and who are now using the book daily to help themselves through tough times.
It is a frustrating fantasy to think that we can control everything through sheer determination or willpower, the universe does not work that way. As individuals we cannot stop the random cruelty of our circumstances, but with Stoic thinking, it is a certainty that you can control how you think and react to these circumstances. How happy your life is, will be back in your hands.
I hope that this might help, it worked and continues to work for me and firmly cemented a ‘Glass Half Full’ mentality in me.
The Brain Tumour charity has been a great help to me since my diagnosis. They have a podcast which is always of interest to people with tumours and their families and also have the ‘Brian App’ ( yep that is spelt correctly, it is ‘Brian’) which offers advice and the ability to track your symptoms, appointments and treatments.
My Brainstem Playlist.
Since my diagnosis I have found myself looking at life differently including reflecting on my past life. Music has always been important to me so I decided to put together a playlist that includes songs that I love, songs that remind me of places and times in my life, and tracks that I have discovered more recently that help me to keep positive. I hope it’s something that you might enjoy too and always play in ‘Shuffle’ mode.