By Jennifer Ryan
The past two months since our world has come to a standstill due to a global health pandemic have been jam-packed with intense emotions, from immense sadness to pure joy and everything in between. I feel as a cancer survivor, those emotions were certainly magnified for me, but on the more positive end of the spectrum.
YACC has equipped me with a generous toolbox of strategies to combat the similar array of emotions a cancer diagnosis tends to accompany. I have chosen to dig into this toolbox to help me cope during this pandemic as I navigate delayed cancer care, learning how to become a virtual teacher, home-schooling my school-aged children, caring for a baby and preschooler, supporting my husband’s career, housework, and my own mental health. A few tools that have been particularly helpful to me during this time are practicing mindfulness, building connection, gratitude and self-care.
I have been interested in the practice of mindfulness since I was introduced to it during the Survivor Conference 2017, however I didn’t fully commit to practicing it until this past year.
Mindfulness isn’t easy. I found it very challenging to quiet my mind but it is truly a skill that I have become better at with practice. I am so grateful to have this skill amongst others to choose from throughout this uncertain time, and meditation apps have been extremely helpful while I dealt with a wave of insomnia since the beginning of March.
Connection is the backbone of YACC, in my opinion. Most of my YACC peers have expressed a feeling of isolation once they are first diagnosed and before they connect with YACC. It’s human nature to want to connect with people you have things in common with, and that’s a big part of why these last two months have been so incredibly difficult for a lot of us. We have been challenged to come up with ways to connect while apart and it’s been exciting watching all the creative ways people are doing this.
I have been happy to be able to continue to exercise virtually with the same group of people I exercised with before the pandemic. I look forward to these sessions to see familiar faces and also the opportunity to move my body. It’s a time just for me and helps clear my mind. I have also played virtual games with friends, reached out to long-time friends who I haven’t been great at keeping in touch with and mostly have spent a lot of time building my relationships with my immediate family. As much as the internet has helped keep us connected, I know I am very fortunate to have my big family under one roof and we will never have another opportunity like this to play and learn together as much as we have.
We all have things to be grateful for in our lives if you take the time to look. For myself, I do not have to look far, but this is not the case for a lot of people. It’s certainly a mindset shift to embrace gratitude while also not diminishing the challenging experiences we have to face. In my own experience, the hard days make me so grateful for the good ones.
I had been feeling a lot more energy a couple weeks ago and was able to get my exercise and/or walks in daily. This past week was a different story. My body is unpredictable and every day this week, my bones and joints ached, I felt fatigue from the time I opened my eyes until I closed them. I tried to push myself but eventually gave in and gave my body a well needed rest.
I do at times get down about this cycle my body tends to follow but more often I wait for the good days and cherish them fully as I never know how long it will last.
Self-care is a word I associated with guilt for many years. I’m not sure if it began when I became a mom or not, but it’s been a process to learn how to express what I need for myself and to make it happen.
My husband and I joke about Survivor Conference 2019 serving as a honeymoon for us. To have an entire weekend to engage in conversations and take in sessions surrounding what we needed and what we wanted was so foreign to our lifestyle. Like many parents, our lives had started to revolve around our children night and day. We had lost sight of what we needed on an individual level.
During this pandemic, we have become much better at acknowledging when we each need time to take care of ourselves. I know I am a better mom and wife when I have time to exercise or time alone to read a book. I also acknowledge when my husband could use a break, some time to play music, or just quiet time.
Self-care is no longer associated with guilt. I am hopeful that our children are learning the importance of self-care through our modelling and carry it into their lives as well.
I am so grateful to have found YACC in my early days after my cancer diagnosis. While I didn’t know it at the time, it has contributed immensely to my overall wellbeing since my diagnosis and has given me invaluable tools to not only survive this pandemic but thrive throughout it.
Thank you for being such an incredible organization for so many young adults throughout Canada.