Cancer awareness months may trigger mixed emotions for some cancer survivors. While awareness-related events, news stories, and social media posts can increase support for cancer research, they can also be overwhelming for some people still grappling with the aftermath of their diagnosis and treatment.
Today, Alice-May Purkiss explores some bittersweet emotions that may arise during cancer awareness months. She also offers four coping strategies if the news and social media coverage become too much.
From “Hangover Day” on the 1st of January (you can guess where that got its origins) to “Don’t Step on a Bee Day” (the 10th of July, if you were wondering), there are more awareness days and celebration days than ever before. But what if some days feel a little less light-hearted than others? Cancer awareness days and months can bring mixed feelings to the surface for those who’ve been through this illness.
Every month seems to have a cancer ribbon attached to it. Some are more prevalent than others, and some take precedence over others in the media. Still, there’s always a faint hum of “awareness” across the year. Whatever type of cancer you’ve had, you’ll no doubt know when “your” month is.
In so many ways, it’s great. More awareness means more people knowing about signs and symptoms, hopefully leading to more early diagnoses and lives saved. More awareness also means more money raised and more research that may lead to better and kinder treatments. Obviously brilliant!
For those living with cancer, though, or those who’ve had treatment in the past, public “awareness days” can take their toll. We’re all too aware already. Often we’re asked to participate in campaigns to support charities and organizations doing this brilliant awareness-raising work.
So, how do we balance “taking care of ourselves” and “championing the causes we care about”?
There’s no doubt that your exposure to cancer stories will go up during awareness months. During “Breast Cancer Awareness Month,” my Instagram is awash with people sharing their stories as brands, charities, and organizations do their bit. As someone who’s had breast cancer, it can become overwhelming.
If you find yourself in the same boat, either in October when it’s BCAM (“Breast Cancer Awareness Month” is so well-known now it’s even well-known by an acronym) or during any other awareness month, limit how much time you spend on social media or looking at the news.
It’s a small thing, but unexpected stories cropping up on your timeline can be triggering, and you need to protect your peace.
So, when going online, be purposeful about your media consumption. Remind yourself that you’re likely to encounter some stories about your type of cancer before you log into social media.
Ask yourself, are you in the right headspace for that right now? If you come across a story about someone who died from the disease, do you have the emotional capacity to deal with that?
If the answer is no, put your phone down and do something else. This is an excellent example of using mindfulness when consuming content, and it can go a long way when protecting your emotional and mental well-being.
Resilience relates to our capacity to cope with stress and our ability to bounce back after disruptions - such as when we’re triggered by the stories or campaigns we see during awareness months.
Resilience is crucial when living life beyond a cancer diagnosis. We can build our resilience by making meaningful connections with others and savoring positive experiences. If you feel like your resilience is low and you know you’re more likely to get wobbly around specific times of the year because of what’s going on externally, think about spending time with the people you love. Reflect on the things you’ve done that have made you feel good and the times you’ve felt have been the most meaningful in your life.
The more we do this, the more resilient we become and the more we’re able to cope with things that may feel tricky.
Knowing when to say “no” can be complicated, especially if you feel like something is for the “greater good.” If you’re asked to do something for an awareness month, and you’re unsure if it’s right for you or if it will impact your emotional well-being, remember that “no” is a complete sentence. You deserve to have boundaries in place so you can thrive.
Around BCAM, people often want breast cancer survivors to take their tops off and show their scars. Some people are happy to do that. I was glad to do that for a while. I’m not now. That’s a hard boundary for me.
Figure out what your boundaries are and stick to them. Don’t do anything you’re uncomfortable with just because a charity is doing the asking.
Ultimately, trust that you know what you need to protect yourself. That might be time away from social media. It might be more time with your family. It might be therapy or a whole month off the internet. There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging that these awareness months can be tricky when you’ve lived through a trauma attached to them. Do whatever you need to do to get through the month.
That way, you’ll be fully prepared to celebrate “National Rubber Ducky Day” when it comes around on the 13th of January.
The information presented is solely for educational purposes, not as specific advice for the evaluation, management, or treatment of any condition.
The individual(s) who have written and created the content in and whose images appear in this article have been paid by Teva Pharmaceuticals for their contributions. This content represents the opinions of the contributor and does not necessarily reflect those of Teva Pharmaceuticals. Similarly, Teva Pharmaceuticals does not review, control, influence or endorse any content related to the contributor's websites or social media networks. This content is intended for informational and educational purposes and should not be considered medical advice or recommendations. Consult a qualified medical professional for diagnosis and before beginning or changing any treatment regimen.
NPS-ALL-NP-1059 AUGUST 2023