Before I was diagnosed, I had my share of illnesses. Fortunately many of them were the routine stuff that most people tend to get from time to time; and most did not stop me getting on with whatever needed doing.
I served in the military from aged 16 until 45….. a long time! On only two occasions during that 29 year period, did I involuntary visit a hospital: aged 16 having been knocked out at boxing (you should have seen the other guy 🙂 ) and aged 39 after falling off a vehicle (in my defence it was really dark!). Illness wasn’t really something I thought much about and for minor things, I would just “soldier on”. From an early age, I truly believed a ‘poker face’ was necessary for ‘street cred’.
Old habits die hard
Even out of the military environment, I adopted the same attitude, the ‘mission’ comes first and my health second. A few ‘civilians’ once suggested I go home after coughing, sniffing and sneezing my way through a day in the office. I responded in the only way I knew by saying I would only be leaving the office early on a stretcher having lost consciousness. To get them off my back, I made sure there was no hint of banter or joviality in my statement. This tactic didn’t really work and they laughed at something they perceived as a joke. However, little did they know, I was deadly serious…….. little did I know, my ‘gung ho’ attitude and ‘poker face’ were to become seriously deadly.
Old habits still die hard
Then in 2010, along came Cancer. For a couple of years before the diagnosis, I had not been sufficiently focussed on my health and ‘soldiered on’. Even leading up to the diagnosis, I was dismissive, refusing to acknowledge this was a threat. You can hear me discuss these feelings in a video clip – click here to watch.
OK, I had to have surgery (etc) but apart from that I basically marched on. However, as the effects of cancer and it’s treatment had started to bite, I accelerated my learning including how the disease might affect me in the future. This knowledge has enabled me to manage risk and make better assessment/decisions about seeking help. But it took a while and gradually over a period of 3 years, I shifted the focus from work to health.
It’s not been easy to learn how to live with my incurable disease. My stiff upper lip combined with an appetite for work didn’t really help in the end. In 2013 (circa 3 years after diagnosis), I finally found the time to work on the reasons for fatigue and many other symptoms – I worked on those and made some really good improvements. I still have issues but my cards are no longer close to my chest, they’re now on the table, particularly when speaking to doctors and close family. However, my poker face is still there, it’s just more relaxed.
Poker face or the ‘cancer card’
“It’s the cancer” can sometimes be the easy excuse to not do stuff. I can play the ‘cancer card’ as well as the next person and it will ‘trump’ all others! I also understand that motivation can be difficult with a chronic illness. However, I don’t want to fall into the trap of doing nothing all the time – as far as I’m concerned, that’s not a good outcome. Consequently, I try not to use the metaphorical ‘cancer card’ too much. In fact, I sometimes even say ‘I can‘ when I actually feel like playing the trump card. I’m nearly always glad I did.
Just my way of coping. How about you?
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