For many people being told that they have cancer is one of
the most stressful times in their lives. Just as we think we
have everything under control, something comes along that
can shatter even the strongest of wills.
Out of the blue, in September 2002, Sara faced one of the
biggest challenges of her life - her mother was diagnosed
with breast cancer. Having nursed her mother through her
illness, Sara took the step of having a mammogram just to
make sure she herself was clear. All over Christmas she
tried to put it to the back of her mind, but she couldn't
On New Year's Eve 2002, she was horrified to learn that not
only did she have breast cancer, but that it was a
particularly aggressive form. Of course, Sara was very angry
at first. She thought, Why me? It would have been better if
I hadn't gone for a mammogram. She was also very scared.
She said, When someone says, You have cancer, you
immediately think you're going to die. I have to wait six
weeks before my surgery and I have no idea how I will stay
sane until then. What on earth am I going to do?"
After a few very bleak days, Sara decided she was determined
not to give in too easily. Her mother had, after all, fought
the disease, so she, too, could do the same. When she was
calm enough to answer her question What on earth am I going
to do? several answers came to her, as she was walking her
Find out as much as possible about breast cancer.
Talk to other people who have faced similar situations.
Be realistic about what she could change and what she needed
When Sara opened her eyes and started to believe that she
had choices, she was amazed at the different ideas that
popped into her head. She discovered practical ways to
prepare her body and mind prior to her mastectomy and
reconstructive surgery. She was able to make a number of
choices in her life, including exercise, changing her diet
and learning how to chill out with meditation.
By the time Sara went into hospital in February, her frame
of mind had shifted from a very negative one to that of how
she could take control of her life. She said, I can't stop
the cancer running through my body but I can change how I
deal with it. It's taking over my body but it doesn't have
to take over my mind. I can control how I deal with it.
Sara is certain that her excessive workload, poor nutrition
and lack of exercise had taken a toll on her body and were
contributing factors to her state of health. She sees her
illness as a new chapter in her life rather than the end of
it. As well as conventional medicine, Sara has also
discovered the power of laughter. "It is impossible to laugh
and feel stressed at the same time. I think laughing brings
If you are feeling stressed you might not feel like
laughing. But laughter really is the best medicine. As Sara
pointed out, it is difficult to laugh and feel anxious at
the same time! Try it! How do you feel when you have a
really good laugh? As soon as you start to laugh, the power
of the stress is lessened.
I have recently been very involved in setting up a charity,
Clowns in the Sky, which supports children suffering from
brain tumours. Children with tumours spend many weeks in
hospital undergoing painful treatment and we have found that
bringing some fun into their lives makes a huge difference
to their well-being. If they can laugh, so can you!
My favourite films are The Full Monty, Bridget Jones and
Hitch. Why? Because they make me laugh!
This Christmas we tried out a really funny game. Try saying
"purple sprouting broccoli" with your lips over your teeth;
it is almost impossible to do. You will laugh with
frustration that no one can understand you and others will
laugh at you because you look and sound so silly. Don't
worry, everyone including you will be laughing!
Is everything perfect for Sara? Of course not. Her initial
surgery was successful although she was diagnosed with
breast cancer again a few months ago. The fear that the
cancer might return again has always been the hardest thing
for her to deal with and it is something she thinks about
every day. But she feels much more in control of certain
aspects of her life. She is trying to focus on what she can
change, just a day at a time. She still finds the visits to
hospital very stressful, but she doesn't allow herself to
dwell on negative aspects of her illness for too long as she
has found it very counterproductive.
Sara didn't have any choice about having breast cancer. She
did have choices, however, about how she chose to deal with
life each day.
You may not be able to influence and overcome every
stressful situation, but you can take charge over how you
If you are facing a major change and finding life very
stressful, what changes can you make to how you view the
If you want to manage stress in your life, you need to begin
None of us are able to predict the future, but we can make
the present better if we choose to.
What makes you laugh? Do you have a favourite video, a
story, a joke or a friend who helps you to lighten up?
Focus on what you can change and you will start to feel more
in control of your life.
Carolyn Matheson is a nationally recognized Coach,
Speaker and Author of "Yes to Less Stress."
Carolyn is a Master Certified Coach, and works with executives and their teams across the
world. She has pioneered an innovative approach to coaching,
combining many years of high performance coaching with a
holistic approach to work/life balance and has coached
hundreds of leaders and their teams. Her experience as a
presenter, both nationally and internationally, spans 20
years, with clients currently in Europe, Australia, the
Middle and Far East, and the USA.
Her new book, Yes to Less Stress is
available online at her website, http://www.areustressed.com