A few weeks ago, I was having a really "bad" day: I was annoyed by the many things I needed to finish at work, by people not responding to emails on time, by taxation procedures and by the fact that I was in line waiting for my coffee for more than 5 minutes.
And then, I received a phone call.
And none of these things mattered anymore.
My mum was diagnosed with cancer.
“Cancer” is the only word I clearly remember understanding from that phone call. I had to ask her to repeat it a few times as my mind simply couldn't process it.
There was nothing I could do, nothing I could say in that moment, to make it go away.
I was so scared that my whole body started shaking and I was unable to move or talk for a while.
My mum and I have a really special connection. We are the closest family we have to each other. The thought of losing her is the worst pain I have ever experienced in my life.
Without going into unnecessary details, please be aware that the only reason I’m writing this post is to offer some comfort and perspective to anyone who is going through a similar situation.
Unfortunately, I realised that the amount of people suffering or having suffered from cancer is much higher than I could have ever imagined.
Luckily, after many different exams, we discovered that my mum’s cancer hasn’t spread to other parts of her body, meaning that her therapy should be less painful and more effective.
However, the 3 weeks in between the initial diagnosis and the actual formulation of a therapy were the worst weeks I’ve lived in my whole life.
And of course, it’s not over.
I don't know if you've ever heard about the quote "life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it's about learning how to dance in the rain".
I had this quote as a screen saver some years ago on my laptop, but I never actually realised what it meant until now.
So, here are a few things that helped me through this journey:
Feel the emotions, but don’t become them
It’s totally normal to feel scared, sad and lost, especially at the beginning, when everything is new and unknown.
Give yourself the time to absorb and accept these feelings, don’t try to suppress them.
Do whatever you think you need to do in order to process them.
For me, this was crying. A lot.
However, I gave myself a rule: I never cried in front of my mum and I only cried when it was too overwhelming to take.
But I never became, and I will never allow myself to become my emotions.
In these past few weeks, I’ve spent some of the most beautiful moments with my mum.
We laughed, we went to art shows, we cooked together. We never let our emotions dominate us, but sometimes we allowed ourselves to go to a place where we needed to let these emotions out.
And believe me, sometimes this “place” will seem “crazy” (I once shouted so loudly while running on the beach that an older man got scared - he probably thought I was a psycho).
Cancer (or any other illness or health complication) is probably something you don’t know anything about. All the terminology is new, and you will feel lost.
From day one, I started reading books and articles about cancer: what causes it, what are the symptoms, what are the available treatments in different parts of the world.
And I'm still reading every day. I also read about nutrition and alternative medicine that was successfully used in the past to cure and manage cancer.
Information is power and it will allow you to take more informed decisions and handle conversations with the doctors.
Accept help and ask for it when needed
I always had a hard time in asking for help, unless it was offered to me directly.
If you are lucky enough to have a close circle of people (friends, family, colleagues, coaches), they will definitely want to help you in every possible way. Please accept their help.
I’m blessed to work in a company that offers me the flexibility to work from home when I need to, and help my mum in this process.
But when it came to the moment I needed to ask for it, it was extremely difficult for me. However, the reaction I had from colleagues and friends at work touched my heart really deeply.
If you work for a company, please explore the options you have and make a plan of action to be there for the person you love: they will need it. If you are a company owner, you’ll need to trust that your team can handle it: delegate.
My amazing friends have been such good listeners and support in this difficult time. Some of them cried with me, some researched information with me, some of them also became my emotional and spiritual coaches in this difficult moment.
I opened up with my close circle of friends in a way that I never did before.
I allowed myself to be totally vulnerable and I allowed them to be there, fully.
I never pretended I was completely ok, because I wasn’t, and I’m still not.
Strengthen your body and soul
If you want to show up better for others, you need to take care of yourself first.
You know what they say in the demonstration on the airplane before taking off?
They say that in the event of an emergency and loss of cabin pressure, oxygen masks will drop down - and you should wear and secure your own mask, before helping anyone else.
The same principle applies in life. If you are running around helping everyone else with their oxygen masks, at some point you are going to burn out. So, if you don't take care of yourself first, everyone else will suffer in the end.
This is a moment when you need to take care of your physical body as well as your soul.
Your body needs to be strong.
I’ve increased my physical exercise to almost every day (this is good for your soul as well).
It doesn’t matter what kind of physical exercise you do or for how long, as long as if you’re able to enjoy it. Your goal is not aesthetics but strength.
Food is another fundamental element.
It is scientifically proven that certain foods can increase depression, while others can help you feel better and happier.
I’m not a doctor or a nutritionist, but it goes without saying that alcohol, highly processed foods and sugar can only worsen your mood and have a negative impact on your body.
I know many of you are going through a similar experience: I’ve been shocked by the amount of people I’ve seen in hospitals.
I really hope my perspective can give you more hope and encouragement.
I would be honoured to talk to you if you think you need help, please feel free to reach out to me directly anytime,