Yes, I’ve been ill – no big deal you say – you are often ill you say.
For me being ill is a big deal. I had an infection which got a real hold on me, resulting in 7 days in hospital and three weeks at home trying to get back to ‘normal’.
Now I know that compared with those of you on your cancer journey I have got off very lightly. And that is part of the problem. It is, for me, very hard to be ill if I haven’t got cancer. In my mind, having cancer entitles you to be ill, to take to your bed, to have days off work and for people to be really nice to you. I have worked with people with cancer for so long (about 60% of the last 50 years) that I have forgotten that other diseases exist. I felt like a fraud.
This very nearly finished me. I felt guilty about taking time off, guilty about going to bed when I felt ‘poorly’, even guilty for just reading a book. Of course, lots of these reactions are based in childhood with a mother who didn’t do much to look after me when I was ill. So I thought I would just keep going – that of course didn’t work and I had to eventually admit that I needed to recover properly.
Why am I telling you this? it’s a bit of a plea for carers. We get ill too. We need to have down time and days off to recover. I am not suggesting that any of you on your cancer journey is unsympathetic but we may need ‘permission’ to be off sick. I am so pleased that I wasn’t ill at the same time as my husband (who does have cancer) and that he did his best to make sure I got / get the rest that I need.
What I have learnt is that I can’t look after anyone else unless I look after myself. If I am ‘run down’ I am not in the best state to work with and support those I care about and love. I think that this is a lesson for all of us. If you are on an airplane and listen carefully to the emergency instructions (yes, some people do!) you will know that you are told to put on your own oxygen mask first then to help others. Being ill has taught me that I need oxygen in just the same way as anyone else. If I don’t take deep breaths, relax and restore then I will be no good to anyone. Probably true for all of us?