I was in a yoga class about a year ago and the teacher asked a simple question at the beginning of class, she asked us to think about three people who we felt the most love for. My three people were my husband Les, my son Sid and my son Griffin. After she allowed us to think about this for a few moments, she asked us where we were on that list. Did we even make the list?
Making the list is about self compassion and what does in mean in the face of cancer? How do people diagnosed with cancer take care of themselves? When I was first diagnosed, I remember the love and support from my family and friends. The generosity of family and friends asking what they could do for me and for my family – to make things easier. Compassion.
I would have done the same for them, I am more than happy to help someone in need. To be kind to them and supportive – to have compassion. But I have trouble putting myself first, it almost feels selfish.
For me, with breast cancer and maybe for some of you as well, it is about comparing what was with what is now. What the ‘new normal’ that every one speaks about is. I was judgmental about myself before the surgeries. There was always something I could find to complain about. I am harder on me than anyone else is. I see all the faults.
It bothers me that my hair grew back thinner after chemotherapy. Before I lost my hair, I hated it because it was too thick. Prior to surgery, I was self-conscious about my breasts, gravity was creeping up. After my mastectomy, there were the scars. Scars under my arm pit, around my nipple, from hip to hip. The reconstruction surgery I went through was an SGAP/ IGAP flap surgery – the donor tissue for the reconstruction of my breast was taken from my butt. I wasn’t happy with my butt prior to surgery, it was too big. Now it is simply a mess of scars and as my plastic surgeon kindly describes it – peaks and valleys.
Always judging, no kindness to oneself. Even after everything I went through because of cancer, it is still hard not to be self critical.
No matter what imperfection you are faced with, kindness to yourself is often a challenge. Why do we assure others that their internal concerns are fine? We all have friends who do not like something about themselves and we are quick to dismiss it and offer tenderness to them. So why is it difficult to give ourselves the same acceptance? It is a work in progress for me, to embrace who I am and be fully content with that person.
When you think of the word compassion words like support, caring, kindness, love, generosity, non- judging and empathy come to mind. Why is this so hard for us to give ourselves the same treatment?
The more encouraging that we are to others, the more compassion we give to others, the better we feel about ourselves. Imagine if we did that for ourselves? Research shows, the more self-compassion we have for ourselves the less we suffer from stress, anxiety, depression and we feel more worthy of being loved. These are significant mental health benefits.
If we are self-critical we become counterproductive, we attack ourselves and we become the attacker – double negative on our personal being. It simply makes sense to be self-compassionate. Take all the compassion you have for others and turn it inwards.
What does that mean, how do we do this? Kristin Neff, who researches self-compassion says there are three components involved. She says that “self-kindness” is important. If we are kind to ourselves then we give ourselves understanding and support. We can provide ourselves the opportunity to judge less and to be less critical of who we are. Not to compare ourselves to others.
As a cancer survivor, this means that I have to stop looking at my scars and feeling less than good enough. I work to stop feeling unattractive. To accept and embrace me, as I am. I recognize the imperfection and personally I am determined to see beauty. To change the narrative – to see beauty in imperfection. I am alive and life is beautiful. I feel that I provide this support to others with a cancer diagnosis every day at The Unexpected Gift. I have been there and I understand what you are going through, similar but very individual.
The second area Kristin Neff talks about is the concept of “common humanity”. That we are all going through the same thing, so how are we the same as others? For those diagnosed with cancer, we may all struggle with the uncertainty of recurrence, the thoughts of imperfection due to surgeries, or how having cancer has changed how we see our current self.
There is a common humanity, we are not alone and there are others that have similar thoughts. We can find compassion for them, we can also have self-compassion for our own inner conflict. If we treated ourselves with a little more kindness and understanding it might make embracing the imperfection easier. I see this often with people who come to The Unexpected Gift and their loved ones. Being a cancer survivor, I think I provide understanding that a cancer patient may desire, because I have been there.
Her last idea about self-compassion is being “mindful”. From what I have learned, being mindful means being in the present moment. Being aware of the surroundings and taking a moment to appreciate that feeling at that exact moment. Just being. Cancer Care Manitoba offers a wonderful program on Mindfulness facilitated by the psycho-social oncology social workers. It is a fantastic session and I urge you to sign up. It helped me through some pretty rough patches during cancer treatment and I still use many of the mindfulness strategies.
As someone who has been diagnosed with breast cancer, I have experienced a mastectomy, breast reconstruction, chemotherapy and radiation. Four years later, I still consider myself in recovery – physically, emotionally and spiritually.
There is a little niggle in my head that says “what if”. On a daily basis I hear stories of pain and I hear stories of over-coming. I am present. Present in my own concerns and present for others. I feel that it is my continued desire to have self- compassion that provides the compassion that I have for others.
Being in the moment allows me to be grateful – for life, for love, for conflict, for uncertainty and for being who I am. For loving that person. For being kind to myself and to be less judgmental about myself, because at the end of the day I am a pretty fantastic person and it’s alright to say that out-loud, because of self- compassion.
Christopher Germer said, “Self compassion is simply giving the same kindness to ourselves that we would give to others”.
Be kind to you, love yourself completely.