Going through cancer is such a personal and intimate choice for everyone, especially how you share your journey with others. Maybe you choose to keep it close to your heart until you can process and express your feelings, thoughts and even fears. After all, you must still live the day-to-day life of family, friends and work while hopefully still finding much-needed time for self-care.
Setting up healthy boundaries to protect your mind, body and spirit is key while going through cancer treatments, as well as in life after cancer. This applies to all those affected by the cancer diagnosis as well.
Boundaries are healthy and should be practiced because they can help you stay in control of your own journey. Those who have never had cancer do not understand the mindset of those who have. So many people want to help, and while they mean well, some words can hurt and confuse, while others can help, uplift and inspire.
As survivors, it is important to identify and understand our boundaries from the very beginning and how we wish to communicate with others when we do share.
When you feel like you have lost control, your mindset is something you can control. So, look within to understand what you wish your mindset to be during and after your diagnosis. Ask yourself: What boundaries do I want to set for myself and in conversations with others about my diagnosis?
Unless someone goes through what you do, they will never get it. So don’t wait for their validation. What you are going through is tough; cancer plainly sucks, and your healing is not over when the treatments end. Cancer is traumatic, and only you alone can decide what your healing looks and feels like.
Boundaries are extremely important because without them people may unintentionally overstep and overshare. In an effort to connect with you (and often out of their own fear), they may share that their cousin just underwent cancer treatment, or that their uncle died of the same cancer you had, adding, “how lucky are you?!” not knowing you may already feel what we call ‘survivors guilt.’ The question can then feel like a punch.
As humans we just want to connect, but when something as fearful as the word cancer comes up, we often don’t know what to say. Instead of just listening and letting a loved one know we are there for them, we often blurt out our first thoughts and opinions, impulsively putting the recipient in a hard position to listen to it all.
Whether in or out of treatment, thoughts of setting boundaries for your own well-being often come with fears of discomfort or guilt. However, setting boundaries is a way of taking back your control and will be one of the healthiest decisions you ever make for your mindset.
Boundaries take practice; the keys are to consider kindness and respect and to set them firmly.
Once you set your boundaries, here are some examples of how you can respond to friends and family. “Thank you for your intentions and opinions, but I need to make this decision on my own. Can I count on you to be there for me?” or “I am not comfortable sharing right now, I hope you can understand and still support me.”
Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. If you set a boundary with someone, but aren’t comfortable with the boundary, it just will not work. You and only you know what is best for your healing process, and that is always perfectly okay. Adjust your boundaries as necessary and be fine with doing so.
Remember, life after cancer is about you, and no one else knows the best way to navigate thoughts, feelings and boundaries better than you.
Shay Moraga, ERYT 500, is a stage 3 triple-negative breast cancer thriver. She is the visionary/ founder of Shay’s Warriors – Life After Cancer. To connect, go to www.shayswarriors.org or reach out on Facebook or Instagram.