My name is Andrea and I am 59 years old. I was diagnosed with marginal zone B-cell lymphoma, stage 4 in 2013 and after surgery was on watch and wait until April 2019. At that point I started six rounds of R-CVP chemotherapy. The treatment reduced the tumours but didn’t clear them completely, so I am back on watch and wait.
I am a self-employed Mental Health First Aid Instructor, delivering courses that equip people with the skills they need to support their own and other peoples well being – both young people and adults. What I teach others became my ‘self-care survival kit’ during long days of chemotherapy and recovery last year and, once again, there’s no better time to ‘practice what I preach’ than right now!
It’s not easy at the moment. Like many, I have a heightened sense of vulnerability and some days I feel very anxious and worried. I find giving myself a good talking to and returning to the guiding principles which helped me so much last year works for me. The 'Five Ways to Wellbeing' help frame my day and give me some sort of focus and remind me that I can only control what I can control. That feels better than focusing on the carnage caused by this microscopic virus.
The Five Ways to Well are: Connect, Be active, Keep learning, Give and Take notice.
Connect: I make sure I talk to someone every day; family or friends. In ‘normal’ times we send each other a message or two but we’ve loved learning new video technology to schedule coffee breaks/wine chats to catch up. I don’t feel that I am not seeing them – because I am!
Be active: Being a Mountain Leader, the hills are where I love to spend my time – either that or I’ll be found on my allotment. One thing I’ve learnt is that life is about adaptation and change – constantly!! So without the outside, I’ve taken up my step-daughters virtual yoga classes and climbing hills via my staircase. The scenery is not the same but I have to say I’ve never felt my body so stretched and I’ve found muscles I never knew I had!
Keep learning: Every day is a learning day. Yesterday it was a new recipe, online Scrabble with my son, and today I signed up for Futurelearn – some fantastic free online courses.
Give: I can’t go out and do things for people, but I can do what I can from indoors. I keep in touch with other friends who live on their own, by phoning for a regular chat - checking they’re OK and passing on local information about support networks. We look out for each other and it feels good to give some of my time to someone else.
Take Notice: It’s easy to get caught up in watching wall-to-wall news; the worry of being self-employed and having all foreseeable work cancelled, the endless thoughts of ‘what if’. But I know this doesn’t help my wellbeing. So I take each day as it comes. I consciously look around me, notice the colours of spring, warmth of the sunshine and do something each day that absorbs my attention and focus. It keeps me in the moment.
Most of all I try to go through each day by focusing on three things. These little things just help:
- A sense of achievement - today I tidied under the sink. Desperate times call for desperate measures!
- A sense of closeness - today I video-called a friend who makes me laugh.
- A sense of enjoyment - today I set up a family Coronahair photo competition!
Andrea's story was published in Lymphoma Matters 117, Summer 2020.