Dr Stella Compton-Dickinson says minfulness is a powerful tool in helping come to terms with a potentially terminal illness and our time-limited mortality.
The breast screening research foundation state that the first description of cancer was found in ancient Egyptian scrolls 2,500 years ago. Today, Breast Cancer is the most common form of cancer in women. Fortunately, the chances of surviving cancer have increased greatly since 1994 when Mary-Claire King discovered the link between the BRCA gene and cancer.
In my clinical practice I have treated many women who are in recovery from breast surgery at a stage when they hope to move on from invasive surgical procedures that can change the individual’s shape and body image. For some people the processes of chemotherapy and radiotherapy can feel overwhelming because of the lack of control they have over the process and outcomes.
Supportive and developmental counselling firstly involves having a safe and trusting therapeutic relationship in which to discover how to be mindful of the present and honour and listen to one’s own body. I consider the whole person because changes in lifestyle, diet and mental approach can support recovery. I look at how each individual goes about their life and relationships, identifying whether it is possible to do some things differently in order to feel more effective, empowered and fulfilled.
The potential loss of a normal life span frequently brings on existential anxieties and symptoms of depression. The treatment of these psychological aspects can help the individual to come to terms with the inevitability of our time- limited mortality.
A common problematic thinking pattern occurs when an individual is naturally over-eager to please others. This can become a psychological trap, which may perpetuate to such an extent that it is detrimental if one’s own feelings and needs are not expressed. In this case others can make us more angry or depressed because they unwittingly ignore our emotional needs. This can lead to what is informally considered ‘the doormat syndrome’. Trying always to please in the face of ungrateful and potentially abusive others, is a trap. Human nature is such that if someone is in ‘martyr’ mode – they may also have an opposite state of being that is resentful, angry and controlling. Instead we should celebrate the things that we have - with gratitude.
Gratitude may start from noticing more acutely a beautiful sunrise or the taste of nice cup of tea. By using our senses mindfully one at a time we may better enjoy the things we can, see, hear, touch, smell and taste, thereby cherishing feeling alive. This is enhanced through focusing on our bodies as we breathe in to literally feed out system with oxygen, then breathing out twice as slowly to ‘let go’ of any negative thoughts or unpleasant experiences that have come and gone.
In recovery self-expression and asserting ones own rights, taking responsibility for ones own feelings can be an on-going task by which the individual is empowered to have her own voice heard. Without which women may feel downtrodden and taken for granted. When this occurs feelings of resentment can fester within and this may have a ‘corrosive ‘effect unless those emotions are expressed.
Just as iron in water turns to rust if it is neglected, our feelings within us can have the potential to explode like a volcano or to eat away at us in a malignant manner. There is no hard evidence for this, but in cognitive analytic therapy we may work to gently help our clients to recognise aspects that have been buried or disowned. This way of coping has been known about for many years. We may defend ourselves by unconsciously repressing or otherwise disconnecting and dissociating from traumatic or unpleasant experiences in life. However, to be able to ‘mentalise’ and think about unresolved issues without judgement or criticism can make it bearable. A bit like baking a cake; the processing and mixing of individual ‘ingredients’ can lead to something which is metaphorically tasty and ‘nourishing’ in life.