We have an old-fashioned relationship with movement and learning. We rarely allow them to happen at the same time. In
In January 2021 I was diagnosed with stage 3 bowel cancer. Boom. I had surgery, and now I’m fine. Well…
When the surgical team took away my tumour they left behind a large amount of anxiety – which is spreading.
I’m currently trying to stop the spread of cancer-related fear and anxiety into my professional life.
Mine set off vivid nightmares about Jeremy Corbyn moving into my back bedroom and being chased by a tiger through a forest at night. Scary allegorical stuff.
I also experienced multiple cycles of fear, which turned into relief and then optimism. The strength of the fear-cycle fluctuated from mild to extreme.
At times the fear has been so raw that I can feel the tiger’s breath on the back of my neck.
To manage my cancer-related fears I’ve made changes to my lifestyle, as recommended, in part, by Bowel Cancer UK and the medical team.
- I attend all medical appointments and check-ups.
- I’ve changed my diet
- I’m trying to maintain a healthy body weight
- I’m trying to be more physically active
- I’ve also stopped drinking Coke (after more than 40 years!)
I can understand and rationalise anxieties associated with my cancer diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis.
What I’m struggling with now is how the fear-cycle has spread to my professional life.
Pre-cancer I loved the variety of my professional life – speaking, teaching and dancing. I embraced and encouraged uncertainty. I tried new things and was generally unafraid of failure. I was unafraid of life.
But cancer has seeded a new framework of fear, which sees uncertainty as a threat and where failure can be fatal.
I’ve noticed how this framework of fear has started to encroach on how I think about my professional life.
- When deciding what projects to work on I now feel drawn back to my past, which is comfortable and predictable – to projects I worked on years ago.
- I’ve become more risk averse and drawn either to working on projects that I know wont fail or else giving up too early on projects that look like they might fail.
- I have an irrational desire to cut out of my professional portfolio anything that doesn’t provide the full professional solution – which is everything.
But this is NOT where I want to be. I think these feelings are indicative of a fear-cycle spreading from my experience of cancer to other areas of my life.
Anxiety and fear can change the way people think. In some contexts, this is necessary to protect us and to keep us safe, but in other contexts it just gets in the way.
But I don’t want to be driven by fear in my professional life.
- I want to keep trying new things – I want to move forwards, not backwards.
- I want to take risks and continue to experience life outside of my comfort zone and to experience normal non-fatal failure.
- I want a portfolio professional career where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, but where each part, no matter how small, adds to the flavour and texture of what I do.
I want, as much as I can, to start to create a mental separation between the fear and anxiety that is associated with my cancer experience, and that which is leaking into my professional life, and causing too many unwanted changes.
Cancer is scary, and life is exciting.
To keep it exciting I must learn to cut out the fear and live.
Dr Peter Lovatt
23rd October 2021
If you or someone you know is affected by cancer, support and guidance is available from the following UK organisations.
The Macmillan Support Line offers free, confidential support to people living with cancer and their loved ones. If you need to talk, we’ll listen. 0808 808 00 00 (7 days a week, 8am – 8pm)
Cancer Chat It’s a worrying time for many people and we want to be there for you whenever – and wherever – you need us. Cancer Chat is our fully moderated forum where you can talk to others affected by cancer, share experiences, and get support. Cancer Chat is free to join and available 24 hours a day.
We provide expert information and support for everyone affected by bowel cancer and we’re here for you at every step. We also educate the public and professionals about the disease. We run training, workshops and study days for healthcare professionals and have a dedicated team of volunteers who give free awareness talks across the UK.
Symptoms of bowel cancer
Bowel cancer is very treatable but the earlier it’s diagnosed, the easier it is to treat. People whose cancer is diagnosed at an early stage have a much higher chance of successful treatment than those whose cancer has become more widespread.
If you have any symptoms, don’t be embarrassed and don’t ignore them. Doctors are used to seeing lots of people with bowel problems.
The symptoms of bowel cancer can include:
- Bleeding from your bottom and/or blood in your poo
- A persistent and unexplained change in bowel habit
- Unexplained weight loss
- Extreme tiredness for no obvious reason
- A pain or lump in your tummy
Most people with these symptoms don’t have bowel cancer. Other health problems can cause similar symptoms. But if you have one or more of these, or if things just don’t feel right, go to see your GP.
Managing Cancer and Work
Working With Cancer® helps employees, employers, the self-employed, job seekers and carers to manage cancer and work.
We coach, train and advise employers on how to successfully manage cancer in the workplace, and we coach and guide individuals affected by cancer on returning to work, remaining in work or finding employment at any stage during or after cancer treatment, including those living with advanced, secondary or terminal cancer.