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Transforming the ordeal of illness into a resilient experience


Giacomo Di Falco, psycho-oncologist

By : Giacomo Di Falco, psycho-oncologist

Posted 8 month ago

"The announcement of the diagnosis of cancer is an ordeal that bursts into the continuity of life. But like all trials, it is also a possible "door" to another version of ourselves: an improved, strengthened, "grown up" version.

It is by working on our capacity to accept a situation, even if it seems unacceptable at first, that it will be possible to "transform" a trial into a resilient experience. 

I think of a patient, Marie, who said to me one day during a consultation: "fortunately this illness came into my life". This may seem incredible, but this ordeal taught her not to let herself be overwhelmed by time, and to be fully available for her loved ones, which she was not doing before.

The ordeal can also be a gateway to understanding something important that we often put aside for much of our lives. And in this, if we consider it possible to accept reality as it is, we will gain in resources and also in lucidity and "presence".

Some of my patients tell me, for example, that after the announcement they have the feeling of living with a "sword of Damocles" over their heads. They also lament the fact that they cannot recover their former life, that they are no longer "carefree".

However, it turns out that there is a powerful lever to soothe us in this ordeal: understanding that this sword of Damocles is a reality that concerns us all from the moment we are born, and that it was in fact present long before the announcement. 

To understand and accept this is to sweep away the fear, to live one's life and to consider that the announcement has not changed anything in respect to our life before. Carelessness is an illusion, and wanting to regain it is a vain intention: we are never carefree. Children also have their dramas, on their own scale. Some of them cry their eyes out because they lost a toy. When you're twenty, there are also a lot of things that upset you. It's only after the hardships are behind us that they finally seem more surmountable than they seemed.

Changing toxic beliefs into virtuous thoughts is a matter of practice! In a way, our thoughts feed on themselves, and the more we are obsessed by a toxic belief, like "it was better before" for example, the more it passes through our brain and the more it takes over our life.

To regularly make room in this mental hubbub, it's a matter of focusing several times a day on things that you wouldn't normally take the time to focus on: open the window, for example, and follow the path of a bird. Or pay attention to an ant climbing up the wall. Or maybe anything else! It's better to focus our attention on seemingly insignificant events than to continue to overheat our brains with a flood of toxic thoughts."

Giacomo Di Falco