Cancer Solitude Pitfalls and Power – During Treatment and Beyond

Have you ever taken a solo trip, even for a day or two? If you have, I wonder if you found it to be lonely, invigorating, or maybe both. Having just returned from one myself I began reflecting about the solitude I experienced during cancer treatment in comparison to now, post treatment. 

Full transparency, I consider myself an introvert, so I’m looking at this from that lens. I have learned over the years to boost myself to an extrovert space at times, and I love being on stage, but I’m a true introvert who needs alone time to recharge.

The events or emotions within moments of solitude during and post treatment can bring you into a pitfall or they can empower you. Here are three examples of pitfalls that can occur, and how you can find your power in them. 

During treatment:

The first pitfall a newly diagnosed cancer patient may experience is people in your space, knowing details of your life you maybe wouldn’t share normally, making you uncomfortable and causing you to withdraw into solitude. There is power in creating boundaries, however, as you navigate what you share and with who. It may also be empowering to learn how many, or who in your life, show up for you in a time of crisis.

A patient may then become overscheduled with appointments, leading to needing/craving time alone. Time alone allows space for thinking, perhaps leading to a downward spiral of thoughts and emotions. Emotions can include thoughts of sadness, worry, thinking about mortality, and maybe jealousy of what others are doing. It can be hard to know your friends are out and about having fun while you isolate yourself to stay healthy, or just aren’t feeling up to leaving home. The power of the alone time during treatment is that it is time to recharge – if you use the time well. Zoning out in front of TV doesn’t help work through emotions, but does allow an escape from thoughts. Try to balance quiet reflection time and time to let your brain shut down for a while.

Overeating or undereating are common during cancer treatment. If you find yourself in solitude you may overeat, as you struggle with emotions, or under eat because you don’t feel up to eating, or because you don’t want to prepare food for yourself. The power available to you is an opportunity to take control where you can. When you go through cancer treatment much is out of your control, but, you can control what you put into your mouth!

Post active treatment:

Post treatment You might fall into the pitfall of  feeling like a different person, leaving you feeling a bit lost in your life and relationships. Some people may disappear because they can’t handle it. There is then power in assessing relationships and deciding who you want to allow back in your life. This might also be an opportunity to redirect your life, and may involve going back to school, getting a new job, or beginning different relationships.

The second post treatment pitfall is that cancer doesn’t end. You know it, but others don’t understand that they effects don’t necessarily end when treatment does. This can lead to solitude if, for example, you cannot be as physically active with certain friends as you used to be – leading to changes in relationships. This lack of understanding may drive a wedge and cause resentment on either part if you withdraw from activities. Sharing your ongoing struggles with others can deepen a relationship. Allowing people to see the realness not only educates them, but can bring more compassion and understanding. And if ongoing effects lead to more solitude, perhaps you learn different activities you enjoy.

Lastly, when you have alone time post treatment, you may become stuck in fear of recurrence. Once you’ve experienced how quickly life can be turned upside down, it’s hard to believe that all will be okay. But, I’ve got your back! There is power in taking action, despite fear, and I created my ABLE strategy to help people do just that. You’ll find the ABLE download HERE! Reflection is powerful. When you use solitude to thoughtfully reflect and assess, things become more clear and less scary. In reflection you might observe fear (or any emotions), yet not stay stuck in them because after things are clear, you’re ready to take action.

The pitfalls of solitude can drain you of time, energy and joy. It can be challenging in those moments of solitude to see the power you have, but I encourage you to consider this: Cancer is REALLY hard! If you are a cancer patient, whether in treatment or post treatment, you are already doing the hard stuff. Let that be your point of reference to see your power to create solitude that nourishes you, as you look forward to blue skies ahead.