Have you ever wondered what lies behind a smile? Two days before my investiture at Buckingham Palace, I received the news that I potentially required life-saving surgery. Behind my smile was fear, uncertainty and doubt but you’d never know from the outside looking in.
The surgery is risky. It has a 5% chance of death and a 40% chance of complications. It’s also called “potentially” life saving – my cyst is benign and I’m asymptomatic. There is a chance that it may never turn into cancer. The question is, do you roll the dice and chance it?
Unfortunately, I can’t do that. Last year I devastatingly lost my brother to pancreatic cancer. Pancreatic cancer is one of the worst cancers to have. It has incredibly ambiguous symptoms and unless you catch it early, the chances of survival are painstakingly slim. My cyst, unfortunately, is on my pancreas!
And that is why behind my smile is F.U.D. Fear for my family. Uncertainty about my future. Doubt if I am strong enough. Everyone facing cancer or major surgery will go through the same emotions, but how do you mentally cope with such a burden?
In my case, I took action. This is something that I urge everyone to do in a crisis. Place a limit on your own wallowing and self pity. Allow yourself a 10 minute pity party or longer if you need it but then make a commitment to move on and look to the future.
I researched the latest technology in this area and found a surgeon who uses robotics with a zero mortality rate. And, in case you are wondering, it isn’t private, it’s available on the good old NHS. I will never quibble at another tax bill again!. Getting the same surgery done in America would have cost over $200,000!
The second thing I did was to ask my surgeon what I could personally do to improve the outcome of my surgery. The answer was somewhat simple – lose weight and improve your level of fitness. Losing weight isn’t as simple as I thought, but I have lost a few pounds. Increasing my levels of fitness was easier, and the dopamine rewards significantly improved my mental health.
The third thing I did was put systems in place to support me if I started to struggle with my mental health during this challenging time. I researched professional help and made sure I was prepared should the time arise that I needed it. Fortunately, I didn’t have to use any of them, which is a testament to the resilience I have built up over the years. I’m not going to say that I haven’t had low days, I’m human after all. Fortunately, such days have been few and far between and on those days, my family have always been there for me.
We all face F.U.D in our life. The future may look bleak at times but don’t wallow in self-pity, take action. Practice gratitude and be grateful for the good things in your life. Some people like to practise mindfulness and meditation, but even something as simple as writing three things you’re grateful for in the morning after you wake up can work brilliantly. Lastly, focus on the things you love. The things that bring you joy. These will be your guiding lights in times of darkness.
I will leave you with one final thought. Often we have nothing to fear but fear itself. Uncertainty is part of everyday life, and doubt can be conquered with optimism and positivity. If we always knew the outcome, life would be pretty boring! Embrace the unknown and try to spend as little time as possible worrying about things that may never come into existence.
You never know what other people are going through. Often in life, we pass judgement quickly and unfairly. Make it your mission to make kindness your default response. You never know what someone else is going through and what might lie behind their smile.