She has been described as a national institution. Many of us have grown up with her, have been entertained, made to think and continue to be impressed by Lynda Bellingham's bravery. What can she teach us now at the end of her life?
If it was not the frank and sobering description of her personal experience of domestic violence, or her work for Macmillan Cancer Support, then the choice she has made about ending her cancer treatment and preparing for death on her own terms deserves respect.
If you are affected by cancer or any other life-shortening disease, if you have been diagnosed, are undergoing treatment, live in remission, have developed secondary cancer, or are preparing for your own death - or if a loved one, a friend or colleague is going through any of this now, you may be deeply affected by Lynda.
Her cancer journey may be a reminder of your own situation:
- You may feel empathy and sadness, helplessness or anger at the brutal unfairness and randomness of it all.
- You may be frightened: When will it be my turn? Why have I been spared? When will my luck run out? Is the cancer already in my body (again)?
- Should I stop my chemotherapy or other cancer treatment?
- When is enough 'enough'? When is it time to call it a day? What does it take mentally and emotionally to reach such a decision?
- How would my family and friends cope?
- What if I am wrong? What if I regret my choice, but then it's too late?
Through it all Lynda Bellingham has continued to offer support to others tweeting "Stay strong. It really works to keep this horror at bay. ... I just want everyone going through similar terrible times to be strong and grasp what you have. I am one of thousands." But what does that mean?
One of thousands:
If you are affected by cancer, then, like Lynda, you are also one of thousands and millions worldwide. Yet, you are also 'you' - an individual - very special and unique. While cancer is unfortunately common and you are not alone, your own journey, like Lynda's, will be unique to you.
Keep this horror at bay:
When one has been diagnosed with cancer, it is understandable to feel that nothing else matters much anymore. Sometimes we may feel so numb with fear and pained with bitterness and horror, that we too have no room in our heart or mind for anything else but 'the cancer'. Sometimes it may feel like the world around us (including well meaning family, friends and even medical professionals) have reduced us to cancer, as if nothing else of meaning is left of us.
Cancer and cancer treatment are horrendous. Through it all, Lynda appears to be consistent in her resilience, frankness and not shying away from the truth. The cancer has not changed that about her.
Not losing sight of who you are, your achievements and dreams, your strengths and areas for improvement, your likes and dislikes, your identity, values and beliefs means keeping cancer at bay. If it is hard to achieve in your body, then let's try and hold on to ourselves in our minds.
Grasp what you have:
I guess, what Lynda means by 'grasp what you have', is that we have things, people, ourselves left worth grasping, enjoying, holding onto. And what we have left throughout is a choice. We may not always be well enough to exercise it, but Lynda has made a choice about how she wants to deal with her diagnosis of terminal cancer, her treatment, the life she has left and ultimately her death.
While the news of Lynda's situation will no doubt be shocking and sad, and we may need some time to digest it, let's not lose sight of the great example she is setting to us all. Like no doubt others before and after her will make very personal and difficult choices, I get the impression she has managed to make peace with her cancer and herself.
And like me, you may find it strangely uplifting to hear someone in the public eye share the life changing choice they have made. For life changing and life enhancing this choice will be. It tells us of the powerful strength of mind and spirit.
From the bottom of my heart, I for one salute Lynda Bellingham and wish her well!
Cancer is not a straight line, and it can change your life forever - even if you are not the one with the illness.
Psychotherapist, Reg, MBACP (Accred)