My life-changing cancer diagnosis
On Friday 30th August 2019 (the day is etched in my mind) I was using a portable urinal at a music festival and found a small lump on my left teste. As someone who checked regularly, I knew it was not supposed to be there and my brain immediately leapt to one unescapable thought - cancer.
For the next three days I did not tell anyone, not even my partner of 17 years. Despite being surrounded by thousands of people and the festival atmosphere, I felt incredibly lonely. My mind was flitting between fear and resignation and then settled into a period of denial.
As soon as we got home on the Monday, I made myself blurt it out to my partner. That afternoon I saw a doctor and, in the whirlwind that followed, two days later I had an ultrasound, a week after that I met with a surgeon and was booked in for surgery.
Three rounds of chemotherapy and a few months down the line I was (thankfully) all clear and starting the process of moving back to normal life when the whole country came to a standstill because of the Covid pandemic.
Of course, there is so much more I could say about my journey through cancer and what it was like at the time. But for this blog, I wanted to focus on where my diagnosis took me and how the journey would eventually lead me to work with LionHeart, alongside my surveying work.
A life changing experience
It may be a cliché, but it is true that cancer diagnoses and treatment can be life changing in more ways than one. For me, it fundamentally altered my relationship with my body and how I viewed my health.
I was fortunate that during lockdown I had the time and space to really think about my health and started to learn about what may have triggered the growth of my cancer.
Whilst many people are now familiar with the genetic links to certain cancers, what is less well understood is the science of epigenetics. This is the study of what environmental and lifestyle factors affect the expression of those genes. The truth is many people carry genes linked to certain cancers but never go on to develop those cancers, and epigenetics seeks to understand why.
One factor being closely studied is the effects of stress. It is known that stress has a direct effect on a number of hormones, particularly testosterone, but there are many others that are also affected. It is also known that there is a close link between hormone imbalances and cancers such as testicular and breast.
For me, learning this was actually not much of a surprise. In the 12 months prior to my diagnosis, I had been through what was probably the most stressful period of my life. It is only upon reflection that I know this; at the time I thought I was just getting on with things as best I could. I was doing my Yoga practice, I was meditating regularly, I was taking care of myself. I’m a Yoga teacher, of course I can’t be stressed!
The chronic effects of stress
The truth was I was in denial, much as when I did not tell anyone about the lump I found a few months later. I was able to convince myself everything was fine, I held on to all my stress because I did not want to burden those around me.
I know now that my body was shouting at me all the time - but I chose not to listen. The effects of stress on my body had become chronic. Even if my genes made me likely to develop cancer, I know that the stress I was unable to acknowledge played its part too.
As soon as I understood this, the focus of what I practise and teach started to change. It is not possible to become totally stress-proof - we actually need a level of stress in our lives - but it is possible to become adept at listening to our body and identifying when we are stressed. We can then take intentional action to relieve that stress.
Just as my teaching was starting to change I noticed a post on LinkedIn from LionHeart about the sheer volume of calls they had received from RICS members with issues and concerns around stress. That social media post would be the starting point of a collaboration to deliver some yoga-based webinars for stress management to complement what LionHeart could already offer.
Helping my fellow surveyors
So many people have faced extreme and unusual stress over the last couple of years, with surveyors facing their own unique challenges. This has come on top of what is already an epidemic of stress within many societies.
Fortunately, there are so many great ways to deal with these issues, including the all the fabulous support LionHeart has to offer. I’m delighted this now includes my own online sessions which allow me to pass on some of my knowledge and the things I’ve learned to my fellow surveyors.
We talk a lot these days about the importance of acknowledging when we are struggling with our mental health but of course the same must go for physical health. If you feel like you are quietly holding on to your own stress, you have concerns about your health, or if any of my story resonates with you, please don’t be afraid to ask for help. It’s so important!
Tim Kenny is an AssocRICS working in residential property, mainly pre-purchase condition surveys and some training. Alongside his 'day job', Tim is registered with Yoga Alliance Professionals and is a certified YogAlign teacher, with a particular interest in breathwork for neuromuscular repatterning and posture. Tim delivers our Yoga Principles for Stress Relief webinar.
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