Today’s post, as you can tell from the title, is about cancer and the emotional effects of cancer. It’s a long one, so grab a cuppa and maybe a snack and make yourself comfy 😉
Cancer is an emotive word, it’s a word that instantly causes fear, anxiety and worry among us.
Being diagnosed with cancer, any type of cancer, is shocking, it rocks you to your core. You will go through so many emotions; fear, anger, hurt, worry, upset and anxiousness, among others.
You will have bad days and think “why me? why do I have to have cancer?”, that is totally normal, you need to allow yourself to have bad days, to be upset, to cry, to rant and it’s super important that you allow yourself to be emotional. You need to let your emotions out.
Journaling is a great way to get your thoughts out if you find it hard to physically talk about your feelings and emotions. Writing everything down and getting it out is so good for you.
You will have many, many sleepless nights, many good days, many bad days. You could lose your hair which, for me, was something I found emotionally painful. You look different, you feel different, you worry about what people will think of your new look, truth is, people don’t care how you look, they just care about how you are, how you’re doing and that you are okay.
No one cares that you don’t have hair or eye brows or eye lashes, they care that you are okay and that you are doing well. Yeah people will notice, of course, as with any cancer patient, but it’s no different than seeing anyone else with no hair, even if they don’t have cancer.
Losing our hair is a traumatic and painful experience for us. Our hair is a part of our femininity and our personality. When we lose it, it feels as though we have lost a part of ourselves, we’ve lost some of our femininity and in a way, we have. We can’t curl or do our hair when we’re going out, our visits with the hairdresser stops. It’s horrible, it’s another part of us that cancer has taken away and something we have no control over. We can’t decide not to lose our hair or our eyebrows or our lashes, it’s something that we just have to accept and deal with, no matter how hard it is for us.
It is easy to be consumed by your new look and thoughts about what people will think but it’s important not to become obsessed with it. You will have hair again, you will have eyebrows again and you will have lashes again.
Hair loss is temporary, it’s an emotionally painful thing to have to go through, but it is something that will make you emotionally stronger and more resilient, despite how hard and painful it is at the time.
I do have a post about hair loss and preparing for and coping with it.
If we have to have a mastectomy, either single or bilateral, we also lose some of our femininity, we can’t wear our normal bras, we have to wear mastectomy bras, we look different, we feel different and it is a very difficult thing to go through.
When you see yourself for the first time after a mastectomy, you get a shock and an overwhelming feeling because you literally have no breasts. It can be deeply traumatic and upsetting.
If we are in relationships we may feel insecure about our bodies, how our partners may see us, will they be less attracted to us and whatnot. It’s just awful. No one, not one person should ever have to go through something as emotionally painful as that, but unfortunately some of us do have to go through it, whether we want to or not and let’s be honest, none of us want to go through it, why would we?
How we prepare ourselves for that is hugely important, in saying that, no matter how much research you do, or how much you prepare yourself, nothing, absolutely nothing can really prepare you for seeing yourself for the first time post-surgery, so don’t underestimate the emotions that come with seeing yourself; they are all normal and don’t feel guilty for being or feeling emotional, its natural for that to happen, so let it happen and let it take it course and don’t let anyone make you feel bad or guilty for feeling how you feel.
No one is walking in your shoes and no one feels your feelings, only you do, so only you can really, fully understand how your emotions will affect you.
For those of us who have had mastectomies, reconstruction is an option, which is good, because at least we know that we will have breasts again, although it’s not easy, it’s important that we remind ourselves that we will, at some point, have breasts. It’s important to try and see the light at the end, despite how difficult it may be for us.
Of course we will worry about what people will think or say, but they are negative worries, so try not to give them too of your time or head space as you need those to fight through each day and letting negatives thoughts, feelings or emotions impact on that isn’t good for us.
A cancer diagnosis is absolutely shocking; it really knocks you to your core. Even if you are suspicious that you have cancer, if your test, scans etc. all point to having cancer, hearing your results and being diagnosed is still a major shock.
Cancer is a frightening word to hear and an even more frightening illness to have. It’s illness none of us want to get because of the scale of it, but also because it is something that can be life-threatening.
Being diagnosed with a potentially life-threatening illness is terrifying. It sends fear through you like no other. There really aren’t any words to describe the fear that goes through one’s mind and body when you hear the words “you have cancer”. It is surreal.
When I was first diagnosed I got the fright of my life and I very quickly learned never to say never, because you really don’t know what is around the corner or what life has in store for you.
Going through cancer treatment is both physically and mentally exhausting. It is a frightening and anxious time, you never know what each appointment will throw at you, what you will be told, what results you’ll get.
With cancer come a lot of fear and worry, I would hazard a guess that a lot of people, most people even are fearful that their cancer is terminal or that their treatment(s) may not work and their cancer could become terminal. The uncertainty of that alone is frightening. It’s unnerving and it is mentally and physically exhausting.
Coping with a cancer diagnosis is emotionally difficult, you will experience various emotions throughout your diagnosis, treatment and recovery. Shock, anger, hurt, upset, sadness, fear among others. It is a traumatic time and experience.
I have a post here on dealing with a cancer diagnosis which you might like to read.
You spend most of your time worrying about the “what if” until you hear the words “you are cancer free” from your consultant/oncologist and even then when you are told you are cancer free you always worry that your cancer may come back, either the same cancer as before or a different type.
I always allowed myself to feel however I needed to feel, if I need/wanted to cry, I did, if I wanted to rant or give out, I did. I did whatever I needed to do to help me. It’s very important that you do that.
I attended a counsellor because although I spoke to my family and friends, they weren’t equipped with the training and tools that counsellors are in helping people who are going through cancer or another serious illness. Speaking with family and friends is important, but it is equally important not to overload them too as they will also be worrying about you and it’s important to be mindful of that and not put too much on them.
I have written a post previously on coping with chemotherapy & accepting help from others which you may find helpful.
Every day you wake up to right through another day, another long, tiring and emotional day. Be proud of yourself for that. Be proud that every day you wake up and get up and you fight those demons that try to bring you down emotionally and physically.
Every day that you fight that cancer, every day you fight through the negative emotions, thoughts, feelings and anything that tries bringing you down is another day that helps to make you stronger and more resilient.
I didn’t allow myself feel guilty; for anything. I had no reason to feel guilty; so why would I feel guilty? It’s another negativity that wouldn’t help so I eliminated it. Although eliminating it wasn’t easy, it was something that I needed to do in order to help myself.
Positivity along with a positive mind set and attitude is what you really need throughout your treatment. If you are constantly feeling down and seeing the negative side of everything you will tire yourself even more and you really don’t need that.
How I keep positive is by doing the following:
- I have cancer – I have a curable cancer
- I need six months of chemo – Chemo can help to reduce my cancer and will help me become cancer free
- I need surgery – Surgery will help in fully removing my cancer
- I need radiation therapy – This will help prevent cancer coming back in future. Prevention is better than cure.
- I need to take a year off work/college – My cancer is temporary and I can return to work/college after I am recovered
- I’ve lost my hair – My hair will grow back
Written down, it looks easy, to put it into practice is a lot harder and it is no mean feat. It takes a huge amount of determination and work to tell yourself that all the time and to try and remain as positive as you can.
People will take an interest, not negatively though, they are just interested in cancer, how it affects you, how treatment is effecting you, what side affects you may have, dietary requirements and that kind of thing really.
When people told me not to worry, I was confused, I mean, how could I not worry? I have an illness that could potentially kill me and I’m not supposed to worry?!?! You will always worry, every day, but what you need to do is try put a positive spin on the negatives whenever you can.
I know myself I found it very difficult to do, it wasn’t at all easy, but over time I have learned that it was helping me by being positive and although I am ill, I am happier than I would be if I was constantly negative and seeing the pessimistic side of everything.
Finding a balance between genuine worries, concerns and fears and those that are the “what if’s” is important. What I find helpful with this is writing out my worries and then writing out the negatives and positives of each one and then try to focus on the positives as much as I can.
I know I sound like one of those annoying people who is positive about everything but it is something that really does help hugely when going through something like cancer or another serious illness.
Getting out and about will help too. Staying inside and cooped up 24/7 is not good for your mental health. You need to get out for your own sanity. Go shopping with your friends, go for coffee, lunch, dinner, take a walk around the shops, do your own grocery shopping etc. You’ll be exhausted going through treatment so going out may not be something you feel like doing or want to do but it is important that you do it.
You could go to your friends’ houses or invite them to yours, you could have a night of pampering, movies, games or just a good ol’ girls’ night. Whatever you want. Make sure you have fun and enjoy yourself. Try to keep your routine as normal as you can.
When you go through cancer your regular normal is no longer your normal, your normality changes. If you work or are in college, you’re used to getting up early, doing a day of work/college, then coming home and studying or chilling.
When you have cancer you most likely have to take time off work/college, so you don’t get out every day like you used to. You don’t have that social interaction you once had with your colleagues or college buddies. Chances are your friends work or are in college so seeing them every day may not be an option so when they’re meeting up, try and make it along if you can.
Cancer and the treatment of cancer, particularly chemotherapy, can be isolating so getting out and about, meeting with friends and interacting with people is hugely important.
There will be days where you won’t want to go out or talk to/see anyone an that is okay too, we all have those days, but it is equally important not to allow yourself to become entirely isolated because you need the support of your friends and family and people in general.
You need to talk to people, be it about cancer, the weather, the latest Kardashian scandal, what new movie is due out in two weeks. You need that social interaction; you need to stay connected with your peers.
What you don’t want or need is for your relationships with your colleagues, college buddies or friends to become distant because when you are recovered and you do go back to work/college it will be so much easier when you don’t have to make friends from scratch, that isn’t easy, at any age or stage in life so keeping in with them all is hugely important.
Of course in life friends can come and go, friendships can become distant, friends can grow apart, that is normal, but you don’t want that to happen without trying to maintain them and if they become distant or drift then it is probably a friendship that was going to drift at some point anyway.
I stand by the saying “when you are going through rough times, you will find out who your friends are” and I can honestly say that having gone through hard times at various stages in my own life, I have found this to be very true.
If you are in any way concerned with your illness, treatment, maybe worried that treatment isn’t working correctly or as well as it could or should be, then you should contact your Oncologist or Clinical Nurse Specialist as they will be able to answer all your queries and help to alleviate your worries, concerns and fears, but it is also important to remember that your health care team can only give you so much reassurance and you will need to reassure yourself a lot of the time which isn’t easy, but it is something you need to do.
The Irish Cancer Society are absolutely amazing in proving help and support to cancer patients, so if you are a cancer sufferer or someone close to you is going through cancer is may be worth getting in touch with the Irish Cancer Society they will be able to provide professional help and support to you.
Sorry this was such a long post, there was so much I wanted to include in it. I hope you enjoyed reading and I hope you found this post helpful and informative.
Thank you so much for reading and visiting 🙂 X