I was diagnosed with breast cancer four years ago and have been clear since surgery and six weeks of radiation therapy.
My feelings about breast cancer at the time were an absolute eye opener for me and now, with time I am still amazed that I could feel the way I did. I have never discussed this with anyone because I think its bizarre.
I was called back following a mammogram and told that I required a core biopsy. Now, this was not the first time I had been called back for further examinations and until they said the word biopsy, I had been quite flippant about it. The medical staff had several attempts to obtain appropriate material for the biopsy and then indicated that I would have to come back in four to six weeks for another attempt. I started to get a little upset about this time. When I asked what happened if they could not get diagnostic material next time, they said they would treat me based on what they believed without the biopsy results. Clearly at that stage, I was pretty sure that I had breast cancer
The interim period between this day and diagnosis was approximately 5 weeks and my head reeled with it. I remember trying to concentrate on anything at all and my mind would just be saying over and over – cancer, cancer, cancer, cancer…
Now none of this is probably surprising. What absolutely floored me was that I thought I deserved cancer. Then I would think that if I had a ‘real’ or ‘acceptable’ illness, I would get the support I craved. I also felt a sense of relief that someone else would handle the things in my life that I found stressful. My depression has always been much more a matter of stress building and building until it just boiled over. I thought that others would stop piling things onto me if I had a legitimate illness.
Everyone in my life was very supportive or would have been had I let them. I kept most people at arms distance. I insisted on working right through my radiation despite overwhelming tiredness. I manage a team of 30 at work and I believed that I would be weak if I couldn’t keep going. I still am eternally grateful to my team who walked on egg-shells around me for that time and came out of it supporting me in spite of it all. When I saw my oncologist on the last day of my treatment, she asked how much time I’d had off. When I said, proudly, stoically that I had worked right through, she handed me a medical certificate for three weeks and said, “Take my advice and take this.” I did and I think I slept almost solidly for the whole time.
If I could say one thing to anyone going through the cancer experience, it would be, “Be kind to yourself.” Since adopting an attitude of acceptance of myself, I have to say, being kind to me comes much easier. I would still never take a day off work just because I felt like it (I actually never have, not once) but I am much, much kinder to myself.
I felt cheated after my cancer experience that nothing life changing had happened to me. I now realise that I had to orchestrate that change and am proud to say that I have come out of the fog, into the light with an absolute gratitude for every aspect of life.