“I am now on the other side of treatment. My hair is coming back, much different than it was before, but beautiful. However my body will never be the same. The things that will never be the same are not things people can see, but I know. My experience with cancer from watching my mother and sister die to surviving my own has made me a much more confident person. When I lost my breasts and all my body hair I felt androgynous. I hated looking at myself, but I have a wonderful husband who through comic relief made me feel better about myself. I know not everyone has this positive reinforcement. You have to reach deep inside to find what is important and fight. My breasts and hair do not make me who I am. My cancer has made me a much more introspective and compassionate person. I love sharing joy with people, that joy is strangely a result of cancer. I feel like I am one of the lucky ones.”
Above are the comments left by Jane Howard on my post about the stigma of a changing appearance. I was very moved by them, and felt that they must be shared, for everyone to read. Unless you have experienced this kind of situation, it is very difficult to understand the true enormity, of what happens, when someone receives a cancer diagnosis. I frequently use the expression ‘life changing,’ which it truly is, but even that never really feels adequate!
In many cases, our physical changes are obvious, but it is the psychological issues, and the things that people don’t see, which are the real hurdles to our wellbeing. The difficulty for the medical profession is that each case is as unique as us. We are all affected differently. Some more, and some less, but cancer will without doubt leave you with scars. Either physical, mental or both.
Above, Jane talks about becoming a more introspective and compassionate person. That has also happened to me, and many people I know. Ironically, my wife was talking to me about some of my ex work colleagues, and I told her that I can’t even believe that I was a ruthless business man, before I got cancer. Money used to be my driver, and I spent most of my previous life chasing it. Now, in my new life, other than ensuring we have enough to get by on, money rarely enters my thoughts. My main driver, is to improve things for people affected by cancer.
I have always been both physically and mentally tough, and that certainly has helped get me through the major changes in my life. In her comments, Jane also mentions that she has become a confident person, and I think I understand what she means. Personally I have seen some of the darkest times, anyone could possibly imagine. My confidence has never been an issue, but my situation now feels strangely empowering. Although of course, it is not one I would have chosen.
My master is my own health now, which is very restricting, but after a long time I am used to that. It limits many of the things I do physically, but I have a new-found freedom. No longer chasing a career, and suffering the company of others, for politeness. I tell it as it is, and don’t do things because they will be good for my future!
How did all that happen? When I entered the process I was determined that no matter what treatment I was facing, I was going to recover, and go back to the work I loved so much. Every chemotherapy session I went through, was a step forward to my ultimate goal. I was determined not to be brought to my knees by cancer. It became a personal challenge, and I wasn’t going to be changed by it. But I was!
Many people say that cancer has had a positive impact in their life. Obviously no one would choose that option, but I understand what they mean. In my experience, a diagnosis forces a life review, and it is then that you start understanding the things that are truly important in your life. Mostly, it is the simple things that you appreciate. The rest feels like garnish, on life’s plate.
When diagnosed with cancer, there is no doubt, that your life will change, not much will stay the same. Some people find strength when they felt there was none. Others lose it. On occasions you will be unable to do things you used to be able to, but life may compensate, and show you new things. It is very hard to prepare, as change just happens. How you see yourself, may even change, like it has for me.
I would like to thank Jane, for sharing her very personal thoughts with us. Also to everyone who takes the time to leave comments here. We are learning from each other, and this site is all about sharing experience. Your feedback is valuable, and I would like to know how cancer has changed you.
I am an official support partner of the Grove Hotel in Bournemouth. The only hotel in the UK specifically for people affected by cancer and other life limiting conditions.