When I was first diagnosed back in 2007 most things physical were discussed with me before I started treatment. I say discussed, there was no option for me. I had to have the treatment or I would have died within 6 months. Most of what was mentioned has happened or is starting to happen, so no real surprises, especially having survived for 13 years.
But what did take me by surprise is the toll my disease has taken on me psychologically! Being battered physically for so long, be it cancer or treatment, I became depressed! Something I never thought could happen to me. I felt I could deal with anything, but it seems I am human too. My body chemicals are now in balance and I am enjoying life again. However the emotional issues seem to be rarely discussed. I am therefore delighted to share this wonderful piece by Liz @thesaltiestcow who talks about her own psychological challenges.
“Let’s bring the elephant into the room, the effect of cancer on the mind, the part that rarely gets a mention and isn’t talked about enough. Unfortunately for me I’ve had 2 major cancer episodes in my life 31 years apart, and know fully well just how important it is to look after the mind as well as the body. I spent nearly 30 years neglecting my mind and it has taken over 2 years of oncology psychologist sessions and a lot of hard work, to get to a healthy mindset and I see so clearly now the psychological impact it can have.
It’s the fear of the unknown, whether it be an unknown procedure, scan result, chemo regimen ,side effect and the list goes on .It’s those moments laying on the scanner bed as it does its thing remembering every other time you’ve been there. The times you sit waiting to see the oncologist feeling the anxiety rising, as the direction your life will take, lies in their hands. During the quiet of the night as you lay in the dark feeling all the parts of your body so different now. Catching your reflection in the mirror and seeing the scars, each one attached to a story. They may be able to remove all the physical aspects of having cancer, but the mental side of it changes you forever. How you face your fear is what really matters!
As a 14 year old I ran as far away from it as I could, and I am so thankful that I was a year into my oncology psychology sessions when I had the lung cancer diagnosis. I felt I was equipped with so many more tools to deal with it. I have come out the other side, in the best place mentally my whole life. Yet cancer still managed to sideswipe me with a heavy dose of survivors guilt recently. Which is one of the hardest things to deal with when you are active in the online cancer community.
Survivors guilt is that feeling of why them and not me. That overwhelming feeling of guilt as others deteriorate and you improve. This year has been pretty brutal to us all in that aspect. With Covid happening, the online community has become some people’s only lifeline. We’ve all got to know each other that little bit more, and the support I see on a daily basis is incredible. But it comes with a price and not everyone survives. Last week Sean O’Brien, one of the loveliest and loudest characters of the cancer family died. Although we all knew it was coming I don’t think of us really believed it would happen! The same day I received a call to tell me one of my friends disease has progressed, and I was heartbroken over both.
Later that evening I checked my email to see one from my oncologist to say my chest ct scan was clear. I was over the moon but didn’t want to tell anyone due to the sad news that day. I felt guilty for having such good news when others weren’t receiving the same. It felt so unfair to them yet I knew that they both would be thrilled for me. I still waited till the next day to share my news, just as my respect to them, and felt proud of recognising what I was feeling and sitting with it quietly .
That’s the bit about cancer you don’t hear about and we need to acknowledge it more. By keeping it as the elephant in the room we are only giving it more power! We need more oncology psychologists desperately, as I was lucky enough to only wait a year to see one. Some areas of the UK do not have this service offered at all and that needs to change. If there is one thing I can take out of the last 31 years, it is that the mind is just as important as the body!”
I would like to thank Liz for sharing her own story here. If you have something you would like to share with the community, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. You can either email via the link above or leave a comment below. Stay safe everyone!!