1 in 2 women will get diagnosed with cancer at one point in their lifetime. Statistically speaking this means that either you or your best friend will have to "battle" this illness. Yet we're often uninformed about what this journey entails, the load it puts on you, your surrounding and the impact it has on you for the rest of your life.
I understand that every journey is different and that every soul handles challenges differently, that's why I can and will only speak for myself as I'm sharing my story and the choices I've made.
I remember the moment and the day of my diagnosis as if it was yesterday, it's like this date splits my timeline into two halves: " before and after I got cancer".
It's been mind blowing to see how all the dreams I had before suddenly didn't matter anymore. How I didn't care about my career, social events, looks, university degrees, money, status and all those other shallow aspects we attach our identity to in order to feel like we are someone.
don't make the illness your identity
At the moment of diagnosis I just felt relieved that I finally knew what was going on, I was glad to have an explanation for my pains. The first thing after being diagnosed was that both the illness and the healing were the only two things that mattered to me.
It struck me in the first days that one of the worst things I could do was to make the illness my identity. Yet this was easier said than done as I was very sick and could barely get out of bed so I felt very - sick - , but tried to tell myself I was- healing- .
Before diagnosis I would have just identified with the state I was in, if I felt happy, I'd identity myself as a happy person. If I was being very active, I'd identify as productive, ect ect. This was the first, but certainly not the last time where I'd choose to identify with the process instead of the state of one single moment.
2. Know you're worthy of time
Social media's mental health posts are often filled with the famous "ask for help" line, yet sometimes this just isn't enough.
In my personal journey, I did ask for help but the people whom I asked it to simply didn't found a way to have some time available for me. As I also wasn't going through conventional treatment this meant that I was always alone. Since the people that we're closest to me, didn't have time to spend with me, I simply assumed that everyone else felt the same way.
In retrospect this is the first thing I'd do differently, since I know now that I did have friends that would have stayed with me through this journey, but I simply didn't ask them.
Deep down I felt ashamed and unworthy because I wasn't contributing enough to my surroundings or society as a whole and in my mind the people around me confirmed that by saying that I wasn't worthy of their time. Which led me believing that I needed to heal and be productive again before someone would want to be with me again. This wasn't too beneficial for my process, as in retrospect, I feel like I needed to heal those beliefs and trauma's before this healing journey could be completed.
3. Trust the process
As you know now, a part of me felt so incredibly lonely and unworthy that " that" part of me was in a real rush to heal, as the sooner I could go back to work the sooner I'd be worthy of peoples time again. This part of me disregarded the current challenges I was facing and just wanted to stick to the healing method as if it was a 3-step-plan to get back to my old life.
Yet little did I know that I would never be able go back to the "old me", I tried so hard to fit back into the mold that I had created for myself, prior to being diagnosed, but I just couldn't.
I tried even harder when I noticed that my environment also expected and demanded me to go back to who I used to be, as that's what they knew and felt comfortable with.
4. Life after cancer is a thing
Not being able to go back to who I thought I was, yet not knowing who I really am either was one of the most difficult parts of my process ,especially since it's combined with the not knowing if "it" will come back.
My journey had make such an impact on me and how I saw the world that it was impossible for me to think as I used to, yet it took me almost 2 years to talk about this period of my life openly so it was like having a characteristic that I didn't except and therefore tried to suppress.
Besides that I also knew that, statistically speaking, there was a chance of cancer returning, which made me feel like my body was an incredibly unsafe place to be in. yet as mentioned before, I believe that it was the embodiment of myself that eventually completed my healing. So this believe that I wasn't safe led me to dissociate constantly, making it even harder to feel who I was and what I wanted.
This situation in which I was feeling as sick as I used to, but at the same time no longer having an diagnosis to explain your situation was incredibly difficult. I often feel like this was mentally the toughest time as I still felt very physically weak, yet was expected to work and workout like I used to.
Now, 3 years later I still don't have the right answer on how to deal with the time after cancer, but I do know that I wish that would have just accepted everything I was going through and would have trusted it'd all turn out fine. I wish I'd told more friend - or even random acquaintances - what was going on so that I could get of off my chest for a moment. I wish I'd have known there was no need to carry this load in such loneliness while I had so many loving friends around me who would have gladly held my hand as I was walking though this journey.
Female hormone specialist