As a breast cancer and melanoma survivor, I still remember the shock and pain of the first few weeks and months. My first diagnosis was breast cancer that was caught on a routine mammogram. Looking back to those days, I wish I had been kinder and gentler to myself.
Hearing the words “You have cancer” is a huge shock, so here are my thoughts on the feelings part of cancer to help you—as a fellow cancer patient on this bumpy path. Please let me know if they are helpful and feel free to add to the list.
I got the call from my doctor while I was out running errands. (Isn’t it funny how you learn that assistants almost never call with bad news, but if the doctor calls, there may be a problem?) I had the mammogram, and then I was waiting for my biopsy results. I was filling the car at a gas station when my cell phone rang, but suddenly it felt like I was in a bubble—instantly separated from everyone else there who was getting gas and going about their own business. I made an effort to finish the call calmly. I remember that. The first thing I did was to call my husband. His response was “Oh no.” Oh, no? My normally calm husband was short on words. He had no words to help me in that moment. That upset me even more. He then met me at a nearby parking lot and gave me a hug. What was your experience? Is it forever engraved in your mind?
Journal when ready: Eventually, I wrote in my journal about my cancer, and the journaling helped. Writing things down got the thoughts out of spinning around in my head and down on paper. Before journaling, however, you may just need some good cries because cancer is such a great big overwhelming thing.
Cry: I remember crying a lot. It is OK and healthy to cry. Our culture sometimes underrates the experience of crying. Instead, the societal expectation is that we calm down and put on our brave face right away. Crying is important. Crying is actually helpful and healing. Let it out for as long and hard and often as you need to, especially in the beginning. Taking the time to cry is part of working through this process. Cancer hurt my feelings and my feelings needed time to react, adjust, and recover.
Allow the processing: A cancer diagnosis is a life changer, treatment can be a long process, and you are allowed to feel what you feel about your experience. Cancer is a shock. I was shocked, upset, angry, sad, uncertain, and worried, to name just a few of the emotions. Yes, I was fortunate to have a belief system and the support of loved ones, and I still felt all those feelings. It was helpful to let those emotions out rather than having them come out sideways and possibly hurt those around me. Your feelings are allowed to run their course.
Give yourself time: Allow yourself the time to process your cancer diagnosis feelings even as you may move forward with your medical treatments. I wish I had been kinder to myself. I remember a fellow breast cancer survivor telling me she hung out on her couch for two days and just cried when she received her diagnosis. At a different time, she told me she went through one of her radiation treatments bawling her eyes out the whole time. I thought that was brave! She was able to let her feelings out when she was feeling them. The feelings will change over time and you can work through them.
Be gentle with yourself: Ultimately, be gentle with those feelings. Many times we are kind and gentle to our loved ones when they are upset, but we don’t always give ourselves the same courtesy. Go to your safe place—maybe a specific chair and comforter or another soothing location. When you need to take a break from the cancer thoughts and worries, try to distract yourself—whatever is personally distracting to you. Try to slow down the racing thoughts and worries—write down your questions and concerns to ask the doctor to help get them out of spinning around and around in your head.
You will be able to work through the cancer feelings. They are part of the whole experience and process. Above all, I would strongly suggest NOT going through the experience alone. Reach out to fellow patients, survivors, support groups, and possibly an oncology psychotherapist. Let the doctors and your loved ones know that your feelings have been hurt by cancer too. You will be able to work through this but don’t do it alone. - See more blog posts by me at www.curetoday.com/community.
I am grateful to be here. It has been a long five years for me. I wrote about this anniversary at http://www.curetoday.com/community Now I sit in quiet with my Lab and Toller and watch a turtle cross our lawn. I am calmer now.
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My most recent learning experiences center around doctor visits to determine that my mom isn't having a breast cancer recurrence, a another surgical extended excision for me last week so that something bad on my thigh wouldn't turn into something worse (melanoma), and the discovery that trying to get the word out about my new book also adds to the anxious feelings of coping with my health. I guess it all just figures. Too much cancer in my daily life diet adds to my emotional distress. The good news? Everything turned out well for my mom and for me. The other good news? I am getting better at being gentle with myself when difficult feelings start to stir the pot. I am learning to recognize and acknowledge what was happening to me. As with all things, this too shall pass and I will get through it.
I did my first radio interview for the new book this morning. It was also the first interview I have ever done while on an island vacation! It was calming and sort of funny that I was looking at the gorgeous beach and ocean while being interviewed about cancer. I am grateful for this awesome vacation and for finding humor in the circumstances of the radio interview with Ted Dumas at BDC Radio.
I have had better days and I have had worse days. Ultimately, this is a good day.
This afternoon dermatology office calls about two moles I had to have biopsied on Monday. Mole on my back has mild atypia and just needs to be watched. The mole on my thigh needs surgery.
The mole on my thigh is not cancer, but is classified as severely atypical and called an “atypical melanocytic proliferation”, which can become cancer, and the margins were not clear. I am grateful and sad and frustrated. I am weary from having chunks constantly carved out of me, some little, some larger, and grateful that they are watching and addressing these moles. I am not a good sport. I am worried and scared. My soul knows I need simply to trust in God. My emotions want to run wild. For your own sake, please read this information below:
Here are the statistics from the http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/moles. "About 2 in 10,000 Americans—more than 70,000 people—develop melanoma. More than 800,000 Americans alive today have been diagnosed with melanoma...One in ten adults have dysplastic nevi. Researchers estimate that the chance of melanoma is about ten times greater for someone with more than five dysplastic nevi than for someone who has none, and the more dysplastic nevi a person has, the greater the chance of developing melanoma." -------- As I understand it, a melanoma can arise from a mole, though more likely to arise from a dysplastic nevi, and a melanoma can also sometimes appear from just ordinary plain skin.
I have so many risk factors, as many of us do—family members with many moles and/or skin cancer, many moles myself, many dysplastic nevi myself, a melanoma myself, prior sun exposure from youth through adulthood, prior use of tanning beds..
Dear God, I am grateful to have my lab results and that nothing is cancer. Help me to focus on an attitude of gratitude and to work through the weariness, sadness, and frustration. Thanks for listening. All truly is well, and I am blessed.
I am a breast cancer survivor and a melanoma survivor who is a speaker and author from the St. Paul/Minneapolis, MN area. I am not a doctor or a psychotherapist. I just try to write honestly about what is happening on my cancer journey, and I invite you to comment or share about your journey or the journey of a family member or friend.