A lady wrote to me recently praising my positive attitude to having cancer. This lady also went on to say that her son had cancer and that he was in a very negative place and she had tried encouraging him to read my blog to gain a different perspective but that he wasn’t interested and so fearful for the future and asked if I ever felt like that?
I wrote back saying YES!
But her question made me think how important it is to discuss the lowest lows that you go through when dealing with cancer. I have a wonderful friend who stayed so positive throughout her whole treatment. She had breast cancer and has been all clear for years but looking back she says she never allowed herself to think the worst. She felt remaining positive was integral to her getting better and she never allowed negativity to creep in.
I did not feel like this.
I felt utterly lost in the darkest depths of an abyss. Like one of those little sea-creatures that lives in a place so dark its blind and has no idea which way is up or down, that was me.
I honestly think that the reason that I am able to speak about cancer so positively now is because it all turned out fine and I’m cancer free.
People generally (myself definitely) have an incredible knack for looking back on experiences and extracting meaning and positivity from them. That doesn’t mean the ‘meaning’ was obvious at the time. Or even there necessarily.
There were points when all I wanted to do was hide away. I didn’t want to see people, speak on the phone, anything. Treatment and bed, that was it. At some points that was all I was physically able to do but at other points, it was a very useful excuse. There were times when I would tell family not to come round and they would anyway. I must be honest, I usually felt a lot better for seeing them and having a chat about whatever my fears, or purposefully choosing not to talk about my fears. As I started to recognise this pattern, I tried to keep plans, or even invite my dad or sister round, which did help.
The lead up to my twelve-hour operation was mind-crushingly hard. I was petrified I would go to sleep and never wake up. I was so scared, I couldn’t even discuss my fears with anyone, I couldn’t say them out loud. In the end I had to push myself to tell one of my closest friends how scared I was because I wanted her to be able to pass on messages to my husband and children should my worst fear be realised. I don’t think anyone will understand the physical internal pain caused by fear that I went through in the weeks between radiotherapy and my operation.
My lowest of the low actually came towards the end of my treatment which might sound strange – it certainly did to those around me. I reached a point where I couldn’t fight anymore. I had already had three months of chemotherapy, three months of radiotherapy, two operations, followed by weeks in hospital. The thought alone of going back to have another three months of chemotherapy, knowing how sick it was going to make me, was too much for me to bear. I was so physically and mentally tired, I didn’t have any more fight left in me. People kept saying ‘but you’re so close to the end,’ but all I could think was ‘I can’t have another three months of chemo.’
I reached a point where I would rather give up completely than even thinking about keeping going.
I spoke to my oncology nurse about it and she was very understanding. I think sometimes in cancer care we think our reactions unique, but clearly nurses see this all the time. She advised antidepressants to give me the boost that I needed to get me through the last few months. Previously I had been quite ‘anti’ antidepressants but at that point, I was on so many tablets counteracting side-effects from the cancer and treatment I figured what’s one more tablet a day?! Plus I acknowledged, I needed extra help. The antidepressants did help and got me through the end of my treatment. I’m not suggesting antidepressants are the answer for everyone, but for me they were and still are. I am sure there are more examples of feeling lost that I could give but I’m sure you get the idea.
I must admit I have felt quite emotional writing this post. Remembering and feeling that long dormant fear in the pit of my stomach. But if you feel this way, or have a loved one who does, know that it is inevitably part of the process.
At the end of the day, I have turned out fine! In every way I think my life is even better than before. I have done things I wanted to do my whole life but never had the guts to do before (ironic as it was my guts that had cancer and are now gone – a little bit of ‘cancer humour’ there); like going to University and writing this blog.
One way or another the moment that you /your loved one is in will pass, but in the mean time be kind to yourself / to your loved one.
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