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Regaining Confidence After Cancer Takes Time, But IS Possible

February 6th, 2017 |
Emotional Support, Young Adult Cancer

by Musingsofamedst... | Survivor: Acute Myeloid Leukemia    Connect


"So, Nikhil, your liver counts are a bit up, and I've discussed it with Dr Andrews and he and I agree that you should start prednisone as soon as possible."

"Are you sure? We can't hold out and let the other medications take effect?"

"Umm," came the voice over the phone. "Unfortunately not. It's just creeping up a bit too high and we need to get it under control. So start the steroids today."

"Okay, will do then," I muttered surlily before slamming down the phone.

I hate that drug.

It's a corticosteroid - a drug designed to stop my stem cell donor's immune system from accidentally killing my organs instead of the cancer cells. But even though it's helping me greatly in getting better, I still hate it for its side effects.

The major ones associated with a steroid like prednisolone are much less flattering than the steroids you hear athletes getting busted for on the news. My brand of steroids kept me up for way too long - sometimes 40 hours on end. It made me grumpy, all the time. It made my face look like it'd been stung by a whole beehive due to water retention. And it made me get way too fat.

Yeah, the insomnia and moodiness was horrible. But for me, the most horrible thing about it all was the effect it had on my looks.

I mean it's not like I was God's gift to women before starting the medication (though you could be forgiven for thinking that I thought I was if you saw me posing for the mirror after a shower), but I did manage to get second looks from girls as I walked down the street. And I liked that feeling. Losing that alone was enough to make me fall into a pit of self-doubt, but the paranoia I got from the stares after the transplant dug me in even deeper.

In a way, I'd always had issues with my self-esteem. A big cause of that was the remnants of self-consciousness I had in my teenage years. Gaining that extra weight and becoming moon-faced from all the water retention and bald at only 18 made me doubt myself more than I ever had before.

The worst thing about that was that I stopped doing what I normally would. Things that would make me healthy. Things that would make me happy. Like, I went out less. I stopped going on walks and runs, afraid of what people would think as I struggled to run even 50 yards. I even stopped catching up with old friends. I was that afraid of what they’d think of me. I told myself it was to keep myself safe from infections. That it was to keep me safe. In truth, I was afraid of what people were thinking of me.

But after a lot of trial and error, I was able to shift into a mentality that let me regain my confidence.

And that's the best thing that's happened to me. Ever.

It's not like I began thinking, "Oh yes, I'm going to be happy, no matter how hard my battle with cancer is," and suddenly became a die-hard, live-life-to-the-max, #YOLO optimist. The first thing I did - what you'll have to do, too - is I took a step back and examined myself and what I was feeling with as little emotion as possible. Almost as if I was someone else peering into my mind. When I did that, I asked myself why I was so afraid of people's judgements.

But I mean, most people weren’t even thinking anything bad of me at all! When I looked at someone walking down the street, I didn’t immediately start judging them or thinking “What is that guy wearing!” did I? Why would people be doing that to me?

Most of the anxiety was coming from ME. And it didn’t make sense because in truth, no matter how much your mind tells you otherwise, most people are just good people. They don’t care. They’d wish you well if they knew what you were going through.

But even if people were judging me. Even if they were talking about me behind my back… why was I letting their THOUGHTS stop me from being happy? From doing what I wanted to do? Not only was I letting anyone who wanted me to fall win by doing that, I was wasting my life trying to please horrible, judgemental people. It didn’t make sense.

What did make sense was learning how to live life on MY terms.

And slowly, bit by bit, over months, I managed to break through that stifling social anxiety. I was able to be me. It won’t happen overnight. You’ll often revert back to what you were and what you were feeling before on the path. But by taking small steps and reminding yourself of this over and over, it does become a habit. Your normal mindset. Hopefully you will manage to become the most self confident, happy version of yourself despite the cancer too. That's how I got there, at least.

And I haven’t been bold or courageous or anything to do this, it doesn’t require something amazing. All of this is something ANYONE can do. And you DO deserve it. I’d be honoured to help you on your journey or to talk anytime.

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Musingsofamedst...   
Nikhil is an AML survivor, 2 time bone marrow transplant recipient, medical student, founder of a social enterprise and author of his blog, Musings of a Med Student Patient.

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