August 11th, 2016
| Survivor: Breast Cancer
It’s hard to tell your story. You worry that people will think less of you or that you are lying by opening up. I see people affected by cancer are sometimes victimized. Nobody ever asks to be victimized. No person should ever be made to feel like they should keep quiet about personal experience. I am one voice, this is my story, and it is my personal right to be able to share.
Did I ask for breast cancer or for my body to be mutilated? Did I ask for infidelity? Did I ask to be victimized? No! Nobody ever asks for any of this, it's unfortunate that it happens, but when it does, your body enters survival mode. All you want is to survive - it’s on your brain 24/7. The downside is how your brain will react.
Mine didn't react the way I wish it could have. I felt abandoned and like I couldn't fight anymore. It was as if I started to give up my fight. I cried all day long, couldn’t get out of bed, would forget to prepare meals, couldn’t be around people, argued with anyone trying to help and I lost over 30lbs in less than a month. I had sunken into a deep depression and didn't know it. The feeling of being harassed, stalked, mentally victimized and taken advantage of by something was too much to handle. Often I was too scared to be around my friends and family because I knew my panic attacks would result in something very embarrassing.
I would have mild panic attacks that eventually became extremely intense. Medication to keep me calm didn’t seem to work. I was in the bathroom one evening while my three boys were outside playing hockey when a panic attack hit me. My chest tightened, I couldn’t breathe or hold myself up. I fell to the floor crying, I couldn’t move, as if I was paralyzed. My three year old son came in and lay on the floor holding me saying “it’s ok mom, everybody has accidents”.
After that, the oddest things would bring on the attacks. For example - the day I got my port removed, I was afraid my cancer would return. The port was inside me and ready to inject my body with treatment if the cancer returned. It was a part of me, it helped in saving my life, I wasn’t ready to have it taken.
Eventually I asked for help, but I remember sitting with a psychiatrist and saying I didn’t belong there. His response was, "today you proved just how strong you are, this is the most courageous thing to do...admit you need help and asking for it. You’ve done nothing wrong and don’t ever doubt the choices you have made". I was diagnosed with severe depression, anxiety, and panic attacks. After being assessed by a panel, I was given two options: Be admitted for 3-4 days recovery with a 24hr psychiatrist or Be released and agree to seeing the head psychiatrist once a week. I chose to release myself, I was afraid the children would think I was leaving them too.
Not only did I have to deal with cancer, but I also had to educate my family on how to interact with me and make them realize this was a real sickness.
Two years later, and I am finally in a good place again. I’ve never felt more self reliant, at peace, calm, or so understanding of others and the problems they may be facing. It is unfortunate that I had to endure such pain and it took almost two years to get to this point, but I believe that I had to endure to make me who I am today. I am a new person I never thought I would be- a fighter, determined, and very strong.
When I was first diagnosed I would often say, "I just want to be the person I was before cancer". At first I didn’t like this new me, but in all honesty, I LOVE the new me! I love that I can fight for a better life. I love the new experiences life has given me. I love that my children can see that independence is very important. I love the feeling when my little one wiggles in the bed saying, "it's morning time". I love being able to help others in need. Everyday's a new day, we all wake up not knowing what it will bring. It may bring joy, it may bring sorrow, but you have to embrace it and make it count, for you never know when it’s going to be your last.
On my darkest days, there was a song I would listen to over and over again, Fight Song by Rachel Platten. It helped by reminding me that I had to keep fighting. Maybe it would help you too:
This is my fight song
Take back my life song
Prove I’m alright song
My power’s turned on
Starting right now I’ll be strong
I’ll play my fight song
And I don’t really care if nobody else believes
‘Cause I’ve still got a lot of fight left in me
In what ways are you different after cancer? Share your experience in the comments below!
Photo courtesy of Serkan Göktay
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