Even after six years, I still remember the shock and pain of the first few weeks and months. My breast cancer was caught on a routine mammogram. Now I wish I had been kinder and gentler to myself in the beginning of all of this. Hearing, “You have cancer” is a gigantic shock. Here are my thoughts on the emotional aspect of cancer to help you.
I got the call from my doctor while I was out running errands. (Do you notice how you learn that assistants almost never call with bad news, but when the doctor calls, there may be trouble?) I had already had the mammogram and I was waiting for biopsy results. I was filling my car at a gas station and lots of people were around, but suddenly it felt like I was in a clear bubble—separated from everyone else there just getting gas and doing their thing.
I remember trying to finish the call calmly—a moment frozen in time and forever etched in my mind. Next I called my husband whose first reaction was “Oh no.” My normally calm and cheerful husband didn’t know how to help! He had no words to help me in that moment. That upset me even more. What was your diagnosis experience? Is it still etched in your mind? What helped? These things helped me:
Crying: I remember crying a lot. It was OK to cry. We sometimes underrate the crying. Don’t buy into the societal expectation that we calm down and put on our brave face right away. Let it out for as long and hard and often as you need to, especially in the beginning. Take the time to cry as a normal part of working through this.
Journaling: Eventually, I wrote in my journal about my cancer. Writing things down got cancer thoughts out of spinning around in my head and down on paper. Lists and writing about cancer helped me.
Processing it—it is big: A cancer diagnosis is a life-changer, and you are allowed to feel what you feel about it. Cancer is a shock. I remember being shocked, upset, angry, sad, uncertain and worried. I was fortunate to have a belief system and the support of loved ones, yet I still felt all that. It helped me to let those emotions out rather than having them come out sideways and maybe hurt someone near me.
Time, time, time: Give yourself the time to process your feelings even as you go forward with your treatments. I wish I had been kinder to myself. A fellow breast cancer survivor told me she stayed on her couch for two days and just cried. She told me she went through one of her radiation treatments bawling her eyes out the whole time. She was brave! She let her feelings out when she was feeling them. The feelings do change over time and you will work through them.
Be gentle with yourself: Be gentle with your feelings. Many times, we are kind and gentle to loved ones when they are upset, but we don’t give ourselves the same kindness. Go to your safe place when you need to take a break from the thoughts and worries, and try to distract yourself. Slow down the racing thoughts and worries by writing down your questions to ask the doctor. Get them out of spinning around and around in your head.
You will be able to work through your cancer feelings. Finally, I suggest NOT going through the experience alone. Reach out to loved ones, fellow patients, survivors, support groups and maybe even an oncology psychotherapist. You will be able to work through cancer and the shock and the intense feelings it creates.