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I turned my cancer-related depression and frustration with the health care system into something positive for others with the disease.
I am fired up about the lifelong psychological and emotional scars cancer can create.
It all started when I began to cycle into depression near the end of my 16 chemo treatments for late-stage 3 breast cancer in 2015.
What got me down was the fear of never feeling good again. I knew that two days after my infusion I would crash into a state of perpetual achiness, nausea and fatigue that would last for two days. Then I would feel slightly better for two days, then the cycle would start again.
When I asked my medical oncologist whether she could recommend a mental health therapist who understood what it was like for a type-A businesswoman like me to wanted to believe she was in control, yet knew she wasn’t in control of her cancer experience, she said she didn’t know of anyone—although she knew they existed. Then she added that if I did find a therapist to help with my cancer-induced depression, they likely wouldn’t accept health insurance.
I was stunned. And angry. So, I got to work, even though I had lumpectomy surgery and radiation to go before my 10 months of treatment was over.
Two weeks after finishing chemo, I attended a meeting with the Dean of the Graduate School of Professional Psychology at the University of Denver. Amidst waves of relentless hot flashes thanks to chemical-induced menopause, I sat with delightful PhD and PsyD administrators at the school. They listened intently as I poured my heart out about how frustrated I was that our country’s system of healthcare didn’t seem to understand how the psychological trauma a cancer diagnosis creates often impacts our ability to ultimately heal physically and psychologically.
Several exploratory meetings later, I channeled my frustrations by seed funding a specialty at the University of Denver called the Center for Oncology Psychology Excellence, or COPE.
The specialty was launched two months after I finished treatment, the night before my one-year anniversary as a survivor. Since then, over 170 graduate-level students have completed at least one of the courses in the four-course specialty.
Since COPE wasn’t enough, I wrote a multi award-winning memoir-style book, “The Unlikely Gift of Breast Cancer,” about how my cancer experience helped me discover my purpose and celebrate my differences. Now, I help senior-level business executives define and put their leadership legacy plans into action. In addition, I am a motivational speaker, blogger, podcaster, and author of inspirational stories about resilience.
My bottom line is this: Cancer’s emotional scars deserve compassionate healing. The way to help those impacted by cancer heal from the psychological trauma it creates is by sharing, listeningand caring for one another. I am an advocate to bring more attention and resources to those impacted by cancer, which includes loved ones and caregivers.
Without a doubt, the best day of cancer was the day I discovered my voice and embraced my true self. Cancer compelled me to wake up in mid-life and learn to lead with my heart instead of my head.
This post was written and submitted by Diane M. Simard, the author of, “The Unlikely Gift of Breast Cancer.” The article reflects the views of Diane M. Simard and not of CURE®. This is also not supposed to be intended as medical advice.
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