I Was Unprepared for the Emotional Toll of Cancer


After I was diagnosed with colorectal cancer and told I needed a colectomy, I knew I’d face physical and financial difficulties after the surgery, but I did not anticipate the emotional toll of my diagnosis.

I was prepared for the financial cost that having a complete colectomy would have, but the emotional and physical cost to myself was not something I anticipated. They always tell you there might be pain or some loss of sensation after surgery, but they don’t tell you the long-term emotional side effects. That’s not something they put on the bill at the end of the procedure.

As I get ready now for my medical school graduation, I reflect back on my journal to get here. After eight years of battling progressively worsening ulcerative colitis, my ultimate fear of colorectal cancer presented itself after my yearly biopsy. A surreal feeling of disassociation kept me from actually acknowledging my diagnosis for a few weeks. I wasn’t ready to face it.

As I rounded the corner into my second year of medical school, I was faced with the decision on what to do: have the surgery to remove my large intestine, appendix and rectum, or start chemotherapy immediately. Between those two options, only one of them would let me continue my education, so we moved forward with the colectomy. On the day of surgery, I was excited to be medically cured and move forward with my life.

The colostomy bag was shocking to me when I woke up and in the months that followed, it depressed me how different my life had become. I could no longer be active in the ways I had before, and I was in constant pain from skin breakdown around the stoma site.

While I continued my education, my colleagues treated me differently and I lost my confidence in going outside in the world. I feared the bag would fall off, I feared people seeing it and asking me what happened, I feared feeling different.

When it was finally time for the pouch to be removed and the ileoanal anastomosis surgery to happen, I was overjoyed to regain a sense of normalcy.

However now as I’m almost two years post op and going through my second miscarriage, the cost to my body became more clear, being unable to carry a baby past the first trimester, twice. It has made me realize how much all the abdominal surgery has changed me. I had been told prior to the surgery that I may have difficulty having a family in the future and at the time it didn’t bother me. I was single and hadn’t been planning to ever have a family. But now as I’m a few months away from my wedding and having this second miscarriage, I worry my dreams of a family may be farther away than I imagined.

I wasn’t prepared for the emotional and physical toll surviving would have on me, but I would still never take back the decisions I made.

The path to recovery extends long beyond when you’re considered medically cured. As I continue down this path of emotional recovery, I’m grateful for every day and hope for a better future.

This post was written and submitted by Alyssa M. The article reflects the views of Alyssa M. and not of CURE®. This is also not supposed to be intended as medical advice.

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