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How cancer destroyed and built my self confidence

This post is part of our 'Looking Back To Go Forward' series, written by a mum called Rebecca. She was diagnosed with breast cancer while pregnant with her second child. Seven years after her diagnosis and treatment, she reflects on that time, how it affected her and some of the unexpected feelings and experiences it brought up.

Self-confidence can be described as having trust in one’s abilities and qualities and is a vital aspect of mental health. Life events which we have no choice or control over can reduce self-confidence because we have no known abilities to avoid them or manage the impact they have on us.

Reduced self-confidence can impact practical, personal and emotional aspects of life as well as choices and relationships. Many cancer patients speak of a lack of self-confidence following a diagnosis which they find difficult to resolve and recover from.

Prior to cancer I had a fragile self-confidence. My diagnosis of cancer ripped right through that and left me hiding from myself and the world around me. Because I had no other strategy I would make choices to fit in and seek the approval of others but underneath the compliant behaviour was a festering frustration that I wasn’t living the life I wanted to.

Treatment commenced and I got on with it, head down, focused on just making it through each day and whatever horror it may contain. I passively I accepted I was fairly powerless up against cancer. My mind was too overloaded at the time to recognise that by making it through each treatment and accompanying side effects, each difficult conversation and each trauma cancer created I was building my self-confidence. One day when I felt safe once more I looked back and recognised what I had been through and what I had achieved and reflected if I could get through that I could get through anything. Underneath the decimation erupting all around me there had been a faint but feisty constant determination which just kept going no matter how awful any situation was. I would snowplough through the treatments, side effects, tests, appointments as well as the accompanying paralysing fear and deep depression. If I could apply this part of me to other areas of my life I could achieve great things.

The fear cancer created gave me the self-confidence to speak up and live the life which was right for me. I became considerably less compliant and relationships which were based on my compliance faltered and eventually failed but in walking away from these my self-confidence grew. By living the life which I wanted to I found parts of me I did really like which also built my self-confidence. As my self-confidence grew I began setting goals and targets which felt extremely special and rewarding when I achieved and also built my self-confidence.

I will however have self-confidence regarding cancer because cancer is out of my control. Cancer may strike without warning again at any time in any place. I have no ability to create remission or prevent progression or my response to treatment and in accepting this I am free to focus on areas where I can build and maintain my self-confidence.

How can you rebuild your self-confidence after cancer?

  • Be open and honest about cancer has impacted you

  • Seek emotional support if needed

  • Set small achievable goals on a daily, weekly and monthly basis

  • If these goals are too difficult adjust them to be more manageable and achievable and work towards these for a time each day

  • Acknowledge, celebrate and be proud of what you have achieved.

Exploring changes to self-confidence is a vital aspect in the recovery from cancer and continues to highlight the importance of acknowledging and supporting the emotional impact cancer has to ensure that quality of life returns as quickly and fully as possible.

Was your self-confidence affected by having cancer? How was your self-confidence affected by having cancer? What would help you rebuild your self-confidence after cancer?


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