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.
Fairly soon after my reluctant arrival in Cancerland I realised the only person who would be
going through what lay ahead was me. It would be a solo and at times lonely journey of hideous conversations and choices, of hair loss, fatigue and scars. Fairly soon after that I realised the only person who could resolve what lay ahead was me.
My life had run to plan and schedule up until cancer arrived. A torrent of chaos followed the diagnosis most of which felt out of my choice and control. It was deeply upsetting and extremely destabilising realising some things in life were out of my control and this was difficult to contemplate let alone accept. To counteract these feelings I worked endlessly and tirelessly to ensure everything else in my life was ordered and perfect.
Initially I had to contend with treatment, side effects and two children under 16 months old. To manage this I bypassed my emotions and only focused on my actions. The downside of this was I bottled up my emotions and was continuously and perilously close to a mental breakdown. My mind was a messy maze of terror and the unknown. I was constantly trying to work out and gain control over and about cancer. I was overwhelmed and overloaded. Something needed to change. It dawned on me I needed a system to manage cancer.
I began to acknowledge what was out of my control:
The side effects of treatment
The outcome of treatment
As well as what was in my control:
Taking care of my physical and emotional health
Living the life I wanted to
Taking responsibility for what I could
By letting go of what I couldn’t control was liberating and gave me perspective. This enabled me to spend my time and energy on what I could control. Initially this focused on taking care of myself physically to reduce the risk of recurrence. I began leading a near organic vegan lifestyle which I felt in control of. Once this felt settled I then focused on leading the lifestyle I wanted to, I created a bucket list and partied hard. I then felt I was in control of how I spent my time. Only then when I felt in control of my life once more could I address the emotions cancer created through reflection, counselling and personal development courses.
I didn’t complain about having cancer because there was no point, it was happening and it was out of my control but I was in control of resolving the impact cancer had on me. I chipped away day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year looking at how cancer impacted me and how I could manage this. I focused and channelled my energy into what I could change and take responsibility for instead of complaining about what was happening. I have now learnt to look in every situation what is and isn’t in my control and what is and isn’t my responsibility. This is a much less draining way to live than my crazy, controlling and chaotic days of the past.
For many people cancer feels totally out of control and this is deeply uncomfortable to live with. Parts of cancer are out of control which is why recognising and taking responsibility for the parts we can take control for are vital for recovery.
What were you in control of while you had cancer? What was out of your control when you had cancer? What did you take responsibility for when you had cancer? What changed in this process?