Life – but not as you knew it: Talking it out

A cancer diagnosis changes everything.  Whatever cancer you’re dealing with, whatever treatment you’ve had (or are having), adjusting to life after you hear the words “You’ve got cancer” are never easy.  In our blog below, Viv Wilson shares her experience of cancer treatment and how valuable counselling has been in helping her to cope with all the changes she’s experienced.

At Shine, we know how important the right psychological support can be. We also know that less than half of all younger adults facing cancer get offered counselling – and that’s not good enough.  Many hospitals offer free counselling for people going through cancer treatment. If you think you’d benefit, ask your consultant or clinical nurse specialist for a referral. And remember that Shine’s meet ups  are a great way to meet others who know what you’re going through.

Talking it Out

Guest blogger: Viv Wilson

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I was diagnosed with widespread, high grade DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ) in my right breast in June 2012.  At the time, I was a 42 year-old single mum with twin teenagers.

My mum had breast cancer at 45 and later died of pancreatic cancer.  As the same thing had happened to her mum, I went for genetic testing. As it turned out, I don’t carry any of the known breast cancer genes but I decided to have both breasts removed as a precaution. I asked the surgeon to give me temporary implants so that I didn’t have to be flat chested.  I had a bilateral mastectomy and my new breasts looked great.  But ten days out of surgery I developed a massive infection in my left implant and I had to have it removed. In May 2013, I had the right one removed as well.  It was then that my world crashed around me.

The whole reason I had asked for temporary implants was to avoid being flat chested. To end up like flat chested anyway, after all the surgeries, was a real shock.  I just couldn’t accept the way my body looked.  My stomach stuck out beyond where my breasts should have been which made me really upset.  I felt like I looked pregnant and had I nightmares about getting dressed. I also hated the “softie” breasts that the nurse had given me. Putting them in my bra was just a reminder of everything I’d been through and they often moved around so much they ended up under my chin rather than on my chest!

After my diagnosis and surgeries, I often felt that I couldn’t quite be myself around my family and friends. I am happy and jolly by nature and I didn’t want that to change, but lot of my time seemed to be spent looking after the feelings of everyone else rather than my own.

I wasn’t offered any counselling after my mastectomy.  I did speak to the breast care nurse at the hospital, who was fantastic, but I always felt like I was bothering her, as she was so busy. I felt cast adrift.

It was only after I had the right implant removed privately that I found out about a counselling service that was offered at our local hospice.  I was given the number of the counsellor and decided to give them a ring.  I was feeling so low that I didn’t really have anything to lose.  Counselling is part of my own job so I also knew what it entailed and it didn’t frighten me.

I have always suffered with depression, anxiety and panic attacks but until the diagnosis I was coping with things much better.  Having gone through cancer, it reared its ugly head again and I felt like I was back to square one.  There was so much to think about: Why did this happen to me?  Will it happen again? How do I feel about my body now? How do other people view me?  Do I want reconstruction?  What happened to the me I used to be? The list of things going round in my head was endless.

When I started the counselling, I found that I really needed to talk over the traumas I’d been through, from having weak veins and having the nurses spend a good couple of hours every day trying to get 4000mg of antibiotics into me, to what having no breasts meant to me and how I was going to recover.  But one of the most valuable things for me about having a counsellor is that it is my hour to say what I want to, however I want to.  I have a chance to talk about my fears and worries in a place where I don’t feel judged and I don’t feel as though I’m are going to offend anyone.  To have that release once a week was – and still is – immense.

I have been able to talk through all of the issues I have with the things that have happened.  Although the counsellor doesn’t try to give me solutions, she helps me to work things out myself and has made me realise that many of my thoughts and feelings are normal.  We have also talked about the loss of my mum five years ago and my feelings about how things might have differed had she been here.  There is an endless pot of emotion to wade through or at least that’s how it can feel sometimes.

If someone had told me a couple of years ago how this experience was going to affect me, I wouldn’t have believed it.  I haven’t got to the point where I’m ready to move away from counselling but luckily I’m able to keep going until I feel ready to stop.  Counselling isn’t for everyone, but through it, I have been able to discover who I am and work out where I fit into the world again. What it has also done is to help me to accept who I am now and that this body is my “new normal”.  I have taken myself off the waiting list for reconstruction which feels like a real step forward in accepting where I am today.

If you feel it would do you good, give counselling a go and see if it helps.  Go in with an open mind and get out of it what you need. After all it’s your life, your body and your future.

Viv blogs at http://vivsmiles.wordpress.com

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