Sunday, 2 February 2014

Dealing with a cancer diagnosis

Last week I wrote about my experience of talking to two people who were newly diagnosed. How I felt that even after so many years, there just was not enough support for people facing cancer treatment. Despite our many years of experience, generally, people are still left to face a traumatic time on their own.What really shocks me about that, is when I use my own personal experience as an example.

My diagnosis involved stage 4 incurable cancer. No one knew if I would live or die. Everything I was facing was a totally new experience, and despite the fact I was 51, it was really frightening! That was only the treatment etc, not even including losing my job, income and all the things associated with that. I was introduced to a specialist nurse, who was lovely, but told me so many times how many patients she looked after, so I gave up even trying to talk to her. I decided, that like most things in my life, the only person who could sort things out was me. 

But I was equipped for this sort of challenge, in a strange sort of way. I have always worked for myself, and have rarely had to rely on other people, so another system that was inadequate was not unusual. However for others, who might expect and require more support than me, I'm sure the entire experience comes as a complete shock. What makes things worse, as far as I am concerned is that my own issues started seven years ago, and in honesty, although, medically many things are improving rapidly, the basics of support are not! 

As I also say frequently, my opinions are based on not only my personal experiences, but also many other people who I am in contact with, either personally or via social media. This week I am highlighting another example of how people can react to a cancer diagnosis. Emily is an incredible young lady who was diagnosed in November 2013 with endometrial (uterine) cancer and colon cancer. 

"Tonight, I broke down. I don’t know what exactly sparked it, but tonight everything just hit me like a ton of bricks. It finally settled in my mind. I have cancer. I am going to have to endure probably the most grueling year of my life, and then who knows what I’ll be like when it’s all over? Will be I able to go back to the same line of work that I intended? I know my job won’t be there when I get back. I had just started. It’s not one of those jobs with real job security anyways. They’re not obligated to save a spot for me until I get back like at some other jobs. I’m not on that level yet. 

When all this is over, what will I be left with? A few less body parts than I started with, the inability to have kids, but hopefully my life. I probably won’t be able to see a lot of my friends for a while. I won’t be able to be as independent as I want to be. I don’t know what freaked me out so much in particular, but I had one of those deep sobs. It hurt — seeing as I just had surgery last week — but it also hurt because I felt like I was in some kind of box that no one around me could get into. Like no one could quite understand exactly what I was crying about. Heck, neither could I. But tonight, I don’t feel strong. Tonight, I feel sick. Tonight, I feel weak. Tonight, I feel scared."

This young lady has the world in front of her, but is now facing her biggest challenge. What can equip her for the experiences that may lie ahead? Being younger, Emily faces many unique challenges, associated with her age, which us older people don't. She will require very specialist, age appropriate support.

The fear which Emily describes graphically above, is just another example of how a lot of people are feeling when faced with a cancer diagnosis. I wanted to share it, as much for people who have been lucky enough not to be in that position, as I feel it sums things up brilliantly.There is support out there, but it is very hard to find. I also appreciate the issues involved, as every experience is unique, and a generic approach is no longer appropriate. But in many cases, the psychological and emotional fallout from cancer, can have a more negative effect than the cancer itself. 

My personal view is that a much earlier support intervention, where required, will improve things for people. I'm sure that is not the complete answer, but I do know that we cannot let things continue as they are. Unfortunately there will be very many more people entering the process, and they will need some help. 

What was your experience, on diagnosis? How were you feeling, and what help did you find? Please feel free to share your experience with the readers. You can also join us on Facebook here

If you would like to read more about Emily, you will find her blog here


  1. To have it all hit at once sounds all too familiar. It can come in waves of realization, and yes - the psychological impact is almost worse than the cancer least while the cancer is tolerable. Sometimes I wish I could just flip a switch and tune it out completely. ~Catherine

  2. Hi Catherine

    This is yet another example of how cancer affects us all differently. Your point about the psychological impact is so true, certainly in my own instance. Unfortunately, there just isn't that switch that you mention. Emily is going through some tough times currently, and I'm so grateful that she gave me the opportunity of sharing her feelings with the readers.

    We are all still learning from each other. Thanks as always Catherine! Chris