Feeling My Feelings After Breast Cancer

At the young age of 15, I was diagnosed with Stage 4 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I received chemotherapy as well as radiation at the time. As a precaution, once I was in my mid-twenties, I was sent for yearly breast screening. Having had radiation to my chest wall at such a young age meant that I was at risk for developing breast cancer. I am so thankful that my doctors sent me for yearly breast-screening, because just before my 30th birthday, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. If it hadn’t been for that yearly screening, I wouldn’t have caught it until it was too late. I had a double mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation, as well as six surgeries. The next few years were a whirlwind after my second diagnosis. A few months after my final breast cancer surgery, I had a mole removed that was a melanoma. Thankfully, I did not need treatment for this cancer occurrence.

I really struggled after completing chemo and radiation for the breast cancer diagnosis. During treatment, I was in survival mode; I didn’t have time to think about what was really going on. Once I was all done however, I felt like I should have been happy and excited. I thought that I would finally be able to move on and put all of this behind me. I had quite a few people even say to me, “Wow, you’re all done treatment! You must be so happy!” The truth was that I wasn’t happy at all. I was lost, lonely, and I didn’t know who I was, or what my place in this world was anymore. Unfortunately, medical professionals don’t really tell you that the ‘struggle is real’ once you finish treatment; you just kind of have to figure it out on your own. Frankly, I was warned by a few friends that had gone through a cancer diagnosis that this could happen, but I didn’t truly realize the extent of it until I experienced it for myself.

Going through all this trauma really messed with my head. I was filled with self-doubt, constant fear, and worry, and I lost all confidence in who I was. I found myself feeling angry all the time, and I was constantly lashing out at the people I love. My mental health was really suffering.

The aloneness of it all is terrifying

It took seeing a therapist to really deal with the trauma that I experienced, and to find a way out of it. Talking to a professional helped me find a sense of purpose and a silver lining in all of this—I could share my story and help others who are going through cancer. We all want and need to feel like we are not alone. The aloneness of it all is terrifying.

Everyone will deal with their trauma in their own way, but some things that really helped me deal was finally being able to be honest with myself while talking to a therapist. I never thought I would reach out and talk to someone, to be completely honest. I really didn’t think I needed to. A lot of people had been telling me how strong I was, so I thought that talking to a therapist would make me seem weak. How crazy is that? I think, as with any trauma, you shouldn’t try to go through it alone. I finally decided to reach out to a psychotherapist who had experience with cancer patients, and it was one of the best things I did for my mental state. I really feel that it is so important to reach out to professionals such as your family doctor, a therapist, social worker, or a cancer support group like Rethink when you are dealing with trauma. Finding a safe space to share my feelings and let out the hurt was definitely a way I was able to move forward and begin the healing process. That process can be quite an epic journey, but just know that asking for help is okay. Through therapy and a lot of self-reflection, I have grown so much, and have become a better version of myself. I don’t think I would be where I am today if I didn’t speak to a therapist. Further, if you feel that therapy alone isn’t enough, don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor about medication to help with depression or anxiety. It is common for cancer patients to deal with both of those things post-diagnosis and post-treatment.

Feel your feelings

Another important lesson I learned is that there are so many feelings and emotions that can come out after dealing with a cancer diagnosis. I dealt with shock, devastation, anger, fear, and sadness. I felt extremely lost and alone as I tried to move on with my life post-cancer. I really believe that healing happens when you finally acknowledge what you are feeling and realize that it’s okay to ‘feel your feelings,’ and not put on a brave face all of the time. I often find myself sharing my feelings and my worries with my husband if I’m having a tough day. Find that important person in your life who is a great listener and share what you are feeling, so that you can get them off your chest.

A fun way that I deal with my emotions is by listening to loud music, and dancing around in my house if I’m feeling down. If I feel angry, I enjoy exercising and blowing off some steam. Find the things you love and use them to help you deal!

I finally found my voice, and it feels so good!

After being such a private person for the majority of my life, I finally found my voice, and it feels so good! I am at a place where I no longer want to hide behind my scars; I want to embrace them and walk around with pride. Blogging has been a tremendous outlet for me. I think that sharing my experiences has given me some closure and the opportunity to move on from my past trauma. I believe that I have changed, and I am a better person for having made it through the tough times. I have so much more love for the people in my life and I feel happy every day. Don’t get me wrong—I have my days and my moments. I am far from perfect, but I am so thankful for my struggle, because I have become a better version of myself.

If you are contemplating sharing your journey, I encourage you to do so! You never know who it could help and the impact it could have on others, not to mention the healing that can come with doing so. If you don’t want to share your story at large, keeping a journal is a powerful way to share what you are feeling and to really identify your emotions.

The most important thing to remember is that you are not alone! There are other people out there going through a similar experience. Try to connect with these individuals to help you get through. Finding a sense of community has been an enormous help. Look on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest for others who have experienced a diagnosis and treatment. I am so grateful for all of the connections I’ve made with many incredible women in this community, many of whom I met online and would have never connected with otherwise. You are not an island, and you are not alone! — Vanessa Delle Monache

Read more from others in the community on mental health here.

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