PTSD

My Experience with PTSD After My Cancer Diagnosis

I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer in August 2017, the day before my 40th birthday! It was a complete shock to our whole family as breast cancer didn’t run in our family. I began on a journey for the next nine months to do everything in my power to get rid of the Big C. I had surgery (a lumpectomy), 16 rounds of chemotherapy and 20 rounds of radiation. I had genetic testing done to see if I carried any genes to explain my diagnosis, they all came back negative which was a good thing as we have a lot of females in my family but I was still left wondering…why and how did this happen to me?

During that time, I just pushed through. I worked on the things I could control, like my diet and what I put into my body and I didn’t really think about anything else. I stopped thinking “Why me?” and went on with the fight and was in FULL fight mode for those nine months.

PTSD

After I finished my treatment I went back to see my chiropractor on a regular basis and I remember after my first session back I became incredibly emotional. I was crying ALL the time. It would come out of nowhere, I could be driving and hear a certain song and next thing I knew, I was balling. I would be cleaning the house or doing the dishes and I would get a huge sense of overwhelm and start crying. Really….it didn’t matter what I did, the emotions would just take over.

The hardest part was I couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. I hardly ever cried during my treatment, in fact people would always comment on how they couldn’t believe how positive I was and how well I was “handling” everything. I had already finished the “hard” part with the treatment. My hair was starting to grow back, I didn’t have to be at the hospital on a regular basis, so why couldn’t I stop crying? When I went back to see my chiropractor I asked her if maybe the release of my nervous system could have triggered all this emotional release. She thought it could be, but wasn’t certain.

I then had a conversation with a dear friend of mine. Of course, I was crying again and I had explained to her that I couldn’t figure out why I was feeling this way and she was the first person to suggest to me that I could have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD! PTSD can happen to a person after experiencing a traumatic event that has caused them to feel fearful, shocked, or helpless. It can have long-term effects, including flashbacks, difficulty sleeping, and anxiety. I had never even thought about that and when I looked up the definition, it totally made sense. How could I not make the connection that what I had been through was an incredibly traumatic event? I was told I had cancer, a disease that could kill me and that I literally was fighting for my life for those last nine months. Now that I was out of my “fight mode”, my body and my brain were able to comprehend what I had just gone through and were like “Hello…..it’s time to deal with it!”

Later on that month I had my final appointment with my oncologist and I cried for the whole duration of my appointment. I explained to her what I had been going through and she suggested I go to a clinic here in Calgary called the Breast Cancer Supportive Care. It was a clinic designed especially for breast cancer patients and survivors.

PTSD

I made an appointment right away with one of the doctors there and spent an hour talking to them about everything. She also explained to me that what I was feeling was first of all very normal and was a form of PTSD. She also said something to me that surprised me. She said that what I could also be feeling is grief. She said it was very common for breast cancer patients to grieve their “old” life. I was grieving my old body, that I thought was so strong, how I used to look, my hair, my eyebrows, my eyelashes, the weight gain. It all sounds so superficial but those are visible reminders of how your life has changed and you see them every day. Going through a cancer diagnosis and treatment has a significant impact on your life, and it is hard to go back to the way it was before.

I spent the next three months going to the Breast Cancer Supportive Clinic every week and was part of a recovery group that consisted of a doctor, a psychologist and 11 other women my age who had also gone through breast cancer treatments. It was these three months and this group that saved me. Being around other women that knew exactly what I had gone through and still was going through helped me move past my PTSD. I still went through ALL the stages of grief, but I had support to go through them. During this time I was given strategies to cope with all that I was going through and what I had already gone through.

So my advice to you if you are feeling this way right now is to know you don’t have to go it alone. Ask your doctor for what supports you may have in your area or find one digitally through a Facebook group. There is nothing more powerful and healing than to meet other people that understand what you are going through and to know that you are NOT the only one feeling this way. – Caley Wolf


Click here to read other personal stories about PTSD after a cancer diagnosis.

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