What Dealing With PTSD and Breast Cancer Really Feels Like


At a very young age, I knew exactly what I wanted to do when I grew up.  Hint: One of my favourite shows was “Rescue 9-1-1.”  I was completely fascinated by emergency services.  As I got older, I enjoyed watching police and crime TV shows and movies but didn’t really think about a specific career in that field.  In College, I enrolled in the Law and Security Administration program, but wasn’t sure exactly what I’d do when I received my certificate after two years.  My mom suggested I take the 9-1-1 Emergency Response program and I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard of the program or even thought to inquire about it. Fast forward to August 25, 2008, I was hired by my local police service and it was my first day of in-class training as a 911 Call Taker and Dispatcher.  I was so excited for what was to come.  I knew this job would be stressful, but I loved every minute and it turns out, I excelled in every area of the job.  I was an excellent multi-tasker and I could handle the shift work, stress, and endless “bad” calls.  There were a lot of “bad” calls, yet I always looked forward to work, especially the night shifts. As the years went on, I started to feel more and more stressed and exhausted, both mentally and physically.  More calls started to get to me, but I kept persisting and doing the best I possibly could.

On February 24, 2017, my world changed. 

I took a call which involved a brutal fire, and I will spare you the details but for some reason this call really stuck with me.  During the call, it was as if my world completely stopped and everything went into slow motion.  After it was over, I realized I was sweating profusely, shaking and my heart was racing as if I’d just finished a marathon.  I decided to stick out the last hour of work, but I hardly made it out of the room before I burst into tears.  I cried the entire way home, harder than I’d ever cried in my life, and didn’t know why, or what I should even do. The next few months were horrible.  I suffered from flashbacks, guilt, horrific nightmares, anxiety, depression and panic attacks.  Most days I couldn’t get out of bed, dress myself, cook, socialize or do regular day to day chores and activities.  I had a friend who had PTSD, so I was aware of it and knew some of the signs.  I had seen several doctors, including several psychologists, and ended up being diagnosed with PTSD.  Whether it was yoga, medication, meditation or various forms of therapy, I had literally tried everything to make things better.  It was an awful time, and the symptoms seemed to linger during my time away from work and even after I returned to work in modified duties about six months later.

It couldn’t possibly get worse… Or could it?

In March of 2018 I received my breast cancer diagnosis, and my PTSD symptoms all returned in full force.  Every doctor’s appointment, scan, surgery and treatment triggered my symptoms.  I was having even more panic attacks and my depression and anxiety were through the roof. I truly felt alone and often still do.  I had no idea I’d ever be affected by PTSD as a 911 Operator, nor did I know anyone with a cancer diagnosis could suffer from PTSD, until I joined Rethink’s private facebook group.  In the group, I heard about other women who had been diagnosed and were suffering with this terrible thing on top of cancer. I really wonder how things would have been different had I not been suffering with PTSD when I was diagnosed with cancer.  It definitely made things that much worse for me, and the symptoms haven’t gone away, although they have lessened somewhat over time.

Would I change my career had I known all this would happen? 

Definitely not.  I miss my job and the person I was before PTSD and cancer. I don’t know what the future will bring when it comes to my career, but I do know that I am not alone in this. People may say, “Wow! You’re looking great!”, or “You look so healthy!”, but they can’t see what we are really experiencing inside our bodies. My eyelashes and hair are growing back, my skin has better colour and I am gaining back the weight that I lost after surgery and chemo, but there is still a lot going on inside of me that can’t be seen. I’ve been trying to adjust to a “new normal” since 2017 and I suppose I still have a long way to go, but that’s okay. After all, each of us is on a path that can change in an instant and we are just along for the ride.

By Krystie Graham

Want to read more stories about the mental health related effects from cancer? Click here.

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