When Susan was diagnosed with breast cancer, she struggled with feelings of loneliness and isolation. She shares how she managed these emotions after finishing treatment.
My life changed forever
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2016. I’d just come back from holiday where I hadn’t felt anything unusual.
They told me that I had breast cancer. I was 41 and my life changed forever.
I isolated myself
I was worried about how I was going to sit at home each day doing nothing. I’ve always been a ‘doer’ and kept myself extremely busy running an interior design company. I usually had no time to myself, and suddenly I felt very alone.
I found that I didn’t feel up to meeting people or leaving the house, so slowly began to isolate myself. My mental health took a terrible turn. I felt like I was having a breakdown.
I felt shame about my diagnosis
I had a real feeling of shame about my diagnosis. I felt like the cancer was my fault. I didn’t know anyone who had gone through breast cancer and no one understood how I was feeling.
I struggled to even tell my mother that I had breast cancer. For a while, it was just my husband and I trying to deal with everything on our own. He was extremely supportive, but we had no idea what to expect from my diagnosis.
I’m sure he felt lonely too and under immense pressure. I felt like such a burden.
Despite support, I felt alone
Loneliness doesn’t necessarily mean that you're physically alone, but that you feel alone.
The way people treated me after my breast cancer diagnosis made me feel lonely. Previous friends, clients from work and others acted like I was already dead. They'd walk past me on the street and pretend they hadn’t seen me. I was replaced on projects and I'd not hear from them again.
That was incredibly hurtful. In my time of need I expected people to run towards me to help, not away.
Cancer is a lonely place
Cancer feels like a lonely place. We can get lost in our own heads. When people told me that it would all be fine, I didn’t believe them. It wasn’t fine when I discovered the lump. It wasn’t fine when I was told I had breast cancer.
When I have an MRI or a scan, I’m in the machine by myself. No one can go through it for me. Even with all the support from my friends and family, I’m the one sitting opposite my doctor waiting to hear how my life is going to turn out. I’m the one awake at night, worried that the cancer will come back.
I once told my psychiatrist during treatment that I felt like everyone was on a carousel and I was standing at the side watching, wondering when I could jump back on.
I’m getting back on track
It’s taken me a while, but I’m finally getting back on track with my life. I couldn’t work during my treatment, but now I have a new job as a Pilates teacher at a physiotherapy clinic. It’s very rewarding and I have a wonderful, supportive group of strong women around me.
I feel that my experience has made me a more tolerant and patient person. I still have days when I panic about the cancer coming back, but feel that I'm living my life to the fullest.
I even did a charity abseil from St Thomas’ Hospital – something I would have never done before my diagnosis!
Writing helped me realise my feelings were common
I started writing my blog, Beyond The Pink, after my treatment. Sharing my thoughts online made me realise that the way I had been feeling was common – I had so many comments from other people with breast cancer who had experienced loneliness too.
I feel lucky that I was able to find people who understood how I felt. It inspired me to write a book about my experience. I wanted to share everything I wish I'd known during my own treatment.
I hope that my writing will help make other people with breast cancer not feel so alone.
A version of this blog was originally posted on Susan's blog, Beyond The Pink.
A breast cancer diagnosis can feel lonely. Our supportive online community, the Forum, is here for you.