Ann gives eight tips that she would have told herself when she was first diagnosed and terrified of what the future might bring.
October is a difficult month for me, a time of mixed feelings. My diagnosis came at the end of September 2014. I hadn’t thought much about breast cancer until that day. Then suddenly it was everywhere I looked – a big pink bubble which I wanted to burst so that all my pain and confusion and fear could spill out from inside. If I could go back in time and speak to that frightened, newly diagnosed woman that was me, here are a few of the things I would say.
1. It’s ok to be afraid
Those people who tell you to ‘be positive’ mean well. They don’t want you to suffer. They want you to be strong. And you will, in time. But for now, and for a while to come, it’s normal to fall apart, to cry, to mourn your losses, to fear for your future. And that’s ok.
2. Trust your instinct
You will have difficult choices to make about your treatment, your body, your surgery. Your medical team are experts, but they are not you. You know yourself better than anyone. Choose what is best for you, not what is expected, and trust your gut feeling.
3. It takes time
It takes time to process all of this and to recover, physically and mentally. What you know now, more than ever, is that time is so precious. But go easy on yourself. What you are facing is massive and it takes time to come to terms with, years likely. Chances are you will have those years, and it will be a bumpy ride, but you will be ok. Scars eventually fade and life does go on. You will never be the same as you were before this diagnosis, but some of the changes will be positive. You will gain the strength and wisdom of someone who has faced their worst fears. You will appreciate life all the more. In time, your gratitude will become stronger than your anxieties.
4. Put it into words
When you feel out of step with the rest of the world and don’t know what to do with those dark thoughts, scary mental pictures or intense emotions, put them into words. Confide in a friend. Speak to a counsellor. Write a diary, or a blog. Write a letter to your cancer, your breast, your partner, your child, your fear. No need to share with the world if that’s not your thing (but know that when you do, magic happens and you connect with so many others who feel just like you do).
5. Accept help and support
You are surrounded by people who can and will help you get through this – your family, your friends, your colleagues, your hospital team, your community, and support services like Breast Cancer Care. Lean on them and give back later when you feel ready.
6. Rest and recuperate
Allow yourself to be ‘sick’. Cancer treatment is tough. It takes its toll. You don’t need to prove to yourself or anyone else that you are superwoman. Stay in bed if you want to. Don’t struggle on. Better days will come and soon enough you will be ready to face the world again.
7. Make time for yourself
It is not selfish, it is necessary. Retreat. Take time out. Do something that you love. Practice meditation or mindfulness. Go for a walk. Take a bath. Switch off your phone. Be alone with your thoughts. Find that ‘still, small voice if calm’. It will help to guide you through.
8. Dare to hope
This might be the hardest part, but imagine that five year anniversary.
Think about what you would like to do, to achieve. One day you will look back and realise how far you have come.
#ShareTheCare today and donate to help us be there for the 5,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer this October.