Cancer and treatment can affect a person in so many ways – mentally, emotionally, and physically.
I had Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1994 and was diagnosed with a secondary cancer, breast cancer, in 2012. Having breast cancer has been a different journey than my first cancer in many ways. No chemotherapy. No radiation. However, I did have a double mastectomy. That was followed by serious infections, which at one point meant having my expanders removed and wearing prosthesis for what felt like forever. Due to the first infection, I even gave myself antibiotics through a PICC line. My parents helped at first, but I became quite an expert myself!
As I recovered from surgeries and gained strength, I would go to work, go out with my friends, go shopping, etc., and so many people were unaware what I was going through. I fit in wherever I went. Still smiled and had a great time! As a matter of fact, I met my significant other while I had prosthesis. Not the timing I would have preferred. I remember telling him very early in our relationship that there was something I needed to talk to him about. He was extremely supportive once I told him, but he had had no idea I had cancer, was not aware what I had been through or would still go through. Had no idea what it all meant – it was new to him. I looked normal. I acted normal. I simply loved life – every minute of it.
Here we are two-plus years later, and I am waiting to have what will hopefully be my last reconstruction surgery. Considering what I have gone through, I think I look great. So many people, who haven’t experienced cancer, do not understand that just because someone looks normal doesn’t necessarily mean they are OK or completely healed inside. Cancer can also take a mental and emotional toll on people. There is so much healing that goes along with having cancer. We all have our own personal challenges and the multitude of cancers offer their own challenges as well. From my experience, healing from breast cancer is a long and sometimes bumpy road and goes far beyond physically healing from surgeries. There are emotional and mental ups and down. There are side effects from long-term medicines. There are times I take a shower and cry because of all I have gone through and how I feel, but then I get out, get dressed and start my day! I struggle with numbness and sometimes reflect on how I was and how I felt before breast cancer.
Cancer has changed me, and the changes are out of my control. It has not always been easy, but I am learning to accept the changes and realize this is my new “normal.” I am still healing emotionally and mentally, but I get stronger each and every day. Being an author in the Together We Are Strong cancer blog at Froedert is actually part of my healing process.
I simply think it is important to be cognizant that just because someone looks normal does not mean they are healed mentally and emotionally. Tread gently. Ask how they are doing. Simply be there for them. Just something to keep in mind because healing on the inside is an important aspect of the cancer journey and sometimes it is easily, though not purposely, overlooked!
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