The Emotional Aftermath of Cancer
My cancer diagnosis came six weeks after my honeymoon. We had the best two weeks climbing Mt. Washington, NH, chasing moose around Cape Breton, Nova Scotia and eating oysters on Prince Edward Island. I was 27-years-old and went to my primary care doctor for a sore shoulder and a cough that only happened when I laughed. Given the recent backpacking trip, it made sense when his initial diagnosis was a shoulder strain. But as an extra precaution, he ordered a chest x-ray. That’s when he found the mass under my sternum, near my heart. On Halloween day, a CT-guided biopsy revealed non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
The size and location of the tumor put me at risk for a massive stroke. If I didn’t start treatment immediately, I would likely be dead by Valentine’s Day.
Before my first round of chemo, I got a long list of risks and side effects: “You may not be able to have children.” “You’re at an increased risk for secondary cancers.” The list went on and on, but I refused to listen. There was just too much to live for. I needed to fight with every ounce of everything I had. I just started a new life with my husband!
My journey to survivorship is a two-part battle. The first part is physical and the second is emotional. Chemotherapy is hard. I was tired and weak and pushed beyond my physical limits. But I found the strength to pick myself up thanks to my family, friends and medical team. And together we kicked cancer’s butt! Unfortunately, the battle was far from over.
What came next was unexpected. As my body healed, my emotional health worsened. I was riddled with anxiety and stress. It’s as if there is an unspoken expectation that I’m physically healthy, so I should feel fine. I experienced a lot of self-doubt and fear. I worried about every ache and pain, and I was constantly aware of how short life is. As a result, I strived to make the most of every day. On the surface, this may sound good, but it's exhausting.
I’ve been in remission for nine years, and the anxiety is still very real and very persistent. But I've come a long way since my diagnosis. I’ve learned that sharing my feelings with other survivors helps me heal. And together we can work through the trauma of a cancer experience. I've also learned to embrace the unexpected.
I now have two children, a 6-year-old daughter, and a 4-year-old son. I was once told they wouldn't be possible. But they are constant reminders that I can overcome any obstacle.