Other than the shock of my initial diagnosis, I would say that the hardest time for me emotionally came when I was about a year out from diagnosis. I spent so much time mentally preparing for my surgeries, chemo and radiation that by the end of my treatment, I was traumatized and didn’t really know how to go on – go back to work, back to my regular life. I felt like a different person – and I certainly didn’t look like myself.
I remember thinking throughout treatment that I could do this for a year. I kept the ‘year mark’ in my head to get through treatment. Then when the year end came and I was still tired and foggy from chemo, I started to feel depressed. I was still wearing a wig, having hot flashes from tamoxifen, and recovering from radiation.
It was at this time that friends, family, coworkers all congratulated me on being finished with my treatment. They told me I looked great and asked if I was glad that everything was back to normal. They would say, “you must feel so much better,” so I wondered why I didn’t actually feel better. I knew they meant well, but all the comments and questions made me feel like I was hiding the fact that I didn’t feel like myself yet.
I think it was then that I realized that breast cancer was going to change more than one year of my life. I began to see that I had developed unrealistic expectations while going through treatment just to cope. It was a hard realization. It took several months for me to to accept that cancer and treatment had changed me forever.
To be honest, it has taken several years to be OK with this fact. It’s still a work in progress, but it’s becoming easier to talk about my treatment and feelings surrounding it with family and friends. Cancer is becoming less something that happened to me once than a part of my past that helps make me who I am.