Bearing in mind all of the physical and emotional changes taking place when someone goes through cancer treatment, it would be a miracle for cancer patients not to lose their sense of self. Your body and mind are temporarily invaded by rogue cells and fears for the future. There are many physical and emotional challenges to cope with, including:
- Hair loss
- Weight loss/gain
- Stopping work
- Relationship strain
- Stopping hobbies and interests
- Fear of dying
- Loss of control
- Dealing with the reaction of everyone around you
It makes complete sense that our view of ourselves would change; that you would feel differently about your capabilities, who you are as a person and your future. You may blame your body for letting you down and betraying you. Why did I get cancer and other people who don’t look after themselves as well didn’t? You may feel a lot of anger or completely let down, especially if you are into health and wellbeing. No longer being able to carry out particular roles (active father/wife/provider/sportsperson) is also very difficult to handle. Depending on the type of cancer and the treatment received, many people feel that their masculinity or femininity is challenged. People can feel less of a person if they can’t provide for their family whilst they are ill. If your sense of self is bound up with your work, and you have to stop work, this can be very hard to handle.
It is so important to share your feelings with a trusted family member or friend, or another patient who has experienced similar things, or someone in your medical team. It’s important to learn about relieving your symptoms and making yourself as comfortable as possible. If you are coping with changes, it’s crucial to be compassionate and kind towards yourself. Your body needs to be nurtured and looked after more than ever. Create a strong support network and remember to ask for help and delegate tasks as and when necessary. Realise that trying to do everything that you did before diagnosis will make you feel worse, there are no medals for trying to do everything yourself, people need help when they are ill. This is especially tough if you are independent and not used to asking for help.
Staying active and social as much as possible will reduce your anxiety. Make time for your favourite comedy or films/TV shows if you need a lift, it will take you out of the situation and help you to feel ‘normal.’ Take control and speak to your medical team if aspects of your treatment are worrying you. Manage stress and anxiety as well as physical pain by having regular complementary therapies and talking therapy sessions.
Many people can feel like they are no longer a ‘whole person’ or that cancer becomes part of your identity, especially if people say, “oh you know X, the one that had cancer.” A lot of survivors have a problem with the ‘cancer survivor’ term – they don’t want any label associated with cancer at all. Some people don’t feel any affinity with other cancer survivors and others don’t like the term battling cancer or beating cancer as they see surviving as down to luck, something that’s out of your control. Being unsure about the cancer coming back can create difficulty with the ‘survivor’ label.
Even though it may seem like you’re at war or you’ve survived a long battle, many cancer patients and survivors report coming out of the experience with a new positive outlook. Many people gain a new appreciation of their bodies, and choose to treat it with more respect. Surviving cancer often gives people an ‘attitude of gratitude’ and a new appreciation of life, so they do more and live life to the full more. It can also improve people’s relationships and make current relationships stronger.
If you’re affected by cancer and are struggling with your identity or sense of self, please find out more about my services here. I use a variety of therapies to help you to cope with your illness and the physical and emotional effects of cancer.