I don’t always believe in fate, but there are times when I feel fated; it hits me like an asteroid.
I had been looking for a new therapist for a while. Truth is, I was a notorious “therapist hopper” — always finding a reason why I needed to find someone new. As “luck” may have it, I was therapist shopping during the time I was getting a lump on my breast checked out. These two things were not cause and effect. This is what some call a plain old coincidence — this time, I called it fate.
The first words I uttered to my new therapist as I sat down frantically looking for the tissue box was “I will start by saying that I might have breast cancer, and I am not the type of person that will be able to handle something like this.” Here we are a year later, and I have been through a bilateral mastectomy, eight rounds of chemotherapy, and five weeks of daily radiation.
Lisa, my therapist, reminds me of those first words often. She has been on this entire journey with me so far and I attribute much of my evolved coping mechanisms to the work she and I have done together.
Why Seeing a Therapist is Helpful After A Cancer Diagnosis
A great therapist can be extremely helpful following a cancer diagnosis — here are a few reasons why I found this to be true.
You have a lot to unpack
There are so many emotions to unpack following a cancer diagnosis. These emotions are ripe and at times irrational.
It can feel too close to home to discuss these emotions with your friends, family, or your partner — as they themselves are potentially experiencing similar fears, and may not be coming from an objective place. Sitting with a therapist allows you to say everything that is on your mind without worrying whether or not you are upsetting your loved ones.
Managing your stress is essential for recovery
Your body undergoes a lot of stress during cancer treatment, both mentally and physically. There is a lot to manage between surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation, and other treatments. You need to remember to be kind to your body, and a large part of that is taking care of your mind.
Working with a therapist can help you manage your emotions and give you a consistent person to speak to about your ever changing feelings. When you are consistently taking care of your mind and mental health, you may find that you feel physically better as well.
Dealing with Guilt, Grief, and Fear of Recurrence
Some of the biggest emotions following a cancer diagnosis have to do with guilt and grief, as well as a fear that the cancer can come back.
Upon learning about your diagnosis, you might be feel guilty and start thinking back to smoking cigarettes in college, or using products with parabens in them. Guilt is a common emotion to tackle while on your journey, and your therapist can help you through it.
Many people also report feeling survivor guilt, referring to those who are considered cancer free, yet know that others might have a different prognosis, experiencing guilt as a result.
Guilt is a common emotion to want to tackle while on your journey, and your therapist can help you work through it going forward. It is helpful to speak to your therapist about how to manage these feelings going forward.
Grief is something that I experienced first hand in my journey. When I was going through surgery and treatment during the better part of 2018, I was in full warrior mode. I buried any anxiety or fears that I had because I was so focused on beating the disease.
Now that I have completed active treatment, I feel as though my grief has been delayed. I am now effectively grieving and mourning my cancer journey. I have spent many days crying and depressed, feeling angry and sad. Meeting with my therapist each week has become something I look forward to; she helps me process these feelings in order to move forward in the survivorship journey.
Fear of recurrence is a very scary part of the cancer journey. You might be told that you have “no evidence of disease” when really all you can think about is that migraine headache you had yesterday, or why you were coughing more than normal.
It can feel impossible to move past those feelings of fear. Working with a therapist can help process those fears and help determine the best course of mental action for your anxiety.
Wondering if it’s Possible to Go Back to “Normal” Life
Once you have completed treatment — in some cases when you’ve been presented with a clean bill of health — you are expected to go back to your normal life.
That notion feels so unattainable, as nothing is the same as it was before you were diagnosed. Your body is not the same, your thoughts and fears have completely changed. You are a completely altered human, trying to navigate your relationship with your friends, family, partner, and most importantly yourself.
It is common for relationships to change during this time as well — some may fade, some may grow stronger. Working on these transitions with a therapist can help you make sense of these changes and how to navigate them in a healthy and productive way.
It can feel like a big undertaking to find a therapist while managing your cancer journey. You might not feel ready to open yourself up to the big emotions that are attached to working with a therapist. It might take speaking with a few people and exploring relationships at first because finding the right fit is key.
It is important to know that you don’t have to go through this journey alone; there are many options available to support you on your journey.