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Why I Felt So Sad When I Stopped Being a Cancer Patient

20/06/2016 17:23 | Updated 20 June 2016

It would be fair to say 2015 wasn't the best year for me. At the start of February I found a lump in my breast while I was getting dressed and was very quickly diagnosed with breast cancer.

Actually, 2015 was pretty bad - after being diagnosed with cancer at the age of 33, I stopped work, underwent fertility treatment, had six rounds of two types of chemotherapy, started a year of Herceptin, had a mastectomy, and underwent 15 sessions of radiotherapy.

Yes, 2015 was a horrendous year and one I was desperate to forget. I knew I would be finishing radiotherapy in November and kept telling myself to just get to Christmas, and then everything would be alright.

But by Christmas I felt awful. My friends and family kept telling me how happy I must feel to finally be finished with cancer treatment, and that I could put it all behind me and get back to normal.

So why did I feel so terrible? Worse than I did after I got diagnosed?

Victoria Derbyshire recently finished the same treatment that I had - chemo, a mastectomy, radiotherapy. After she finished treatment, she said she felt great and how brilliant it was to be able to move on.

That's fantastic for her, and I would never begrudge anyone who was happy that their cancer treatment had finished. But that certainly wasn't my experience.

I think there are lots of reasons that many people who have had cancer treatment find it so hard to be happy when treatment stops.

After I finished treatment I felt under an enormous amount of pressure to be 'normal' and 'happy' again and for life to go back to how it was before I had cancer. I was keenly aware that treatment had been just as tough on my fiancé and family as it had been on me and I was desperate to protect them from any more anguish and worry.

After I was diagnosed, I was caught up in a whirlwind of appointments and treatments. We got through it by looking at it in stages - thinking of it as a year of treatment was too overwhelming.

Six sessions of chemo delivered every three weeks becomes a week of feeling ill, a week of starting to feel better, and a week of getting ready for the next treatment.

When chemo finishes there are appointments to see how well it worked, and preparation for surgery.

After surgery there are appointments to check that all is healing as it should, and preparation for radiotherapy.

Radiotherapy is a hospital appointment every day for three weeks.

All this is interspersed with an appointment every three weeks to be given Herceptin.

And then it stops.

It's like being made redundant from a full time job. I didn't know what to do with myself.

While you're having treatment everyone expects you to feel rubbish. That's acceptable. But when treatment has finished, the expectation is that you feel better straight away.

How could I be happy after what I had gone through? Why had I got breast cancer? Was it something I had or hadn't done? Without knowing why I had got it in the first place, what could I do to stop it coming back?

How could I move on from it, when I have a reminder every time I have a shower or get dressed?

I used to love having a bath to relax - now I couldn't face looking at myself in the mirror.

Luckily, I had amazing support from a charity called Tenovus Cancer Care. They offer free counselling for cancer patients and their loved ones who are finding it difficult to cope after a diagnosis of cancer.

Helen, my Tenovus Cancer Care counsellor, helped me to see that everything I was feeling was normal, and that a lot of people felt exactly the same way.

All of it, she told me, was about learning to live with cancer. I fought against this for a long time - I didn't want to learn to live with it, I wanted to learn how to forget it.

But it's impossible to forget it. The only thing for it is to accept it and learn how to deal with it.

Everyone is different and comes to terms with the bad things that happen to them in their own way. But I found the best tool Helen gave me to cope was to learn how to live in the moment, how to appreciate the good things that are happening today.

One of the hardest things to deal with after having treatment for cancer is that there are no guarantees. No-one can tell you that everything will be OK, and I found that extremely hard to accept.

But talking to Helen helped me to understand that it's exactly the same for every single one of us. No-one knows what's going to happen tomorrow - the only thing we can do is try our best to be happy today, rather than tell ourselves "I'll be happy when..."

Helen helped me accept that it's normal to feel sad, angry, scared, frustrated after cancer treatment. And that, despite the expectation that someone will feel happy when treatment finishes, an awful lot of people feel exactly the same way as I did - and that's OK.

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