When I think of the how breast cancer has affected me, the most imminent questions that come to my mind are: 1. Should the cancer have changed me? 2. For the worse AND the better? 3. What should my 'profile' look like? Stronger? Weaker? Both? If both, then how can weak and strong live together in harmony?
I contemplate. The closest feeling I have is pain. Pain in my legs, my back and in my arms. I feel fatigued, not just now, it comes and goes. My head is foggy and I forget words. I can't learn new things as I could in the past. When I think of how I feel... I feel strong. I can fight. I can achieve. I am determined to keep going. Mentally, I am strong. I lapse for a moment and fear takes over, clouding my strength. Uncertainty comes closer and I feel my heart beat faster. Apprehension. I close my eyes and try and embrace the roller coaster of mixed emotions going through me. It feels exhausting. Then, I feel grateful and elated that I am still here. I can still write.
Breast cancer has brought us a new generation of mixed emotional experiences, of feelings, of physical side effects, not to mention the facts. Our working memory becomes overloaded with the continuous ride of new facts and findings, the monitoring of side effects and signs, and rising effects of worrying and fear of recurrence. We are cognitively hampered. The 'what ifs' hit us when we least expect them. They interfere with what we want to do. To say that it is annoying is an under-statement. We become inefficient. Working memory is like the supervisory cognitive system in our brain: It helps us manage and sort information, prioritise our goals and minimise distraction, and helps us regulate our emotions. Working memory has a huge role to play in our well-being and every day life as well as our confidence for an ambitious and goal driven life. But we are told we are changed. For the better and for the worse.
To manage and regulate the physical and psychological roller coasters of breast cancer related experiences we need robustness and flexibility in the way we process all this information that we are loaded with. The biggest challenge for us is the exercise of the 'when' and the 'how'. When and how to feel vulnerable and how to exercise happiness and positivity. We are grateful, we are more self-compassionate than before. We are determined even at our lowest. To be resilient is the exercise of knowing how to regulate those roller coasters of positivity and negativity efficiently. What I can call cognitive flexibility. The seed of what I have tried to promote in my research, to help reduce anxiety and depression. My heart is beating fast as I write, the background music of cancer has decided to raise its head again this time louder and more visible. Yes, you are a threat, and you have your place. I want to use you to drive towards my ambitions rather than let you take the better of me. I want to dance, feel light, and embrace my new me with all its complications.
The new me is fuzzy, it's got the good and the bad. And somehow, strangely, it feels complete. The new normal, is an under-statement. We are not normal, we are special, we are fruitful, we are insightful. No undermining the threat, we are powered by it. The power to embrace our scars, to appreciate ourselves and our anxieties, to love our pains.
There is no prescription for the new normal, but resilience for the special 'new' me!
Thank you to Jenny Richards for the amazing title.
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