15/02/2017 07:53 GMT | Updated 16/02/2018 05:12 GMT

Challenging Society's Misconceptions Of Cancer Survivors: Awareness Of The Effects Of Cancer Treatment

Surprisingly, in this age of having instant access to a wealth of information on virtually any topic and despite the widespread cancer awareness campaigns, many people are still unaware of the facts and consequences of cancer treatment.

As a young survivor of a high-grade Cervical Adenocarcinoma , whose experience of the illness is quite unique and shocking and the treatment for which resulted in severe life-changing injuries, I have frequently been the subject of confrontation, abusiveness or questioning from others simply because they do not understand treatment outcomes. It has been incredibly hurtful to be treated so contemptuously because of the effects of my cancer treatment but I have become aware that ignorance of certain cancers and treatment effects and the impact that this has on the patient, is a common, but rarely discussed, issue.

Among the major side-effects of my cancer treatment, I developed secondary Lymphoedema to my pelvic and abdominal areas and all of both legs as a result of having many lower Lymphatic Nodes removed in order to stop the cancer from spreading. Lymphoedema is a little-known but regular consequence of cancer treatment and a painful, distressing condition that results in swelling and that compromises the patient's ability to fight infection. I often have to wear bandages on the affected areas and my condition affects various everyday things, including my fitness training. Although when my swelling is under control the condition is not obvious to others, particularly difficult for me to accept personally is that Lymphoedema affects appearance , as having been an athlete and model prior to my illness, my physique had always been in perfect shape. What those, especially other young women, who find my bandages, swelling and pain so amusing do not know is that for the past several years, in my philanthropic work, I have assisted medical organisations in various ways, as a patient and private campaigner, to help implement change and improvement in female oncological care, both preventatively and in the form of treatment. Due to this, these same women have, ironically, most probably been spared the same fate by my helping to make female medical care safer for them.

A popular misconception is that all cancer patients lose their hair when undergoing treatment. Whilst this is sadly true for many patients, there are some like myself who, despite undergoing severe radical treatment, do not lose their hair as a side-effect. My exceptionally long natural hair is an integral part of my look and I want to enjoy keeping it rather than having to repeatedly be expected to explain why I have not lost it in order to pacify the misplaced views of others.

There is also an expectation for cancer patients to "think positive" - an insensitive and totally unhelpful thing to say to someone dealing with the possibility of the end of their life or life-changing effects of their treatment. In the cancer care centres where I received my treatment, I spoke to many other patients who found it annoying and frustrating to have been told this numerous times, always by people who, inevitably, have never had cancer themselves. While I am an eternal optimist, as a motivational speaker and advisor on stress management I teach that it is crucial to acknowledge the sadness, fear and trauma in a person who has undergone or is facing any kind of life-changing illness or injury. Such emotions and feelings in this instance are not "negative" but in fact entirely natural. There is a great need for a more real and honest approach to this, which would allow so many people to be emotionally healthier, resulting in improved quality of life and therefore more able to manage their life and health problems.

Occasionally, life puts us in exceptional and truly horrendous situations but by which we then find ourselves in the privileged position of having knowledge or experience to contribute in order to educate on issues that others are badly affected by, one of which being the way that some cancer survivors are viewed by the rest of society. I had been reluctant to so openly reveal some of my ordeals, but due to much request, hopefully by doing so, this will encourage increased information and awareness of the actual realities of cancer treatment and better understanding of those who face them.

Copyright (©) Rebecka Eden 2017.

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