Originally posted November 23, 2018. Link to post.
The mental impact
Cancer affects your body, but no matter where you have your cancer it will eventually get to your mind. A cancer diagnosis turns your life upside down and it is a nightmare to be confronted with a potentially deadly disease. The mental impact of cancer is something not so often discussed, as the focus is mostly on the more obvious physical side with surgeries, chemotherapies and other treatments.
In my case, being a fact based, target focused, optimistic person, I did not think too much at the start of my cancer journey. I was so focused on doing, doing and doing, which consumed all my energy. Having a major surgery, recovering, going through chemo cycle after chemo cycle, staying strong and trying to get rid of the cancer cells destroying my body from the inside.
It was not until the end of my chemotherapy treatment that I had energy to spare, and could allow myself to think and grasp what my situation really was: stage 4 ovarian cancer. That was a tough realization and I got scared of what would happen, whether the treatment had been successful, if I would survive and for how long.
This led to a lot of pointless googling, which only made things worse.
My head was spinning, but I took two, for me, very important decisions:
1: seek help and talk to a psychiatrist
2: view myself as a cancer survivor, even though treatment had not been completed
Many people find it difficult and almost tabu to talk about psychological matters. I consider myself a mentally strong person and have lived a relatively easy and straightforward life, not needing psychological support before. I have no problem openly saying that I needed professional support in how to handle my new reality. My loving family has been the best in all aspects, and I have discussed the whole cancer shebang, especially with my husband.
Nevertheless, I concluded that I needed to talk to somebody, who did not know me inside and out and who was an expert in the field. My oncologist recommended a psychiatrist specialized in psycho oncology, i.e. focused on supporting cancer patients. My psychiatrist turned out to be excellent and of tremendous help for me to process and come to terms with my new reality.
There is no scientific evidence that optimistic and positive persons have better chances to survive cancer. However, I believe hopefulness and a positive mindset are important components for quality of life during and after cancer treatment. A strong sense of hope is also a prerequisite to live with a disease like cancer, to get through the rigors of treatment, to navigate the complex health care system, and to fend off society’s negative views about cancer as a death sentence.
My treatment had not been finished, and I did not know whether it had been successful or not, but I decided to view myself as a cancer survivor. I know it might sound silly, but for me it was a mental game changer, as I, in my mind, had survived. It did work for me and I felt more optimistic about the future. I decided to search for inspiration to see what other cancer survivors had done to live a fulfilling life. I found Greig Trout's webpage, realized that was the right approach also for me and started compiling My Survival List.
That I would start a blog was not self-evident, as I normally do not like to share my private sphere. However, having family and friends all over the globe, I viewed it as a good way to give updates of my situation. In addition, if my story and thoughts during my cancer journey could serve as inspiration or motivation for one person only, that would feel exceptionally good and rewarding.
Support cancer research via Lena Wäppling's Foundation:
2020 Design Edition
Purchase T-shirts, hoodies, mugs and tote bags and fund ovarian cancer research.
Hi, my name is Lena and I am a cancer survivor. I hope you enjoy reading my blog posts. If you want to subscribe, click on Contact.