This is the big question that many strangers, family members, and friends need to understand and practice empathy. What do I mean by this? Empathy is defined as the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing within their frame of reference. This week in 3 part blog posts, I will talk about how a diagnosis of cancer affects your mental health, spiritual health, and finally physical health. Let’s start with mental health.
How does the diagnosis of any type of cancer affects your mental state of mind? When you are first told that you have Breast Cancer, you do not process the diagnosis right away because you are in shock. You are in disbelief and you want the doctor to repeat themselves. You are given this book to read about your type, various stages, type of surgery, and a list of all the chemotherapy drugs with their side affects whether you are taking chemo pills or IV chemotherapy. The book goes over the radiation process and after treatment care. You are hit with a wealth of information that mentally you have not processed or even accepted. It’s a process that you can take your time to deal with at your own pace. You find yourself on this emotionally roller-coaster because you don’t know how to feel let alone whether to cry or scream.
Meanwhile, family, friends, and caregivers will have to learn how to care for you, support you, practice empathy, understanding, give you space, and time to adjust. Let’s dive into part 1 of this week’s topics Mental, Spiritual, and Physical Health using my experience as examples and some of my favorite articles that help me as well as facts from the Cancer Organization to help you help a love one or a perfect stranger.
Mental and Emotional Health
When I was first diagnosed it was traumatizing. I experienced grief and a few stages of depression. I was angry and my peace was invaded with cancer. I know doctors and nurses say it’s okay to be angry, mad, and sad because our mental psyche has to process the diagnosis.
I found myself isolating from friends and family during the first diagnosis in July 2019. I sworn family to secrecy because I was embarrassed that I was diagnosed with this ugly, life threatening disease. This was a hard hit to my mental and emotional state of mind. This was the biggest heartbreak that I every experienced. It was one of the biggest blows any woman could every face. There is no cure for cancer yet which is still mind blowing to me right till this day. You tugged at the idea of whether or not your will be clear of cancer after treatment or if you will be on pills for the rest of your life to survive.
I pulled myself off social media, I stopped writing, and I stopped reading books that I was interested in that made me smile, laugh, or inspired me. I went through a spell of feeling completely numb during the first eight weeks. I had not cried and I was fighting the emotions inside that I refused to let out. I could not accept my diagnosis because I kept telling myself they got my biopsy results mixed up with someone else. This cannot be correct.
I started reading everything on my type of breast cancer to the point I was even reading the conspiracy writers when it came to doing chemotherapy. I almost believed them. I started researching holistic approaches to healing my body and what natural herbs could heal and cure me. I was a mad woman furious to find my own truth and cure.
Like I said, my peace of mind had been invaded and did not exist anymore. I did have an emotional breakdown after my first chemotherapy treatment and then a second emotional breakdown at a Breast Cancer event my friend Stephanie took me to where I was one of the honored guests. All of the emotions built up inside of me finally exploded three months later after being diagnosed.
There was so much I did not know about my type of breast cancer and the type of treatment that was being recommended that my first doctor really was not helpful because she was insensitive using a scare tactic to get me to do chemotherapy instead of helping me understand why I had to do chemotherapy and explain all of the variables in my biopsy results. It was not until I went for another opinion at Northwestern Hospital where I got answers to many of my unanswered questions.
How did I deal with the mental and emotional health with my first diagnosis? I talked with a therapist, went to support group, I allowed myself to cried, I forgave myself, and I did journal how I was feeling each day at the request of my therapist to make sure I was not keeping pain and angry wrapped up inside me. I had good days and I had some really bad downright ugly days. But guess what, they went in my journal and not kept bottled up inside my mind.
When I was hit with a new diagnosis seven months post chemo in 2020, it was devastating on top of the fact were were in a global pandemic and on lockdown. I held myself as a warrior who needed new doctors who specialized in this type of thing everyday all day. It was time out for using local hospital that was close to commute back and forth during treatment. It was the best advice my brother Walter could have given me to seek out Cancer Treatment Center of America for a second opinion. I learned so much during the five day of tests, consultation, examination, review, analyze to confirm my diagnosis with a how and why. I will talk more about that experience next week and what I learned.
My advice to any Black woman who has been diagnosed with any type of cancer:
- Talk to a therapists
- Attend a support group
- Find yourself a tribe of women who will have empathy, love, compassion, understanding, and who will support you no matter what.
- Don’t be afraid of getting a 2nd, 3rd, or 4th opinion about your diagnosis.
- Get a Test to see what your Vitamin D levels are and how this will affect your body – we will talk more about this in future posts.
- Explore all resources to cancer patients they are FREE
- It’s okay to be mad for a little while, but don’t stay there.
- Pray and talk to your higher power for peace.
- Do not keep all those emotions inside.
- Do not do treatment somewhere because it’s close to home, advocate for the best treatment plan even if it’s at a facility that is hours away.
- Get matched with a Imerman Angel or support from Cancer Hope Network to talk with another woman with your same diagnosis.
- Go for walks and Self Care.
I had to learn to protect my mental and emotional health by letting the tears fall, talking to my tribe who did understand, attending support group, and taking advantage of the Angel program that the American Cancer Society has that truly is a blessing. What is the Angel program? This program they assign you to a survivor who was diagnosed with the same type of cancer as you, same stage, and same treatment plan. This angel will call and answer all of your questions and some will even meet with you at chemotherapy for support. I will talk about chemotherapy next week. This week I needed to address the impact of having cancer affects the mental, spiritual, and physical body.
Do you know someone who has been diagnosed with cancer? Share this article with them and check out the resource links below that helped me.
Some of my Resourceful links
Love this article https://www.cancer.org/latest-news/nurture-your-emotional-health.html
Living Well Cancer Center https://livingwellcrc.org/
Wellness House in Hinsdale https://wellnesshouse.org/related-resources/
Mentor Angel https://imermanangels.org/
National Coalition for Cancer Care Survivorship https://canceradvocacy.org/resources/cancer-survival-toolbox/