PTSD and Cancer. It's Real.
Cancer was traumatic for me. And it hit me 7 days after I rang the Victory Bell.
I was a champ during the diagnosis, with 6 chemotherapy treatments, 3 CT scans, 1 PET scan, 2 visits to the ER, and a robotic radical hysterectomy. My entire cancer experience took 6 months until I was declared NED. And during the entire 6 months, I had tunnel vision to get to the next medical appointment. I never dealt with what this disease did to my life, I just focused on getting through it.
Surviving cancer is surviving trauma
So what did the trauma feel like?
It felt like confusion, absence of who I used to be as a person, and where do I go from here? It was like I woke up from a dream and asked myself, "Did that just happen? Did I just go through cancer?"
I talked to other survivors and they had similar experiences. Surviving cancer is just like surviving a trauma. The emotion that manifested during my 6 months of constant medical attention was absolute joy and sadness. I went through waves (I still do) of sobbing with extreme gratitude.
I feel incredibly fortunate despite the trauma
I was so fortunate to get great care and had a great support system in place. And I put my entire life on "pause" for a solid 6 months. I shut down my business and discontinued contact with my clients so I could focus on myself. It was like I took a huge sabbatical or went on a long vacation.
The trauma of losing the life I used to have become so clear to me 1 week after Ringing the Bell. I had no idea what had happened and looked at myself in the mirror and didn't even recognize myself anymore.
What I saw was a bald, bloated, overweight, scarred woman who still had her chest port and was going to be taking a blood thinner for another 6 months. I didn't recognize myself physically or mentally. I had no idea who I was other than someone who had just survived a medical crisis and could finally learn how to live again.
This time though, I wanted to live much differently and 9 months later I'm still learning how to do that.
Learning how to be a survivor
The first year of survivorship has been tough. You re-live the trauma every time you go back for a follow-up surveillance visit. Quarterly visits are usually required with the oncologist as well as getting the port taken out during the first year.
The chest port removal. Ugh. By far (for me) that was the worst experience. I think the surgeon thought he could be rough with me and it felt as though he was using a ton of pressure to lift the port out of my body. There was zero, there was just a lot of pressure. It was as if the entire cancer experience was being pulled right out of me.
It was the strangest feeling on the operating table. To feel as though the 6-month journey started 1 year ago with the port being put in the same day as the biopsy. Then 1 week later chemotherapy started.
During the port removal it was as if the port was an object that helped tremendously for the 6 months I was being treated and as soon as it was removed I was "free".
Free to have my life back and to slowly figure out where to go from here.
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